The Modern Online Community: Building Team Empathy Through Technology Enabled Self-Ethnography

Posted on March 29, 2019

The research community has become pretty astute at understanding consumers at the time of purchase and when they are using products… but, how can we gain a deeper understanding of how products impact the lives of consumers beyond those points in time? And how do we balance that need for extensive consumer lifestyle exploration within the tight timelines and limited budgets we all face?

At the upcoming June, 2018 IIeX North America conference, Marketry’s Lorrin Etka-Shepherd and Colgate-Palmolive Company’s Cherie Leonard will discuss how they tackled this dilemma with their efforts to explore the consumer relationship with scarce water resources using online global immersion sessions.

Erasing the Distance

Taking a fresh approach to balancing global scope with local insight, Colgate and Marketry used online communities, local moderators and recruiters and a platform that allowed for hundreds of videos and pictures to be shared.

That ability to connect with respondents through video and images really helped to break down the invisible wall in online work. We were able to capture the emotional implications, and as a result, the richness of the stories were truly brought to life, despite the fact that we were oceans away.

A Deeper Understanding

We learned the emotional relationship with water among consumers is a Catch-22. Water evokes positive emotions around beauty, cleanliness and positive self-image, but also draws negative emotions about the need to conserve and protect this scarce (i.e. expensive) resource and the fear of limited access to it.

The insight? Globally, consumers are open to products that address this Catch-22, although the mindset differs across countries:

    • South Africa – Proactive in conservation due to direct experience with limited access to water
    • Mexico – Water-centric in that perceptions of cleanliness have direct correlation to perception of personal worth
    • Brazil – Poor water quality makes them hesitant about water sources
    • United States – Look for convenience coupled with conservation

The Global Approach

The ability to understand the differences and commonalities among consumers at a global level has vast implications for product development.  Our online approach allowed us to tap into a range of countries in a cost-effective way. By using local language moderators, we captured cultural nuances – and with one central point for overall management and analysis – we were able to pull everything together for a rich analysis.

We learned the importance of highlighting the emotional connection to water through an experience that enhances the beauty of life. In addition, we also learned to embrace differing cultural perceptions of water when developing new products in the positioning, product benefits, packaging and pricing.

It’s clear that the modern online community can help researchers expand beyond borders, while at the same time shrinking the barriers that previously separated our ability to connect and understand the impact products have in the lives of consumers.

To learn more, contact us at [email protected], visit and make sure you stop by and say “Hi” at our IIex presentation on June 12 at 9:40 am.