The subject of business acumen rarely arises in social science discussions. However, corporate anthropologist Andi Simon has mined crucial business lessons from studying human social interaction through the millennia. The business insights provided by the study of humanity might surprise you and even give you a leg up on the competition.
Cultural anthropology is the study of how people within a culture create and change the tangible and societal structures around them. Like small-scale societies, businesses have unique company cultures to examine.
“Someone asked me why other anthropologists and I were not studying small-scale societies, such as the Trobriand Islands or Samoa,” Simon noted. “My response: ‘Why didn’t [they] think a business culture was a small-scale community?'”
Simon explained that businesses, like small-scale societies, have rituals, symbols and traditional ways of doing things. “If [someone] just watched how a new hire was onboarded, they could see those cultural norms articulated clearly in everything from the policies and procedures to the equivalent of hazing a new hire,” Simon said.
In business contexts, cultural anthropology has various applications.
A corporate anthropologist applies traditional anthropological insights to business. They study customers and products and examine how systems work. If anthropology is the study of humans, corporate anthropologists help businesses understand and connect with customers, team cultures and various departments.
Corporate anthropologists are closely aligned with marketing efforts. Marketing plays a critical role in defining target customers and understanding their needs and desires, helping businesses turn ideas into products and services customers want. A corporate anthropologist communicates with customers and asks in-depth questions that help clarify their buyer personas, where they shop, how they pay for products and what factors are involved in their buying decisions.
Corporate anthropology is a crucial subfield of business and anthropology. It applies anthropological theories to organizational practices to improve the customer experience and ultimately boost sales.
A corporation may hire an anthropologist for various reasons, including getting a handle on marketing and consumer behavior. For example, say you’re new to the corporate world and have an idea of what you want to do, but aren’t sure how to get the business to a higher level. Perhaps you haven’t identified your customer base or figured out how to connect with your target consumers. Corporate anthropologists can help you accomplish these goals.
A corporate anthropologist will do the following (and more):
The purpose of corporate anthropology is to understand various groups’ classification categories, meanings and representations by interpreting the information they collect. Their ultimate goal is to identify what people think and what they want.
Here are some of the benefits corporate anthropology can bring to your business.
When thinking of markets and companies as human groups with their own cultures and sets of norms, it’s easier to see how anthropology can inform an effective business strategy.
To leverage corporate anthropology, find someone familiar with developing consumer research methods, performing trend analyses and implementing these strategies to produce actual results. With this in mind, you can find a specialist who caters to your business and can help it build sustainable relationships with its employees and customers. You’ll build a human core for your business success.
Shayna Waltower contributed to the reporting and writing in this article. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.