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It Takes a Human to Understand a Human: How Autoethnography Drives our Research in a Post-AI World

Through constant innovation, Sympler’s autoethnographic approach treats consumers as experts of their own lives, enlisting them as co-researchers for a level of depth that’s impossible in traditional ethnographic consumer research. 

As data collection, research, and even human understanding have become industrialized and commoditized, and as AI enters the fray to remove yet more of the human touch, society will look for places where humans can play a more active role. Empowering formerly-herded research participants in this way and giving them agency to think and reflect will be one of the key ways that the technology-centric systems can reconnect with truth.

As a startup in consumer research, Sympler’s methodology emerged through innovating chatbot technology as an ethnographic tool to access candor and intimacy in private messaging. Sympler didn’t stop at this level of analysis, however – as a constant innovator in the field of qualitative consumer research, we’ve evolved our approach into new and deeper territory: autoethnography as our core methodology. “Auto” references the “self,” so autoethnography is an ethnography of the self in the study of consumers and their culture. 

Our team of ethnographers comes to the table with expertise in ethnographic research design and analysis – crafting wholly unique discussion guides to engage respondents in candid conversation and then excavating profound, often-hidden meaning from their in-depth responses. We depart from other research organizations by treating respondents as experts – and even anthropologists – of their own lives. After years of studying people of all backgrounds, we are unequivocal in our belief that individuals are more than capable of self-analysis and reflection. They are even masters of a deeper level of analysis and access to the subconscious than are elicited from a more traditional ethnographic approach. 

Consumers share with us not only what and why they think and feel, but also the factors that have shaped those “whats” and “whys” in the first place. In this, we use play, projective techniques, and multimedia prompts to ask respondents to reflect on previous life experiences to contextualize their behaviors and motivations in more psychologically sophisticated ways. As trusted co-researchers, respondents’ self-reflexivity produces a multimedia archive of profoundly personal data from which complexity, nuance and truth emerge.