Martha Cotton (Speaker)
Associate Partner, Gravity Tank
Martha Cotton is Associate Partner and head of research at Gravity Tank, a Chicago-based innovation consulting firm which specializes in using ethnographic and other research methods. Prior to joining Gravity Tank, Martha served as Vice President of Research and Strategy for Herbst LaZar Bell, Inc., where she provided leadership in planning and implementing all aspects of the company’s various research programs. Martha is also currently co-chair of EPIC (Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference), a global conference dedicated to furthering the practice of ethnographic methods to inform business and design.
Prior to HLB, Martha worked for Hall & Partners as Research Director and lead of their ethnography practice. While there, she worked with her clients developing brand, channel, and positioning strategies, as well as understanding consumer experience as it informs brand and communications. Before that, Martha worked for Sapient Corporation as Director of User Research, serving as principal for user research programs and providing leadership, vision and delivery oversight. Martha also worked for E-Lab LLC in Chicago as a Senior Project Manager, where she assumed a leadership role on a variety of projects.
Throughout her career, Martha has worked across numerous industries, applying insight generated via ethnographic research towards her clients’ goals, with outputs ranging from brand and communications strategies, technology and product design, business and marketing strategies, and change management.
Martha is the proud author of “Dinner Dates: A Cookbook for Couples Cooking Together” (Avon Books, 1999). She holds a BA in English from Indiana University and an MA in Performance Studies from Northwestern University.
Ann Kauth (Speaker)
Research Director, Herbst LaZar Bell, Inc.
Ann Kauth is the Research Director at Herbst LaZar Bell, Inc. (HLB), a product design and development firm with offices in Chicago and Boston. As Research Director, Ann is in charge of planning and executing ethnographic and observational research – research that serves a foundation for product innovation programs at HLB. Prior to HLB, Ann worked as an independent ethnographic research consultant for 10 years, applying her research skills to product development, branding, website design, and business strategy efforts with a variety of different companies.
Ann works to understand customers and other end-users' experiences and folds this understanding into targeted design and business recommendations. Ann has helped companies like General Mills, Hyundai, McDonald’s, SC Johnson, Johnson & Johnson and Hewlett-Packard create products and messages that are valued by end-users because they match users’ real-world needs.
Ann is an experienced interviewer, observer, and analyst. She has conducted hundreds of interviews and observation sessions in homes, offices, retail settings, industrial sites, etc. She is particularly skilled in coding and organizing this qualitative data into usable forms for product designers, marketing specialists, and business strategists. She has applied her research in a variety of industries including auto, consumer goods (i.e., packaged foods, appliances and cleaning products), electronics, ecommerce, retail and health insurance.
Ann’s formal education is in Social Science. Her informal educational pursuits include alt-country music & folklore, social habits of Northwest Side toddlers and the “new school” versus “old school” Polka music debate.
Ethnography has moved from a niche method of gaining consumer insight to a more mainstream approach adopted by marketers in a widening range of industries. As a result, ethnography is being applied more often. This is wonderful news from all who benefit from the value and power of an ethnographic approach, but it raises the risk that the quality of the work may suffer. This talk will address the benefits of using an ethnographic approach to gain consumer insight. We will also explore the distinguishing characteristics of top-quality work in this field, and discuss the expectations that buyers should have for work that is properly executed. We will review several case studies and demonstrate some innovative outputs and tools that ethnographic research firms on the cutting edge are exploring and delivering to their clients. Finally, we will discuss new perspectives on how ethnographic approaches are evolving in industry.