Using Ethnographic Insights to Foster Positive Value Exchange between Consumers and Corporations

A Case Study With FedEx

Authored by: Timothy de Waal Malefyt

The Routledge Handbook of Positive Communication

Print publication date:  December  2018
Online publication date:  January  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138633278
eBook ISBN: 9781315207759
Adobe ISBN:


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This chapter explores the ways in which qualitative ethnographic research can reveal the positive aspects of consumer relationships with products, brands, and services that might otherwise be overlooked in other types of research. Since insights are said to arrive from a “viewpoint of difference” (Bateson, 1972), this research suggests ethnography works best when using an “emic” and “etic” model that compares and contrasts insider and outsider viewpoints (Arnould & Wallendorf, 1994; Pike, 1967). The positive value discovered through emic insights from ethnographic research has strong implications for the way corporations market to and develop a range of products, service, and advertising for consumers. In the study presented here, insights gained from ethnographic research with small business managers about their use of overnight shipping services helped generate new strategic ideas for a shipping company. As such, positive valuations of consumer relationships with brands and services that offer an “insider view” are more likely to produce positive messages that are meaningful to those consumers than messages that assume an incorrect stance and are less relevant to consumers.

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