Arkansas Children’s Hospital Using Digital Ethnography for ‘Voice of the Customer’ Research

By The SHSMD Team posted 27 days ago


Ethnography, or behavioral research, is one of the most powerful market research tools. Unlike focus groups and surveys, it investigates how people behave rather than what they say about their beliefs or actions. Digital ethnography tracks how consumers behave online, giving insights into the decisions they make and why. In a Business of Healthcare/SHSMD collaborative video and podcast, Jeff T. House, vice president of strategic marketing for Arkansas Children’s Hospital and Dean Browell, executive vice president and co-founder of Feedback, shared how they used digital ethnography to better understand how parents make decisions.

House described the role of digital ethnography at Arkansas Children’s as bringing “the voice of the customer into every facet of our work, opening the eyes of the organization to what people want.” Browell pointed out the importance of ethnographic research, saying, “What people will say when they're in a focus group is certainly important, But what they say when they talk amongst each other is equally important. For example, take a ‘mom’ message board. Those moms openly and publicly discuss the pending birth, where they're going, things they're worried about, things they're feeling emotionally and physically. You learn from how often they post, who do they trust, who's asking questions, and who's answering them.”

Just as people speak differently in different settings, people behave differently in different online settings. Browell noted, “The larger channels like Facebook and Twitter are important, but there are also geographic-based message boards like CityData where everybody's talking about school systems and where to shop. There are demographic boards like the Bump or Circle of Moms. There are also medical condition-specific boards. People behave very differently on these specialized message boards compared to public channels like Facebook and Twitter.”

House agreed on the importance of studying different online settings, which can help us understand how behaviors and needs differ so we can serve each market in ways they most want and need.” Browell added. “Digital behavior varies regionally, by generation and by life stage. It can be radically different even county to county. In Arkansas’s case, you see incredibly different behavior on one side of the state versus the other.”

House elaborated, “We benefit from a very strong brand presence in the state. We're the only pediatric health system in the state and have a very long and rich history of serving patients and families in Arkansas. But not only did we learn that we were a little inaccurate in the way we believed we were perceived in the community, we also saw very distinct differences in markets that led us to different positioning and messaging strategies.” For example, “People moving in often bring a child with them that wasn't born there…they're bringing a whole different set of expectations with them. So even how a newcomer asks a question and who answers is important. Do ‘Come Here's’ or ‘Been Here’s’ answer? Or is it another newcomer who is just a few months ahead of them? This shapes behavior in a way that isn't easily picked up in a quantitative study or in a focus group. It’s those insights which provide a much better sense of what that community really looks like and needs.”

Browell commented on the importance of ongoing positive experiences. “We often hear ‘win the baby, win the mom’. What we see in message boards is the problem of ‘win the baby, lose the mom’ when the birth experience may have been fantastic but poor experiences follow. For example, we saw in one of the Arkansas Children's studies that when there was a direct comparison it often was expressed as, ‘I decided to switch and take my child to Arkansas Children's’. While that’s great for Arkansas Children’s, it also shows how easily they were willing to switch. It may not take as much as you think for that decision point to occur.”

Watch the full interview video on Business of Healthcare.