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.


Last year, we listened to lessons from corporate leaders from Kraft Heinz, JPMorgan Chase, ascena retail, and more as they discussed their industry-specific challenges and first-hand experiences from enabling their BigCos to operate like startups.

The Garage Group is excited to organize and host a special Courageous Minds Only chat on Operating Like a Startup in a BigCo to kick off the new year with special guest, Beth Comstock, the former Vice Chair and head of marketing and innovation at GE, and author of Imagine it Forward. 

Beth has trailblazed the way forward for BigCo innovators and leaders through her experiences shifting GE toward a new digital future and a more innovative culture. In Imagine it Forward, she shares much of that battle-tested perspective. Join us on Wednesday, January 23 from 6:30-8: 30 pm as she continues to share her thoughts on how to tackle BigCo challenges in the face of uncertainty.

More About Beth Comstock: 

Beth Comstock‘s mission is to understand what’s next, navigate change and help people and organizations do the same. By cultivating a habit of seeking out new ideas, people and places, she built a career path from storyteller to chief marketer to GE Vice Chair. In nearly three decades at GE, she led efforts to accelerate new growth and innovation, initiated GE’s digital and clean-energy transformation, seeded new businesses and enhanced GE’s brand value and inventive culture. As President of Integrated Media at NBC Universal, Beth oversaw TV ad revenue and new digital efforts, including the early development of Beth is a director at Nike, trustee of The National Geographic Society and former board president of the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian National Design Museum. She graduated from the College of William and Mary with a degree in biology.

Join us on January 23 at 1460 Broadway, New York, NY 10036.

Below is the event agenda:

Event costs have been covered by The Garage Group so it is free to attend the event. There will be beer, wine, and light snacks provided. Registration is required as this event will likely reach capacity.

We’ve been going to Lean Startup Conference for the past three years, always returning home with a notebook full of ways to optimize approaches and new leaders that we can follow and learn from. The conference is always chock-full of lessons to enable startups and enterprises big and small to operate more lean and entrepreneurial in the face of uncertainty. Innovation leaders, industry experts, and startup founders share their stories of how they have applied the Lean Startup approach to their businesses, and how they have had to move more quickly and strategically to stay ahead of the competition.

Here are a few of our top notes from this year’s conference: 

1. Experiment to make better decisions.

While MVP (minimum viable product) has been the emphasis in past years, many have realized that even the MVP itself can be an over-build before experimenting; so the conversation has shifted to conducting smart, fast, iterative experiments. Giff Constable defined an experiment as “a test designed to help you answer the questions ‘Should we do this?’ or ‘Am I right about this?’” Some key advice when running experiments was to think like a hacker, not a product person and to remember the goal is to learn! We’re big fans of Giff’s book, Testing with Humans, because it fleshes out a variety of experiment types.

2. Know where you play on the adoption curve and don’t scale prematurely.

Start by reaching Innovators, then Early Adopters (on the Rogers Adoption Curve) and figure out smaller scale launches. Eric Ries emphasized that Bigcos don’t know how to do small/medium-sized launches and approvals well; they just know million dollar approval processes. Now, more than ever, we’re targeting smaller markets and need smaller launches. It’s crucial to ensure we are making stuff that people will want to tell others about. A key underutilized metric is WOM (word of mouth) and whether Early Adopters are telling the Early Majority about the product/service.

3. Disrupting Traditional Accounting: Innovation Accounting.

Dave Binetti shared a great analogy for Innovation Accounting and the future of how finance needs to think. He explained it’s similar to a life insurance policy – nobody hopes to die, but we all have life insurance coverage for those just-in-case moments. Think of Innovation Accounting like profit insurance for those just-in-case moments when a new, disruptive idea starts impeding on our billion dollar business or product. Putting multiple ideas through metered funding with metrics that show iterative de-risking future-proofs the organization and is a form of insurance. We liked that this analog re-frames how crucial putting bets on more than one idea is. We wouldn’t go without car or home insurance, would we?

4. Lean Startup applies to product/service innovation but also to the organizational structure.

Lean Startup has obvious application to products and services, but the conversation evolved this year to hacking outdated organizational structures that are slowing innovation down. Aaron Dignan shared several cases of teams that have been given autonomy within Bigcos, to operate with speed and agility instead of layered decision-making. These teams act as thousands of “bets” the Bigco is taking. Haier, Handelsbanken, Buurfzorg, and Morningstar Tomato were shared as examples of teams uniquely structured with autonomy to drive their own experiments to yield better products and services.

5. Drive for outcomes instead of giving teams specific “this is how you need to do this” instructions.

Josh Seiden and Cindy Alvarez talked about empowering teams through goals instead of granular maps for how to get there. Cindy Alvarez utilizes simple templates to ensure everyone knows the “why” and where we are heading. For example: “The problem is        . We know it’s a problem because         . If we don’t fix it,         will happen. When we fix it, we’ll get        .” We recognized Jobs to Be Done thinking here: instead of telling teams the solution, explain the Job to Be Done and commission them with finding a solution to that Job.

The practice of Lean Startup itself is iterative in nature – getting more and more honed over time. We were refreshed on the mindset of experimenting at every stage, and a renewed desire to learn more about how other organizations are applying Lean Startup. Here’s a peek at some of the books we heard about at the conference, and are adding to our booklist to read in 2019:

The Garage Group is excited to organize and host another Courageous Minds Only chat on Operating Like a Startup in a BigCo, our first in Columbus, Ohio, this time with leaders from ascena Retail and JPMorgan Chase on Wednesday, November 14th, at 5:30 pm EST at Industrious, 629 North High Street, 4th Floor, Columbus, OH 43215.

Over the past year, we’ve been listening in on lessons from corporate leaders from Pepsico, Kraft Heinz, Tyson Foods, AbinBev, CME Group, Worldpay, and more as they discuss their industry-specific challenges and first-hand experiences from enabling their BigCos to operate like startups. These battle-tested leaders are courageously trailblazing the way forward. They’re under tremendous pressure to keep their organizations relevant and growing in the face of increasing market uncertainty.

We’re all learning, failing forward, identifying and solving problems, and figuring out the right path. Let’s keep learning from one another. 

On November 14th in Columbus, listen in for battle-tested lessons learned from these top corporate leaders on strategies and tactics they’ve personally used to allow their organizations to search for sustainable and bold new ways to add value in the face of increasing market uncertainty.

Here’s who is jumping in:

Panel led by Ann Thompson, Co-CEO, The Garage Group

Join us at Industrious, 629 North High Street, 4th Floor, Columbus, OH 43215.

Below is the event agenda:

Event costs have been covered by The Garage Group so it is free to attend the event.  There will be beer, wine, and light snacks provided.

Join the conversation in Columbus on November 14th!

A brand within a Fortune 500 retail company came to The Garage Group with a desire for more consumer-centric approach to innovation. Their small team wanted to make a big impact across the business and across their culture. They needed to overcome real challenges around ensuring consumer empathy was leading to big ideas, despite limited resources needed for development and deployment of skills and tools.

A few of their team members had been trained specifically in Design Thinking from Stanford’s D-School, and others in the group had been reading foundational books on similar entrepreneurial methods. But, the team was looking for a way to more clearly connect the dots between theory and application.


The brand’s innovation leader, along with The Garage Group, developed a customized training to set the tone for their new innovation processes and inspire change. A week before Black Friday, 22 members of this retail team – managers from Merchandising, Trends, Finance, Brand Strategy, HR, Marketing, and more — converged and engaged in the interactive training. Coaching included high-level overviews of the Lean Growth Playbook and Design Thinking, and an in-depth training in Empathy, Jobs to be Done, and Business Model Canvassing.  

Throughout the training, The Garage Group guided the team as they built empathy for one another and their target market, successfully translated real customer “pain points” into Jobs to be Done, and developed real innovation pipeline ideas leveraging a custom Business Model Canvas.

Through the in-depth Jobs to be Done training, things started to click. TGG shared external examples of translating “pain points” into Jobs before turning it over to the smaller sub-teams to work through translating their own customer “pain points” into Jobs. After coming together as a group to discuss, the sub-teams again put theory into practice by translating those “pain points” into business-relevant Jobs to be Done. Leveraging a custom-designed Business Model Canvas, the teams rapidly developed and assessed ideas.


Participants from the training immediately began using this new, consumer-centric language, along with the tools they learned around building empathy, uncovering pain points, prioritizing Jobs to be Done, and then building robust business models to pressure-test ideas. All around the offices, Business Models Canvases were hung and used to help teams assess the strength or weaknesses of ideas. Bad ideas were killed faster, and good ideas were elevated quickly.

The brand now prides itself on its ability to begin with empathy, to generate stronger ideas. In addition, they’ve leveraged this consumer-centric approach to enable more focused planning efforts. “What job does it do?” has become common vernacular, keeping the consumer at the center any conversation.

Finally, as this brand began to feel the impact of this training, the company has taken notice. Executives from across the company took part in an immersive training and are now beginning to cascade these new approaches to consumer centricity throughout the brands.

“The Garage Group was very effective in tailoring their materials to our needs. Our goal was to develop skills in 1 day that would allow the team to be in action without requiring continued consulting support. That was accomplished and much more. We’ve seen a paradigm shift leading to a new language centered on the customer.”


To learn more about customer centricity or schedule a training for your team, reach out to