Alumni Profile: Tim Craig
A journey from shamanism to
the consumer's subconscious
It was 20 degrees below zero and snow had blanketed the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota. In a small hide lodge, Tim Craig stood in his boxer shorts alongside five of his peers from the Audubon Expedition Institute and three Lakota Sioux elders.
As part of the traditional sweat lodge ceremony, one of the elders poured water over rocks that had been baking in a log fire. The temperature soared to a boiling point and steam rose inside the dome. And then, after the ceremonial passing of the pipe, Craig had a clear vision about what he wanted to pursue in life.
“I was really taken by the whole thing, the singing of the chants that had been in their history for hundreds of years,” he said. “I wanted to know about other people and their religious beliefs and various Native American cultures. Then I got interested in South American shamanism and their use of psychotropic drugs to induce trance. I wrote my undergrad thesis about it.”
It was that intense experience in South Dakota that propelled Craig to become a cultural anthropologist, even though he never took a course on the subject during his undergraduate years at Lesley University. He did, however, spend several months living on a bus with a group that traveled throughout Wyoming, Idaho, South Dakota and Montana under the aegis of the Audubon Expedition Institute, studying the ecological and environmental makeup of the four states and doing an independent study on the region.
Today, after traveling a roundabout route to get there, Craig is a cultural anthropologist/ethnographer at Guerra DeBerry Coody Marketing & Communications in downtown San Antonio, where he studies people and their unconscious decisions to purchase one product over another.
“In a market research sense, I go out into the field in their environment, talk to them about what it is I’m studying and follow them around their daily work schedule,” Craig said. “As head of qualitative research, I design research plans for whatever it is a client wants to know about. It’s all about delving deeper into the consumers’ life and thoughts, and understanding them and their behaviors around consumption.”
Craig rarely has a slow or boring day at the office. One week he’s studying cancer patients in Florida and the next he’s analyzing in-depth interviews with consumers for a major beer company or overseeing focus groups relating to the health care, animal, and food and beverage industries. Or he is creating and conducting a private research study with a select group of people on Facebook.
“Research is all about understanding consumers and what [they] want and need,” Craig says. “We’re not trying to find a quick fix for the client or suggestions for new products. We’re trying to understand what the consumer is doing on a subconscious level. We want to get into the mind of the consumer, and that knowledge benefits the client more than a survey.”
Help Along the Way
Before Craig landed at Guerra DeBerry Coody (GDC) he enjoyed a somewhat nomadic lifestyle that suited him perfectly, yet also afforded him the opportunity to acquire the work experience that would help him in his role with the agency.
After graduating from Lesley University in 1994 with a degree in environmental studies, Craig enrolled in a master’s program in anthropology at UTSA to pursue his newfound interest in cultures of the world and folk religious belief systems. He also planned to move to South America for his master’s thesis research on the Jivaro tribe. Along the way, he stopped in Mexico and met an anthropologist.
“She said, ‘You’re interested in all this witchcraft and magic. There’s some of this happening right here,’ so I ended up doing all of my master’s research in Central Highland Mexico. I lived in Mexico for 14 months. That’s where I learned to speak Spanish.”
After his stint in Mexico, Craig took a detour and headed for the Virgin Islands, where he taught scuba diving for two years in St. Thomas before eventually earning his Ph.D. in cultural anthropology from the University of Colorado in 2008.
He got involved in market research by way of a friend who worked for a Baltimore research company. “Because I spoke Spanish, they sent me to Phoenix to study Hispanic women who used frozen foods in their cooking,” he said. “I did five more of those assignments along with some other independent contracts for the next two years. I also have more than 15 years of cumulative ethnographic research experience, which gave me the résumé to come to GDC.”
He cites Daniel J. Gelo, Dean of the College of Liberal and Fine Arts, and James “Jim” McDonald, former chair and professor in the Department of Anthropology, as two positive influences during his time at UTSA.
“Dr. Gelo served on my MA committee, and I took a number of his courses on Plains Indians, magic, science and religion,” Craig said. “My interest at the time was in South American shamanism among the Jivaro tribe in eastern Ecuador, so I was very interested in his experiences and courses.”
“As for Dr. McDonald, he was my graduate advisor and the chair of my thesis committee. His influence was primarily due to his Mexican connection. He is also a Mexicanist anthropologist. He studied in the neighboring state from my studies so our paths crossed in Mexico numerous times. He aided me in understanding Mexican culture, how to conduct studies in Mexico and about empirical qualitative methods.”
Considering that the 38-year-old father of three makes a living researching the purchasing habits and behavioral patterns of other consumers, how does he decide what to buy at a store or select at a restaurant?
“I’m a creature of habit,” Craig said, laughing. “When I go to a Mexican restaurant, I order the same thing every time. I’ll always eat the carne guisada despite all the other choices because I’m searching for the best carne guisada in San Antonio.”