Understanding Consumer Decision-Making with Means-End Research
Market researchers have access to a technique used to identify the emotional triggers that influence consumers' purchase decisions. The technique is laddering and has been around for decades, but may be one of the best kept secrets in the industry. Learn how this research method can give marketers the information they need to connect with consumers and persuade them to buy their product or service.
One of the toughest, yet most important, aspects of marketing is understanding why consumers make decisions. Why does a soccer mom drive an SUV instead of a mini-van? Why does a teenager drink Coke instead of Pepsi? In these examples, product features rarely drive consumer choice. Consumer decision making goes much deeper than that. Marketers need to know what moves consumers at an emotional level in order to create a persuasive message.
So, how do you identify these emotional triggers? Market researchers have a powerful technique that can be used to dissect consumer choice, yet most don't know enough about it to use it effectively. The technique is laddering and has been around for decades, but may be one of the best kept secrets in the industry. Laddering can give marketers the information they need to connect with consumers and persuade them to buy their product or service.
The Traditional Research Paradigm
To understand why consumers make product choices, researchers usually conduct qualitative research to explore consumers' decision processes, and then quantify the results in a long attribute laden survey with a large statistically precise sample. Sometimes this approach is effective, but other times, managers are left scratching their heads and asking the researcher, so what will finally get consumers to stop wavering and buy our product?
The traditional approach often focuses on product attributes and basic benefits, but fails to dig deeper into the psyche of consumers to determine the emotional triggers that actually drive their decisions. The research results in communications and marketing efforts that are not sufficiently persuasive to capture the hearts and minds of buyers. So, how do you get consumers to open up and tell you what really drives them?
The Means-end Approach Using Laddering
Means-end is a rigorous research method that employs the laddering interviewing technique. It is used to uncover the underlying emotions, consequences, and personal values that drive consumer choice. It is a hybrid of qualitative and quantitative research approaches. Highly trained interviewers gather data qualitatively through in-depth interviews using the laddering technique, but the output is structured and coded for quantitative analysis. Market researchers use the approach to understand consumer choices, and design advertising and communications messaging to influence them to choose their product or brand. The result of a means-end research effort is more persuasive communications that drive consumer behavior. An excellent reference on the subject is a book edited by Thomas J. Reynolds and Jerry C. Olsen, Understanding Consumer Decision Making: The Means-end Approach to Marketing and Advertising Strategy.
The means-end approach is based on a theory that product and service attributes are associated with consequences, or product benefits and risks, and even the personal values the product can help consumers fulfill. The result is a value chain linking a product attribute to its functional consequence, to the psychosocial (or emotional) consequence, to the underlying personal value.
To illustrate, consider the example of a consumer choice mentioned previously: why does a soccer mom drive an SUV instead of a mini-van? The value chain begins with a product attribute, such as the SUV "does not have sliding doors." The functional consequence of not having sliding doors is that an SUV "has a more stylish design." The psychosocial, or emotional, consequence of having a stylish design is that "I feel trendy driving it." Finally, the underlying personal value that feeling trendy might appeal to is "acceptance of me personally by my peers."
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