Recently in partnership with Dr. Rex Dumdum, I gave two presentations at the Northeastern Association of Business, Economics, and Technology (NABET) conference where we pitched the value of anthropological thinking and sensemaking to address business problems.

One of those presentations titled Building Sensemaking Capacity: Drawing Insights from Anthropological Thinking focused on the increasing complexity business face, and why it’s increasingly difficult to successfully innovate and stay competitive. The takeaway was that businesses need to better understand the lived experience of their consumers if they are to stay relevant.

As we suggested, one way to accomplish this is to hire applied anthropologists, and likewise in this article, I will suggest a few anthropology consulting firms to consider hiring to address your business problems.

The Problems Businesses are Facing

Businesses, according to an IBM global study of 1500 CEOs, are facing a rapid escalation of complexity. Capitalizing on complexity and customer intimacy to create innovative ways of delivering value are business’ significant challenges. The study further revealed that “enterprises today are not equipped to cope effectively with this complexity in the global environment.”

Compounding the problem, traditional business practices are proving to be inadequate to identify, interpret and robustly understand implications of emerging developments. This is due to our tendency to often try to understand the problems we face based on what we already know, instead of seeking that which we truly do not, regardless if are trying to make sense of consumer markets, design products or lead a corporate culture.

To help address this problem, we advocate for drawing insights from anthropological thinking.

The Value of Anthropology Consulting Firms

The value-add of drawing insights from anthropological thinking is found in its ability to help uncover unknown unknowns that exist and explain the “why.” But to accomplish this, we need to get out of the office and understand who our consumers truly are, and why they think and behave the way they do. We can not solely rely on the current trend of big data, as we also discussed in our presentation titled Why Analytics Needs Ethnography. Instead, we need to deeply understand our consumers in context, which requires qualitative research to help go beyond answering the questions we already know exist.

That is why applied anthropologists are uniquely suited for the job. They are trained to go out into the wild without preconceived notions, conduct observations and interviews, and learn from the people that know best – your consumers. Through this process, anthropologists can explain the context behind trends in quantitative data and uncover new patterns of behavior or needs that were never known before.

If you think your business could benefit from hiring an applied anthropologist, here are the top firms I would consider.

Six Anthropology Consulting Firms I Suggest

1. Azimuth Labs – Anthropology Consulting

Azimuth Labs, which in full disclosure is my consultancy, is an anthropology consulting firm offering product development, organizational culture, and corporate strategy consulting. In those areas, we provide the following services:

  1. Product Development – We help clients innovate new products or optimize existing ones by using ethnographic research to inform a product management and user experience (UX) practice.
  2. Organizational Culture – We help clients define and execute change management strategies by using ethnographic research to deeply understand their work practice culture before changing it.
  3. Corporate Strategy – We help clients understand the competitive landscape and plan their business strategy by using ethnographic research to make sense of consumers and markets.

Using mixed-methods research, including ethnography, we research the human experience and through the application of social theory, discover insights that enable your product development, organizational culture, and corporate strategy. Our process involves the following six steps:

  1. Listen with Empathy – We listen to your business goals and problems with intent and empathy, as we seek to understand the business needs from your perspective.
  2. Reframe the Problem – We reframe your business problem from the perspective of the people who interact with your products or work in your organization.
  3. Conduct the Research – We openly explore the problem space using ethnographic research methods to produce a thick description of the people behind your problem.
  4. Discover the Themes – We peel back the layers in the data to discover the root causes that produce observable behaviors, patterns, and beliefs of the people.
  5. Surface the Insights – We use the themes to produce insights that help your business understand previously unknown unknowns or poorly understood concepts.
  6. Design for Change – We translate the insights into actionable tactics that you can use to create impact and enable your product, culture, or corporate strategy.

2. Cultural Keys

Cultural Keys was founded by Dr. Elizabeth Briody to help organizations transform their culture, reach their potential, and attract and retain new customers.

  • Understand or change their culture.
  • Strengthen employee collaboration and empowerment.
  • Improve relationships with partners and suppliers.
  • Build a strong customer base or retain customers so they won’t go to your competitors.

3. LTG Associates

Founded and led by anthropologists, LTG Associates, Inc. is an award-winning, minority-owned small business. They have worked at the leading edge of a variety of health and social issues for over two decades.

LTG has worked in all fifty states, in all of the territories and freely associated states, and in over fifty foreign countries. They have worked for the U.S. federal government, for state governments, for ministries of health, for counties, cities, and with non-profit and for-profit organizations.

Through a team-based approach and thoughtful use of staff, consultants and subcontractors, They provide rapid, cost-conscious support to clients, even with short notice and conflicting demands. Their small size allows them to be flexible and agile, and they bring in the best talent to meet a requirement.

Much of their work has centered on formative, process, and outcome research and evaluation concerning the development and conduct of programs, the shape of communication, and the content of policy that affects the lives of communities. They have a strong belief in the critical nature of partnerships and the inclusion of communities of interest from the beginning phases of any project.

4. Simon Associates Management Consultants

Simon Associates Management Consultants (SAMC) is a uniquely designed consulting company. A corporate anthropologist, Andrea Simon, Ph.D. developed SAMC to apply anthropological concepts, methods, and tools to the needs of corporations, entrepreneurs and organizations as they adapt to changing times.

SAMC’s team approach helps you apply these proven anthropological concepts and methodologies to create better strategies, processes, and products. They help you “see, feel and think” about your business in ways you haven’t before. And it is often these experiences that open you up to better solutions for your current customers and “big ideas” to attract future ones.

5. Maschio Consulting

Maschio Consulting uses the theories and observational techniques of cultural anthropology to interpret consumer behavior. They combine ethnographic field techniques gleaned from academic studies, with a deep understanding of cultural trends and the evolving symbolic value of products and services in society. Their creative and insightful interpretations lead to compelling advertising and business strategies.

6. Missing Link Studios

Missing Link Studios is a human-centered Creative + Curation and Production Studio and Collective. They are a collective of digital natives who specialize in narrative media production like podcasting, education, participatory design research and creative strategy for social impact. They especially love working with community and educational organizations, non-profits, museums, and cultural institutions that want to spread public benefit through media.