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Ethnography is the future of marketing, with WORTHI founder Myles Worthington

Explore practical tips for conducting ethnographic research and discover how fostering inclusivity can transform your marketing approach.

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4 min read

It’s taken a while for the corporate world to wise up to the need for diversity, equity and inclusion, and there’s still a lot of work to be done. Just think about how often teams create products for communities they know almost nothing about. And even when agencies and their clients want to do better, they often don’t know where to start.

That’s why marketing leader Myles Worthington started his agency, WORTHI, which he describes as an “ethnographic marketing, communications and content company.” This means WORTHI steeps itself in the behaviors of people around the world to create cultural relevance between their unique needs and a brand’s story. It’s not only about diversity, equity and inclusion. It’s about a distinct, long-term marketing strategy driven by research and connection.

Worthington fine-tuned his philosophy when building a multicultural marketing strategy as former head of global audiences, brand and editorial marketing, at Netflix. He spearheaded the company’s first multicultural PR initiative, led the Strong Black Lead channel, created and led the Most (LGBTQ+) and Netflix Golden (AAPI) teams, and built the Con Todo team for LatinX audiences.

“Ethnographic marketing is the start of any strong marketing program,” says Worthington. “It starts with the people, their cultures and their lived experiences as the foundation, backed by the strength of your own brand purpose.”

Consider the opposite approach by contrast: shouting about your brand into a mass void. “You're just broadcasting, not targeting,” he says. “You don’t talk to anyone when you try to talk to everyone.”

If you want to create lasting, meaningful relationships with consumers, check out Worthington’s advice on building an ethnographic marketing strategy with staying power.

Be specific

“At the foundational level, we uncover many brands that have a fear of being specific with marketing. It's like, ‘Oh, if we do this, are we only going to talk to that one group?’” says Worthington. “I always push back by saying, ‘specificity is a superpower.’ It's one of the strongest things you can do.”

Know your audience

To market to a specific audience, you need to deeply understand that audience, which is where ethnographic marketing comes in.

Ethnography is a subset of anthropology, the study of human culture, that describes the life experiences of different groups of people. Ethnographic marketing, then, is all about seeing how your audience uses a given service or product first-hand. This means conducting interviews, running focus groups and actively participating alongside the group you’re observing to garner on-the-ground information you wouldn’t get through dialogue.

From there, you can deduce what’s working well for them, and conversely, what isn’t. Then, you can begin drawing connections between your audience insights to get a more granular understanding of what compels them to purchase a service, join a community, enroll in a class and so on.

Of course, you’ll need to keep intersectionality in mind throughout this process. “How do we understand the most that we can about these communities within communities?” asks Worthington, hinting at the layers of nuance beneath the surface of any given group of people. “What are the traits we understand about them? What do they care about? What's their buying power? Who’s their audience, and who are they influenced by?” You’ll need to answer these questions in order to create something that truly resonates.

Take the long term view

This work is ongoing, an important shift for executives who are used to showing up just one month out of the year.

“Many brands historically have a periodic frequency of showing up,” Worthington says. “They’ll do a Black History month campaign, then shut it down. They’ll run a Pride campaign, then shut it down. So we generally have to reorient them around this idea of continuity. We’ll tell them that the data shows that Gen Z is the most diverse, most gender-fluid generation in history, then help them pinpoint how to address this audience in their day to day, versus only in June.”

Brands also need to evolve along with their audiences, so Worthington begins each client kickoff by acknowledging the need to continuously shift their understanding of the group they’re trying to reach.

“I fundamentally believe that you should always know exactly who you’re speaking to, which of course means doing your homework to strengthen your understanding of their needs and pain points,” Worthington says. “You can’t send them messages where they already are and speak in their language if you haven’t grounded yourself in this work first.” This work could involve running awareness campaigns, enabling access to helpful resources, creating spaces for open discussion such as a forum or social page, and planning out a DEI roadmap.

This will take time, but it’s worth the effort. “People want to be talked to specifically, and if you hyper serve an audience, they'll be your ambassadors,” Worthington says. “That ripple effect is bigger than you can even calculate.”


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