Thursday, June 28, 2012

Hyundai Touch the Market Case – General Issues and Using Ethnography

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Case Summary and Background

Hyundai was interested in designing new automobiles that would specifically attract the Gen Y audience, which had historically found the brand to be less-than interesting both from a styling and a functionality standpoint.
What they did: They designed and implemented a Touch The Market (TTM) Immersion, taking key stakeholders and designers (both American and Korea) through a multi-day event that include: 1) Experiential, metaphoric exercises around the concept design. 2) Automotive and non-automotive panel discussions. 3) Digital college campus scavenger hunt. 4) Competitive ride and drives. 4) Group ethnographies.
Each participating team captured these experiences in a competition culminating in a deliverable that included new concept design and features.
The Impact is this TTM approach enabled new vehicle designers to gain a range of highly stimulating perspectives on and emotionally based learning’s about Gen Y, enabling the design of two new vehicles slated for 2012 launch.

General Issues:

Issues it raises includes
-          How does a company select one of the customer centric innovation approaches among others- especially at the concept stage?
-          How would we know this process developed will really bring the right customer input?
-          How can we develop better vehicles, vehicles that better fulfill the needs of the customer?
-          What is the true coax and how to get true coax from customer?
-          How can we incorporate the Voice of the customer?
-          Use and misuse of the ethnographic approach to guiding product development and/or improvement.
-          Community-style development, adding non-American participants.

Ethnographic approach

Goal and Problem Statement

In order to help the team gain a deeper understanding of the glamour mom, Hyundai ventured out into where these women lived: their homes, hearts, and world. Hyundai got to know what mattered to them, so that Hyundai could make the Santa Fe more meaningful to them. This type of ethnographic research takes into account that what people say does not always jive with what they think and feel. So Hyundai watched, listened, asked questions, and let people speak freely about their lives. Ethnographic research allowed Hyundai to approach consumers as whole individuals in order to create products that connect them to the Hyundai brand. (Hyundai, 2007)

What Ethnography is

Ethnography is a qualitative research method aimed to at exploring cultural phenomena which reflect the knowledge and system of meanings guiding the life of a cultural group. (Geertz, C. 1973) (Philipsen, G. 1992).   It studies people, ethnic groups and other ethnic formations, their ethnogenesis, composition, resettlement, social welfare characteristics, as well as their material and spiritual culture. In the biological sciences, this type of study might be called a "field study" or a "case report", both of which are used as common synonyms for "ethnography".(Boaz, Wolfe, 1997)

Pros, Cons Limitations of Ethnography (Katz, 2006)


-          A lot of information can be gained from observing a customer’s environment first-hand
-          An oft-cited reason for using ethnography is the belief that many “unspoken” needs exist that, when discovered, can lead to enormous breakthrough innovations—real “game-changers” in industry parlance. Some say that the only way to “hear” these unspoken needs is through observation.

Cons & Limitations

-          Onsite interviewing is far more expensive and time-consuming than central-location interviewing.
-          To create an affinity diagram and prioritize customer needs, these needs must, at some point, be expressed verbally
-          At risk of stating the obvious, there has to be something that is possible and practical to observe or ethnographic research simply does not make sense
-          Observation can alter behavior—the  so-called “Hawthorne effect.”
-          Many environments do not lend themselves to easy recording.
-          Many respondents don’t want to be questioned while they are concentrating on the task at hand

How Ethnography relates to course concepts

Concepts: "exploration space" & "what job was this product hired to do?"

It is very difficult to reach the place in our imagination where we can project to what might be or what others might think—but it is important to do this in order to successfully understand products, and what they need to deliver. Many people call this leap to more abstract lateral thinking "thinking outside the box." It is intellectually challenging, but vitally important. (Unger, Leybourne, 2012)
Sometimes it helps to have some sort of tool to assist in framing our thinking in a different way, and taking us away from out comfortable thought processes. The tool is known as exploration matrix. It's use is explained in some detail in the Christensen reading "Discovering what has been Discovered: What Job was your Product Hired to Do?" (Christensen C.M. 1999)


As innovators, Hyundai can apply ethnography to understand customer needs, using the three steps process.
Step 1: By joining customer regular life activities and events using ethnographic approach, observe and perhaps ask actual customers how they use the product, and what their values and priorities for the product are.
Step 2: Observe and ascertain what else the customers could have used using ethnographic approach, and what the advantage of other products. This identifies the competition, and opens up different social and emotional dimensions of the customer experience.
Step 3: Back to the lower left-hand corner of the Exploration Space Matrix, because solutions and improvements need to be based on what is possible

Does Ethnography do a good job at that goal?

The goal as stated is to gain a deeper understanding of the glamour mom. The direct measure would be how mid age woman customers are satisfied with the design of the car and what are the sales figures of the car related to mid age women. There is a lot of good feedback about how the TTM. However there are not too many information on how much TTM is using ethnographic approach to gather requirements for ladies. Also there are sales figure related model but not specific to woman. However this seems to help based on the assumption that woman are not as good as man in terms of expressing their true feelings verbally. This ethnographic approach on woman implies sexism and may not be a politically correct measure.

Final Remarks: What would Kawasaki or Adams say?

Kawasaki: Build crappy cars that fulfill all the customer fantasies (Safety can be tested in beta testing).
Adams: Do not assume you really know your customers until you have ethnographically approached them.


Boaz. N.T. & Wolfe, L.D. (1997). Biological anthropology. Published by International Institute for Human Evolutionary Research. Page 150.
Christensen C.M. (1999) Innovation and the General Manager Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill Irwin. Section 2.3 – Discovering what has been Discovered: What Job was your Product hired to do? (pp. 169-178)
Geertz, C. (1973). Thick description: Toward an interpretive theory of culture. In The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays (pp 3-30). New York: Basic Books, Inc., Publishers
Hyundai. (2007). "Hyundai uses 'Touch the Market' to Create Clarity in Project Concepts". Visions Magazine, June 2007
Katz. (2006). Viewpoint, The truth about ethnography. PDMA Visions MAgAzinE
Philipsen, G. (1992). Speaking Culturally: Explorations in Social Communication. Albany, New York: State University of New York Press
Unger, Leybourne. (2012). MET AD 741 Lecture Notes, Boston University

Eric Tse, Richmond Hill, Toronto
Tse and Tse Consulting -Security, Identity Access Management, Identity Access Management Toronto, Solution Architect, Consulting
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