Living in Shanghai, a city defined by convenience and transport options, I still decide to undertake a two-hour walk to work everyday. The reason – it forms an essential part of my thinking as an ethnographer and brand builder.
Every morning, I get up earlier than most, to mediate and prepare for my day – my goal is to savour the day, and make every minute count. An essential part of this is the ritual of walking to-and-from work everyday – all up, close to four hours and about twenty kilometres daily.
Am I a fitness freak, no far from it, but I’ll admit freely I am an ‘insight freak’.
What I look forward to each day is the opportunity to observe Shanghai at ground-level. In my daily walk, it takes me on a journey from the traditional, to the modern, and through the vexes of the post-modern.
The process is to be a modern ‘flâneur’ – an urban stroller. It is the search, as Martin Lindstrom has termed it, for “small data” – the social clues that allow us to piece together breakthrough insight.
On my walks, I am watching for how people are interacting with each other, cutting down each ‘Chinese stereotype’ at a time. I am seeing instances of unique behaviours tied together by patterns.
These patterns are the building blocks of genuine consumer insight, knowledge that can be engaged with by brands to build a differentiated relationship with consumers – or in the old school parlance, comparative advantage.
I am seeing how people simultaneously ‘notice’ and ‘ignore’ things in their immediate vicinity, when people are both ‘active’ and ‘inactive’ when using their mobile devices, and how their gestures and facial expressions change at different points in their conversations.
A specific event I enjoy observing is the ‘delivery’ of school children to their lesson each day.
Walking past, the dimensions, complexities and challenges of the modern Chinese family become apparent. As grand-parents, in the place of busy parents, are given the responsibility of preparing their children to ‘achieve’ at school – the tensions of this arrangement show through clearly.
How could this quotidian observation help brands? A brand that can understand these challenges, irrespective of whether the product offered is snacks, appliances, cosmetics, finance, automobiles, technology, could forge a progressive relationship with families, where the brand moves from simply a transaction to more of an ‘enabler’, a solution to the modern reality of Chinese family life.
I am often asked by young researchers how they can improve their skills.
My first piece of advice; walk to work.