This post was originally posted on our Business Briefs blog
When my father was in business he would not have said that he studied business anthropology, but he did. Today, this ever-enlarging field is teaching us more and more about how to operate our businesses every day. Those companies who choose to embrace the concept of business anthropology will be miles ahead of companies who don’t.
In the 1968 movie Hellfighters, starring John Wayne, there is a scene where the board of an oil company is discussing the colors to paint the restrooms in the company-owned gas stations. The man giving the presentation talks about how some colors will prompt customers to spend less time in the restrooms, thus making them available to more customers. He goes on to say how other colors have a more soothing effect and would make the customers feel more peaceful. This is business anthropology.
When marketers study how people interact with different advertisements, they are utilizing business anthropology. The same is true when merchandisers design plan-o-grams for displays. They are trying to maximize the interaction between potential customers and the display. A true professional won’t design a display with the idea that all he or she has to do is to make the display pretty or functional; they will design it with the idea that it will sell more merchandise.
The most valuable real estate in a convenience store is the counter space at the register. Companies that study business anthropology will strive to place high-margin merchandise in the area so that customers will make impulse purchases. Many convenience stores will place too much stuff in this area and potential sales will be lost because too many things are competing for the customer’s attention.
In order to get started utilizing business anthropology one should read Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping by Paco Underhill. In this book, Underhill takes us through the process of observing and analyzing what was observed and helping us to begin to think in terms of business anthropology. There are many great resources on the web to help fine tune these thoughts. As the business person is ready to fine tune their skills, they should read the textbook, General Business Anthropology
by Robert Tian, Michael Lillis and Alfons Van Marrewijk.
Dr. Robert G. Tian was one of my favorite business professors at Anderson College in Anderson, South Carolina, and is my business anthropology mentor. Dr. Tian loaned me his copy of Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping and asked me to read it and make a report on it. Dr. Tian sent me early versions of the manuscript for General Business Anthropology and asked me to comment on it. I also wrote a case study on a local business, Pat-A-Cake Grill, for the book.
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