media update’s Aisling McCarthy chatted to Denham-Dyson about the role of women in the industry and what anthropology has to offer marketers.

What skills do you think women need to succeed in business?

I think it depends on the area you are in – your skillset will set you apart depending on what you industry you perform in.

As a woman, I think you should follow your passion and not be deterred by people who don't support you, or who try to make your ambition smaller than it is.

Anything that you care about that much will afford you the energy to develop all the skills you need to succeed in business.

What value do you think anthropology holds within marketing?

Anthropology is a data-driven human science. However, we work with thick or small data, not 'big data'. We look for nuance, texture, stories and habits that are hidden within the everyday lives of participants.

This is really useful in marketing because this deeply descriptive data helps us to surface the latent cultures that influence decision-making.

Anthropology is the study of people, but it incorporates many different frames in order to understand them. Using immersions and in-depth interviews, we can understand why people do what they do – with a much deeper level of detail.

We take this rich data and translate it into human truths or behavioural insights. Using an anthropological lens can also provide a much richer ‘knowledge’ and ‘objects’ for marketers to use. For example, more diverse and human archetypes, a better understanding of the mental models or purchase journey and a better understanding of what role the product plays in the consumer's life.

Using anthropology as a base to understand people is a more reflexive, empathetic way of understanding the dynamics between people and their worlds.

What are the key differences between traditional marketing and anthropology driven marketing?

As most traditional market research is based in psychology, the differences are about as vast as the difference between the disciplines of psychology and anthropology.

Primarily, most market research involves close-ended, survey like questioning, and relies on the participant to interpret their own behaviours. However, we often say that 'people don't know what they do'. We, as consumers, are not always aware of how often we do something, why we do it or why we started doing it in the first place.

An anthropological approach allows the researcher to take an outside view of an insider's world, and immerse themselves in the sights, smells, sounds, tastes and feel of the universe the participant lives in, whether it be driving the kids to school or organising an HR event at work.

Traditional market research usually goes looking to find out something specific and comes back reporting on that thing. Often, anthropologists will go into the field with a loose idea of what they are looking for and, through the process of researching, find valuable information and direction.

Anthropologists understand that humans are not just 'in' their lives – they are constantly remaking, interpreting and assessing their relationships with people and things.

Therefore, in order to change their behaviour or fit into their worlds, we need to first understand these relationships and document what shapes them.

What kind of challenges do you face when using anthropology to inform your marketing strategies?

The biggest challenge that we have is always gaining the trust of people or organisations in allowing us access to their business or personal lives. As anthropological research is often immersive; it can be difficult finding participants and clients who will be comfortable having an anthropologist hanging around them.

It can be seen as invasive, so we have to offset this through a value add for the individual. It is also important that our clients position the anthropological research correctly both internally and externally – this is not traditional market research! Mostly, we do find that people enjoy the experience once they have been exposed to it and they appreciate the (our) client taking a genuine interest in their lives.

August is Women’s Month, so what advice would you give to young women just starting out in the industry?

My advice would be to know your value and know your power. There is so much space to be brave and innovative in marketing, and a shaking up of the status quo is not only admirable, but required.

I would say, find yourself a good mentor and learn from them as fully as you can. Then smash the patriarchy and be relentless in the pursuit of your passions!

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The world of marketing and advertising can be a tough place for women to have their voices heard. Find out more about how one organisation is helping them to be heard in our article, Open Chair aims to connect women in advertising.