Metaphor Elicitation Techniques – Rereading Zaltman

Several years ago I read How Customers Think. Rereading it now and I find Gerald Zaltman is full of marketing insights. Yet the next action step is vague. It is difficult to put into practice without professional help. In an effort to make it actionable on a budget, here is an actionable synopsis.

A few of the core themes of the book are (and my apologies to the author if I don’t get this right).

  1. 95 percent of all cognition occurs in the subconscious mind (link to interview)
  2. verify stated belief against actual behavior
  3. measure latency response for thoughts and/or bias (also a theme in the Tipping Point)
  4. metaphors tap into thought stored as images as well as imagination
  5. from metaphors you can develop concensus maps from a small sample size (12 to 30 people!)
  6. one-on-one interviews are superior to focus groups
  7. research participants are asked to gather 8 to 10 pictures that reflect their thoughts or feelings on a subject *before* the interview

In the interview the author continues

Another very productive approach is to study the metaphors consumers
use to express their thoughts and feelings. This involves in-depth
probing in one-on-one interviews for the hidden meanings contained in
their metaphors.

To emphasize the importance of imagery and visuals

in most of its metaphor-elicitation research, Olson Zaltman Associates
asks consumers to bring in pictures that don’t show the product in
question, but depict their thoughts and feelings about that product,
service, or experience. (link)

From the OZA site on metaphor elicitation research it elaborates

About a week prior to their interviews, each participant is asked to gather 8-10 pictures that reflect their thoughts and feelings about the research topic. Most participants devote several hours to selecting pictures and thinking about the assignment. As a result, participants arrive for their interviews with the benefit of considerable conscious and unconscious reflection about the product or issue.

One further thought on Zaltman. I like the fact that he is not afraid to talk about social responsibility when it comes to psychology and marketing. Again, from the interview.

… I think all of us have a special responsibility to making clear,
to consumers and managers alike, what we consider appropriate and
inappropriate uses of knowledge. This at least will help lessen
inadvertent misuse of knowledge.

The full OZA Overview is posted on their site. Or just buy the book:

How Customers Think: Essential Insights Into the Mind of the Market
by Gerald Zaltman
Harvard Business School Press, 2003