Robbie Blinkoff – Fast 50 2003


On a break from the annual convention of the Society for Applied Anthropology, a few attendees lamented the lack of job opportunities for anthropologists. Then came the epiphany: Launch a network of cultural insiders to create a research product that could be sold to business. Today, the Anthrojob network taps into more than 3,500 anthropologists worldwide who apply the tools of cultural ethnography to a growing list of blue-chip clients such as Fisher-Price, Kodak, Microsoft, and Procter & Gamble.


Robbie Blinkoff
Principal anthropologist officer and managing partner
Context-Based Research Group
Baltimore, Maryland

Additional Team Members:
Lindsey Hari Lucas, Kit Waskom


Tell us what you do (or what your team or organization does) and the specific challenge you faced.
Context-Based Research Group is the for anthropologists. We provide intensive insight into what consumers actually do, not what they say they do, through a social research process called Ethnography. While all the other market researchers are out there making phone calls, taking polls, assembling focus groups and praying that people tell them the truth, we employ a network of 3,500 anthropologists world-wide, who literally go where people live, work and play to observe their behavior and analyze it for our clients. We’re adapting an academic discipline so business can better understand the consumer. But it’s a potentially overwhelming process. How do you find the anthropologists? How do you compile and organize it the information? How do you get it to the clients?

What was your moment of truth?
The concept for creation of the ‘Anthrojob Network.’ It was on a hot summer day in Tucson, Arizona, during a break from the annual convention of the Society for Applied Anthropology. Context’s three principals–anthropologists Robbie and Belinda Blinkoff and ad agency CEO Chuck Donofrio–were relaxing in the hotel pool, contemplating the many anthropologists they’d met who lamented the lack of work or well-paying jobs. The trio were also well aware of the diminished faith in conventional marketing research, and the success of Context’s early Ethnography efforts. When combining these two facts, there was a moment of epiphany when the three realized the opportunity to fashion a network of cultural insiders to create a unique research product that could be sold to business–Context could become the bridge facilitating connection between the expertise of cultural insiders and companies who were willing to pay for that expertise but did not have the resources or connections to seek it out on their own. This revelation led to new challenges (listed in the first answer), which were later addressed successfully through the creation and implementation of the Anthrojob Web site by the interactive division of Donofrio’s firm, Carton Donofrio Partners. (The exact date? 4/28/1999)

What were the results?
Somebody had to define Ethnography clearly to the corporate world, and that somebody was us. Context-Based Research Group now boasts a global network of 3,500 degreed anthropologists on six continents, and is considered the leading Ethnography firm in the world. We work for high profile clients like Microsoft, Fisher-Price, Procter & Gamble, Campbell’s Soup, Kodak and Herman Miller, among many others. Context has also released as series of proprietary studies of consumer behavior, most recent “The Mobiles: Social Evolution in a Wireless Society,” which can be found at Context has helped the discipline of Ethnography mature from fad to trend, because we were able to put it into a bottom line perspective for people who then realized its positive implications for business.


What’s your parting tip?
More corporate leaders need to step up and innovate. Don’t run scared or keep looking wistfully back, or you’ll get trampled.

Read more entries from the Fast 50 2003