Ethnography And The Internet Of Things


A client hoped to capitalize on the Internet of Things (IoT) movement by identifying the driving forces behind it from a consumer perspective as they relate to a component of their core business. They had made some baseline assumptions, but wanted to dig deeper with qualitative research in order to understand the real benefits through a consumer lens. 

What clouded their understanding of the IoT trend at the time was that the market felt more like the "wild west," with products entering the space left and right, leaving the landscape cluttered. Was it simply technology for technology's sake, or were consumers realizing real benefits? Our client's audience had a number of burning questions. "How do we get out there," they asked, "and make sure that we touch people at different stages, people in different areas, people with different needs and really try to understand as much as we can about these people and their experience with products in this space?"  


The ideal research approach to serve this need was clearly ethnography, or contextual research, of purchasers of IoT solutions in our client's space. But before we could begin to engage these consumers on their turf, we needed to find them. According to quantitative data available at the time, less than 2% of consumers surveyed had even purchased a qualified IoT solution. The market was still in its infancy.

Via a combination of quantitative surveying of an audience of 5,000 and qualitative market assessment, we identified three relevant metro regions in the US and proceeded into the field. We conducted 2-3 hour in-depth interviews (IDIs) with 30 purchasers of IoT solutions in the context of their homes and employed techniques such as laddering to get to the real benefits consumers desired from their experience.


Following our signature Voice of the Customer (VoC) analysis, the landscape became much more understandable. "In the market right now, you see that they divide the IoT market more by products," our client realized, "and with Storyline we're now seeing these themes around tangible benefits instead of dividing up the market by product function."

One specific area of insight we presented really had our client buzzing. "The value created at the individual's level is just tremendous," they told us. "Those types of opportunities are rare in life. And so the fundamental driving force is there." 

The investigation brought real impact to our client's perspective on the IoT opportunity, which was shared with internal audiences eager to consume the content. The material continues to be leveraged as a focal point for understanding the driving forces behind past, present and future consumer behavior in the IoT marketplace.  

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