This paper aims to outline the fundamental assumptions regarding the laddering methodology (Reynolds and Gutman), examine how some “hard” laddering approaches meet or violate these assumptions, provide a review and comparison of a series of studies using “soft” and “hard” laddering approaches to examine the hierarchical structure of means‐end theory, and assess if the discrepant conclusions from this series of studies may be attributed to violations of the fundamental assumptions of the laddering methodology.
A series of published empirical works using “hard” and “soft” laddering approaches, which aim to examine the hierarchical structure of means‐end theory (Gutman), are reviewed and compared to integrate research findings and to examine discrepancies. Discrepant conclusions, which appear to be attributable to violations of the assumptions underlying the laddering methodology, are explored through a reanalysis and reclassification of the content codes.
The paper validates the case for laddering and the care needed to gauge how conclusions can be affected when violations of fundamental assumptions of the laddering methodology occur.
Means‐end chain research and, more specifically, the laddering methodology are in need of investigations that assess the importance of its underlying assumptions. Additional work validating both the “hard” and “soft” laddering approaches is also needed.
Results of means‐end research are more interpretable and less ambiguous when the fundamental assumptions of the laddering methodology are met. In practice, means‐end theory benefits managers by providing a useful structure to aid in the interpretation of laddering data.
This paper outlines the fundamental assumptions regarding the laddering methodology to provide methodological guidelines for laddering researchers. This paper also reviews the academic literature examining the hierarchical structure of means‐end theory and explores how violations of the fundamental assumptions of the laddering methodology may impact research findings.
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