In-person, immersive research is ideal in many situations. However, sometimes we want to understand consumers across a longer time period, or in categories where consumers are more apt to share thoughts and feelings in a less face-to-face way. Plus, in-person approaches aren’t always a viable option due to time constraints and the resources needed for recruitment, traveling and extensive interviews.

A digital approach to ethnography can be much more efficient and, in many cases, just as (or even more) effective for quickly gleaning insights, especially when it’s part of a robust, multi-method approach. We find it gives our team and clients the depth of in-person ethnography with a myriad of additional benefits along the way, cultivating consumer empathy and a deeper understanding of desires, unmet needs and pain points. Here’s a quick primer:

What is Digital Ethnography?
Digital Ethnography is a type of online research used to mine deeply personal and relevant consumer insights. We typically use it along with a number of approaches like leveraging existing data and research, social media ethnography, and landscape assessments to build context, understand consumer needs and identify Jobs to be Done we can solve for.

How Do We Conduct Digital Ethnography?
meeting our target criteria (anywhere from general population to early adopters to extreme users) go online when it’s convenient for them, over the course of 3 or more days. They complete 3-4 different activities each day on a Pinterest-like, asynchronous research platform. They submit stimuli via mobile phone, tablet or desktop computer, including photos and videos of in-the-moment occasions (usage, social, consumption, etc.). The researcher can probe deeper into comments, as needed. These activities are customized based on the project’s specific objectives and hone in on having participants show (not just tell) us about their lives. For example, we asked kids to record a video message to the CEO of a well known brand to help us understand opportunities for improvement; we’ve asked consumers to create “amazon-like” reviews of products or brands to help us tap into benefits and pain points; and we’ve had consumers take pictures with their phone as they are shopping in specific sections of the store to help us understand products they buy vs. products they pass up (and why!).

What Are Business Challenges for Digital Ethnography?
We’ve used Digital Ethnography with BigCos and SmallCos alike; on products, brands, and categories ranging from automotive fluids to snacks. We apply these learnings to help identify consumer need areas or Jobs to be Done to focus product or commercial innovation, or to fuel development of consumer personas for brand and product development. Digital Ethnography is extremely flexible in its application, though, and is a great vehicle for understanding the consumer at any stage of the innovation process.

Traditional v. Digital Ethnography: In-Depth Comparison

Curious to learn more about Digital Ethnography or how we might apply it against your objectives? Drop us a line; we’d love to take a look at your objectives and roll up our sleeves to see if it’s part of the right solution.


We gain inspiration from many places as we evolve our Lean Research methodologies. Before we dive into some recent go-tos, there are a few classics that can’t go unmentioned:

How I Built This

This podcast looks into existing successful companies and how they came to be. Providing insights into the journey of growth, listeners can learn from real-life examples of research, experimentation, scaling, failing, and learning. 

Masters of Scale

In this business and finance podcast, host and cofounder of LinkedIn Reid Hoffman introduces a theory on how successful businesses scale, and tests the theory’s validity by interviewing founders about their own path to scale.

Scrum Master Toolbox Podcast

In a daily podcast, Certified Scrum Master, Agile Coach and business consultant Vasco Duarte interviews agile gurus and thought leaders from all over the world to get actionable advice, new tips and tricks, and techniques to and bring an agile business perspective and guide listeners in improving their craft as scrum masters.

Testing Business Ideas by David Bland and Alex Osterwalder

This book is being released on November 12, but we just snagged a preview and are starting to dig in. This book aims to bring clarity and sensibility to the experimentation process. 

Talking to Humans and Testing With Humans by Giff Constable

Talking to Humans is a practical guide for startups and innovators to the qualitative side of customer development. Its sequel, Testing With Humans, teaches entrepreneurs, innovators, and product teams how to run effective experiments and drive faster and more effective decision making.

Running Lean: Iterate from plan A to a plan that works by Ash Maurya

Running Lean combines many innovative methodologies, including the Lean Startup, Customer Development, and bootstrapping to deliver an action-oriented strategy for companies of all sizes to develop a “product/market fit” for any new venture. With a strong focus on engaging consumers throughout the process, Maurya focuses on maximizing your efforts and learning along the journey.

Escaping the Build Trap: How Effective Product Management Creates Real Value by Melissa Perri

Perri explains how laying the foundation – via communication and collaboration –  for great product management can help companies solve real customer problems and achieve business goals. 

Validating Product Ideas: Through Lean User Research by Tomer Sharon

This book provides step-by-step guidance for product teams to learn more about their customers and build consumer-centric products.

Design a Better Business by Van Der Pijl, Patrick, Justin Lokitz, Lisa Kay Solomon

Design a Better Business provides tools combined into a step-by-step process to scale a business successfully using The Double Loop process of identifying goals/rules and making room to test and modify these as you design.

Mind the Product

This community of passionate product people is run by product people, for product people, and united by a mission to push their craft forward together. In addition to their blog and multiple conferences, Mind The Products hosts a Slack community with over 20,000 users who engage in conversations around building products.


From best-selling books by thought leaders such as Ash Maurya, to hands-on workshops, to mentoring services and blog content, Leanstack helps others put their methodology – dubbed Continuous Innovation – into practice and systematically uncover what customers want, deliver products they can’t refuse, and grow their business models.

What other resources have you found helpful on your journey? We’d love to hear from you! 

At TMRE, we’re continuing the conversation of keeping existing brands relevant and expanding into new ones by leveraging startup-inspired approaches. Insights leaders will learn from courageous leaders setting the vision for and starting the hard journey of implementing entrepreneurial approaches against their strategic challenges. 

Join us in Las Vegas and learn from these inspiring leaders!

Dennis Furia, Senior Director, Lean Growth, and Cory Lommel, Director, Consumer Insights at Cargill, will be sharing the story of how he and his team were able to ideate and sell ideas with a key customer in under 6 weeks. 

They’d initially come to The Garage Group with a desire to accelerate the speed of innovation and emphasize customer and consumer focus. The Garage Group developed a learning by doing approach to equip the Cargill Protein team with the skills, tools, and approaches to develop an internal sprint capability. The approach consisted (high-level) of upfront training and three sprints. 

Dennis and Cory will be sharing their battle-tested experiences specifically from when they took a Sprint approach to develop a pipeline of premium product innovation that, by simultaneously addressing both meaningful independent restaurant operator Jobs to Be Done and satisfying meaningful consumer needs/trends, will help drive key Distributor customer innovation programs and priorities. 

If you’ll be at TMRE, be sure to check out their talk or say hello to Jason and Dennis at our booth!

What needs to be true to get new ideas to market faster and with more confidence that consumers will buy your product? 

Traditional research means days spent behind a two-way mirror gathering few insights on their concepts. Groupthink is a factor in wondering whether or not the recruited consumers are providing their honest feedback. Even more, the concepts are stagnant. There’s no room to make adjustments on the fly to get real-time, iterative consumer feedback, meaning it’s not truly concept development.

Iterative consumer feedback is a core pillar of what makes Innovation Pipeline Sprints & Ideation Sessions successful. In the beginning stages of idea development, we leverage scrappy-phone-a-friends, recruit consumers on iPads, and test overnight for qualitative and quantitative feedback to make sure the consumer’s voice is infused. But as the idea gets more and more downstream, those quick, iterative consumer touch points don’t have to stop there. 

In fact, they shouldn’t.

Lean Concept Development has enabled BigCo leaders to infuse the voice of the consumer into their idea downstream, and make changes in an iterative fashion when: 

Why choose Lean Concept Development over traditional research methods?

Through Lean Concept Development, test your concepts with 12-14 consumers, and collect key input around overall appeal, uniqueness and believability of the total proposition and the component parts, and how well the concept delivers on the Job to be Done. This process is dynamic, highly iterative, and involves optimizations between interviews.

To see more details of how this could help your team downstream, including an example case of our Lean Concept Development work with a Fortune 500 Beverage company, fill out the form below, or reach out to Jason (

The definition of transformation, according to Merriam-Webster, is a thorough or dramatic change in form; a metamorphosis. What science has taught us is that when a caterpillar goes through metamorphosis to become a butterfly, it must completely disintegrate first, then re-forms into the new creature. While transformation is not quite that dramatic for most organizations, it is still a thorough and dramatic change. Change of this magnitude requires thoughtful leadership. It requires a solid understanding of how the organization works today, as well as how it desires to work in the future. And, because these are often 3+ year journeys, it requires empathy, strategy, influence, and a dose of patience. 

Organizations that wish to become truly nimble, lean, and sustainably innovative in our VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) are committing to this level of transformation across multiple industries and verticals. 

But, who is best to lead these efforts? Which function can lead through this level of change?

Our hypothesis: a well developed Insights function is best suited to rise to the occasion and lead through transformation. Effective transformation starts and ends with PEOPLE; it requires the use of DATA to measure effectiveness and progress. Across both people and data, we must recognize PATTERNS of behavior, mindsets, and output to continually iterate and refine our approach. Putting these all together into a compelling STORY inspires vision and perseverance to move ultimately into new modes of DECISION MAKING that shifts from knowledge based decisions to learning based decisions, and marks real transformation.

Insights leaders understand and operate in, better than any other functional leaders, these five key ‘ingredients’ to effective transformation. 

  1. People. Insights, is, at its core, about people. What makes them buy or shop our products or services, certainly. But, turning the sights of people understanding inward to the people within the organization unlocks the ability to enable change. What motivates, rewards, stalls or shuts down; what fires up the people in your organization? How is this different across the organization, and how should we think about that relative to the change we desire to enable? Insights professionals use the same skills they use to understand customers, to deeply understand the people within the organization and therefore are well equipped to lead through change.
  2. Data. In the world of insights, data is the representation of behavior or beliefs numerically. Insights professionals understand how to collect as well as decipher data of all kinds. They know when there are truly significant differences between data sets; they can recognize bias in data collection. Their mastery of data and how to use it to help others understand truth is a strong component in the journey to measure meaningful change; to monitor the impact of change; and to diagnose progress or problems along the way.
  3. Patterns. People understanding or single source data, in and of itself can be incredibly insightful. However, patterns that emerge across people groups and data sets reveal a deeper understanding and signal more holistic understanding. Insights professionals are highly skilled at recognizing these patterns across various sources that can help an organization understand and navigate through change. Most transformation efforts seem to move in stages as the processes, mindsets, and systems that support transformation are implemented and take hold. The ability to recognize patterns in adoption and application is a key diagnostic and a key enabler to transformational change.
  4. Story. People, data, and patterns woven together into compelling stories enable individuals and organizations to see themselves and their future during transformation. Insights leaders instinctively understand the power of story to influence, motivate, excite, frighten, or inspire others. Story is critical to transformation. It keeps folks motivated through difficult and sometimes scary change. 
  5. Decision Making. Ultimately, transformed organizations make decisions very differently. Primarily, they’ve learned that they will always be learning, so they make decisions to keep learning vs one-and-done knowledge-based decisions. And this is where the Insights function can truly shine. In most organizations, insights exists to enable great decisions from the business. Among others decisions that inspire and ensure relevance to customers, equip organizations to be able to supply products and services commensurate with predicted demand. As such, a great insights leader understands, within an organization, how decisions get made today; They have a sensitivity to changes in how decisions get made. They know the right combinations of people and data and patterns to weave into the stories that facilitate decisions. This understanding is critical in leading transformational change.

Now, it’s not to say that other functional leaders don’t also possess some of these same skills and competencies. But, where we’ve seen them integrate together most holistically has been within well developed Insights functions. And, when transformation is led, people first, we believe it’s much more likely to be sustainably successful.

What have you seen work well or not so well in leading through transformation? Let’s connect and share stories and see what we can learn from each other. When you are ready to step up to the plate, The Garage Group will come alongside you to equip and encourage you and your team, help you engage with the business in a new way, and deliver the impact your organization needs. Enter your email below to learn more.