As another busy week comes to an end I am grateful for the fact that a new client has entrusted me with their insight needs.  This week I was fortunate enough to conduct 12 ethnographies; a fancy word for research that is part observational and part Q&A conducted outside of the confines of an interviewing facility.  In this week’s project, we started the interview in the participant’s home where we snooped around their kitchens and bathrooms before engaging them in a discussion on the topic of interest. We then followed them to a store and watched them shop for our client’s category.

We learn so much more about a consumer by being with them in their home. For example, instead of asking them to recall the products they purchased, we can actually see them. We also get a better sense of who they are by taking in their surroundings; home decoration, the pictures on the refrigerator, and other artifacts found around the home give us another level of insight into who this person really is.

I always leave projects like this inspired with a renewed faith in humanity. Why? Well, you see here in Fairfield County Connecticut, whether we care to admit it or not, we live in a bubble that is not reflective of the wider population.  This is part of the reason I have to travel so much for business – I need my clients to see how people in this country really live so that they can get a better feel for who they are developing products and advertising for.

So I found myself in Tampa, Florida and Columbus, OH spending an extensive amount of time with people quite different my clients and me.  I met a single mother of a handicapped daughter who could have had starring roles on both Hoarders and Extreme Couponers. She works full time and must provide an aide for her daughter. This woman has stockpiles of every kind of product you can think of. It begged the question why she continued to be an extreme couponer when she doesn’t really need to shop for anything. Her reply was that she now does it so that she can give her “deals” away to the homeless. She doesn’t just drop these items off to a shelter or pantry though, no – she hands them out personally.  And some people say that Angels don’t exist – well I met one and she lives in Columbus, Ohio.

I met another woman in Columbus, Ohio who had turned her life around. In her younger days she would sneak out of her parent’s home and “do some drinking and drugging.” Since then she realized that her life was going down a dark path and decided to changer her life around. She is now married with an adopted daughter whom she just can’t seem to get enough of.  Her priorities now have shifted from being focused solely on herself to being focused on the care of her family. I just love a good turn around story, don’t you?

In Tampa I met one of the nicest and forthcoming guys I ever met in my career as an interviewer.  I’ll admit that when I answered the door his flowing dreadlocks and choice of tee shirt led me to believe the interview might go nowhere (let’s just say the phrase “Ass, Grass, or Cash – Nobody Rides for Free” was imprinted on his clothing). Well, this was a reminder that we cannot be too quick to pass judgement based on outside appearances.  Who I met was a man very attached to both his mother and sister, who runs a business part time while going back to school to get a degree in healthcare administration. His goal is to work in a nursing home (I wonder what the Golden Girls would think of that tee-shirt! Well, I know what Blanche would think).

I could tell you about the lawyer I met who buys only store brand products so he can put the money he saves away to take his family of 5 on a nice summer vacation. I could tell you about the musician who works full time in a bank who took her young son to a pride parade in order to show him that there is a lot of diversity in this colorful world of ours. I could tell you about the 23 year old young man who is putting away all of his earnings in order to buy his girlfriend an engagement ring (shh – she does not know yet).

I am keenly aware of the sacrifices other people make in order to lead their lives and the beauty in each of their struggles.  I am inspired by the optimism and courage each of these people show through their stories and I am ever so grateful for the blessings that I experience in my life.  I am also aware that in order to have these experiences, my family must be inconvenienced. If there is anything I don’t like about what I do for a living it is that it requires me to be away from the people I love for days at a time.  Yet I am reminded by others that life is not perfect, there will always be some struggle, and ultimately we become better people for making the sacrifices we must make in order to provide for others.