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  • Writer's pictureDeanna Brigandi

Anthropology's Impact on Marketing

Updated: Mar 18

We’re on a mission to humanize brands, and to do so, we utilize a human-centered approach to develop our campaigns. We call it our Collective Intelligence Process, a three-step approach that brings together emotional, cultural, and brand intelligence to create powerful perspectives. TTC developed this proprietary research method with the help of Lara Tabac, PhD—an anthropologist with deep experience in research and policy development.

From consulting for NYU to tenure at the United Nations, Dr. Tabac’s decades of experience includes successfully launching a qualitative research project spanning five countries, as well as steering the advancement of global best practices concerning data dissemination, taking her around the world to lead workshops in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Currently, Dr. Lara Tabac resides in New York City as a director at Vital Strategies, a global public health organization.

As an expert in the field, we discussed anthropology with Dr. Tabac, unearthing some compelling insights about how marketers can utilize the social science to build relevant campaigns.

Q: What is cultural anthropology?

LT: Cultural anthropology looks at beliefs and practices to understand why people behave the way that they do. It also examines how cultural variables play a role in individuals’ beliefs and practices.

Think of the variation in greetings around the world: handshakes, cheek kisses, bowing, hands in prayer position at your heart—these ways of connecting with others are insights into the cultures from which they stem. A culture where it is normal to press your cheek against that of a stranger may be seen to be more "open" and "warm" than one that keeps others at "arm’s length."

bird's eye view of many people in a scattered group

Q: How can anthropology be used for marketing?

LT: Marketers can use anthropology in many, many ways. From decoding cultural nuances to uncovering consumer values or gaining a deeper understanding of societal dynamics to tailoring brand messages—all of which help brands resonate with diverse audiences, craft better campaigns, and create better connections.  

An anthropologist could explore any behavior to understand the values and influences that inform and predict market behavior, drawing insights that can contribute to the success of a campaign. For example, Airbnb employs an in-house anthropologist who helped shape their platform to reflect Millennials’ thirst for community. Intel has an in-house cultural anthropologist who oversees research into consumer behavior and preferences, and Microsoft, which uses anthropologists to study how people use technology in their daily lives, is reportedly the second-largest employer of anthropologists in the world.

Q: What methods of collecting and analyzing different cultures do anthropologists use?

LT: Traditionally, anthropologists have collected data through participant observation, focus groups, structured and semi-structured interviews, as well as content analysis of key texts and media. Interestingly enough, marketers utilize the same techniques to garner new insights about their target audiences, and these techniques stem from the social sciences.

Q: How have these methods evolved in the digital world?

LT: Now that we live in a world where so much interaction happens in the virtual space through highly segmented self-selected "communities," there are many passive ways for anthropologists and marketers to observe and learn about these micro-communities. Becoming a member of topic-driven Facebook groups, analysis of tweets from relevant demographic groups, and a deep dive into TikTok videos can all provide nearly real-time information about tastes, fads, and prevailing ideologies influencing target markets. Likewise, these digital methods of monitoring audiences allow marketers to shape their campaigns to resonate with their target and remain relevant.

nighttime downtown skyline with web graphic

Q: Do you think more companies should utilize anthropologists?

LT: I believe that every company would benefit from an in-house anthropologist. Not only can they help support market research, but they can also provide critical insights on efficiency, productivity, and workplace satisfaction in the culture of the company they work for.

Thank you, Dr. Tabac, for the insight into how anthropology serves as a compass, guiding marketers to better understand their audience. Through this understanding, we can engage with audiences on a deeper level, ensuring their wants, beliefs, and needs are at the forefront of every campaign.


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