Mining deeper meaning in consumer decision maps

Michael S. Mulvey (Telfer School of Management, Ottawa, Canada)
Beena E. Kavalam (Bayer Healthcare Consumer Care, Morristown, New Jersey, USA)

Qualitative Market Research

ISSN: 1352-2752

Publication date: 7 September 2010



The purpose of this paper is to gain deeper insight into the meanings that structure and impel consumer choice by overlaying findings from a metaphor elicitation study onto the results of a traditional means‐end laddering study.


First, laddering interviews were conducted to elicit the reasons that structure the college choice decision of students. A second study using metaphor elicitation techniques surfaced additional meanings that constitute and connect students' thoughts and feelings about their experiences at the college. Together, the two modes of interviewing yield deeper insight into personal relevance and consumer choice than offered by either alone.


Combining two modes of interviewing provides views at various levels of detail. Whereas laddering interviews use direct questioning to identify consumers' choice criteria, projective techniques rely on indirect questioning to surface the enduring and ephemeral feelings that charge consumer beliefs. Panning and zooming from the general structural overview provided by means‐end research to the nuance and detail surfaced by metaphor elicitation provides uncommon insight into the drivers of consumer choice.

Research limitations/implications

The time, effort, skill, and expense required for data collection, analysis, and interpretation are non‐trivial and may limit adoption of the two study approach.

Practical implications

The superimposition of metaphoric meanings onto consumer decision maps provides tremendous added value to managers aiming to enhance the creativity, relevance, and effectiveness of their marketing initiatives.


Melding two interview methods adds depth to means‐end research and lends structure to projective associations. The deeper insights into personal relevance and choice benefit academics and practitioners alike.



Mulvey, M. and Kavalam, B. (2010), "Mining deeper meaning in consumer decision maps", Qualitative Market Research, Vol. 13 No. 4, pp. 372-388.

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