Analysis and Use of ZMET Data

A detailed description of (1) how ZMET data are analyzed, and (2) why a small sample of people, when interviewed using this technique, can be representative of a large population, is not possible here. For example, just to prepare the data for intensive, comprehensive analyses requires between 4 and 6 hours of preliminary analytical work per interview. However, the analysis is not a "black box" although special training and software are required. Clients are welcome to participate in the analytical and interpretive steps.

An Interpretive Loop

To help managers use the insights uncovered in a project, various road maps and tour guides to the consumer territory are provided. A few are illustrated here. Before proceeding, however, it needs to be pointed out that ZMET projects involve three different parties in an interpretive loop as shown below.

First, consumers are asked to interpret their own lives and situations by finding pictures that represent their thoughts and feelings about the research topic. They reveal their interpretations of their images during the one-on-one interview. Second, the research team interprets the consumers1 discussions. These insights are presented in a variety of written and electronic interactive formats. The research team also presents "ideas for going forward" based on these interpretations. The research team provides these recommended actions partly as a way of illustrating ways of using the data and partly as "ombudsmen" for the consumer. Third, the insights ZMET provides must be interpreted by managers within the context of their experience and company setting. The research team's interpretations are presented in such a way as to facilitate this. By applying their own reasoning and imaginative thinking processes, managers can "translate" the consumer insights into marketing programs and strategies. Finally, consumers eventually interpret the resulting managerial actions as having meaning and value for them

A Note on Interpretation

Interpretation is "everywhere" in the ZMET process. Raw data have little meaning and very little strategic value for managers. Data must be interpreted before they can be useful. This is as true for statistical and mathematical analyses as it is for qualitative analyses. Ultimately, "data don't say anything, managers do," to repeat a widely used phrase. Whether dealing with a statistic or a video clip of a digital image, the manager must be creative in understanding what meaning is represented by a number, a quote, or a picture--and what is to done with that understanding. The capacity to be creative and find meanings that others miss is a defining characteristic of highly successful managers and of firms that gain competitive advantage through such intellectual activity. We believe that every person has the capacity to do this challenging, interesting, and creative work. The role of ZMET research is to provide useful building blocks or play tools for managers to create new product or service concepts, reposition or alter current offerings, or develop more effective visions for their brands and organizations.


Photo of wedding ring being placed on hand with words superimposed: Exchange, Open, Belonging, Invasion

One of the first analyses performed is the identification of relevant constructs. A construct is literally a "construction" of meaning created by the researchers to represent important thoughts and feelings among consumers. For convenience, we use a summary label, often taken from the consumers1 own phrasings, to represent each construct. These labels "stand for" the idiosyncratic language used by interviewees to describe their thinking about the topic.

The research team seeks to identify the essential meanings held by a group of consumers with respect to an issue. Similarities evolve because each individual1s personal meanings are influenced by those around them, generally people of similar lifestyle, social class, and cultural background. Additionally, they are exposed to common marketing stimuli such as advertising.

Essentially, constructs represent the key features of the "mental terrain" of consumers1 minds (concepts, ideas, emotions, values, thoughts, and feelings of importance to consumers). Managers can use these constructs as "design criteria" for designing marketing communications, creating new products and services, or evaluating marketing strategy. We suggest that managers develop and assess their marketing strategies and programs in terms of consumers1 personal constructs and the interrelationships between them.

Consensus Maps

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People possess mental models that help them "get along" in the world. Understanding these models is essential for developing and implementing effective business strategy. We identify these mental models by creating consensus maps which are networks of interrelated constructs. Basically, we aggregate the mental models of individuals in a special way that shows the consensus among them. The resulting consensus map helps managers understand how a marketing effort can affect one construct and through that construct, impact other constructs.

Much of a construct's meaning is dependent upon the constructs to which it is linked. For example, knowing that a consumer mentions "fear" says little about what "fear" really means to that person. Seeing a link between fear and "irresponsibility of others" or between fear and "uncertain and confused" gives much more insight and understanding. Understanding the pattern of relationships among constructs shared in common by consumers is a source of insight in developing marketing strategies and reengineering future thinking in the market place. Managers are encouraged to ask questions about the consensus map, such as: How would I like this map to look? What changes would I like to see? How would I bring these changes about? What part of the map does a competitor occupy? These maps become important strategic playing fields. An example of a full map is shown on the last page


Photo of wedding ring being placed on hand with words superimposed: exchange of personal information

A metaphor is the representation of one thing in terms of another. Metaphors are fundamental to human thought-- without metaphor learning and thinking cannot occur. They occur in different forms in ZMET analyses: visual images, sensory images, constructs on the consensus map, "surface level" metaphors, thematic metaphors, and deep metaphors.

Image-Based Metaphors......To understand the mind of the consumer, researchers and managers must understand the metaphors consumers use to express their deep thinking. The images people bring to their interview and share with the research team are metaphors for important, often hidden, thoughts and feelings. Other metaphors are represented by the various sensory images.

Constructs and Consensus Maps......Additionally, the constructs developed by the research team are metaphors; they are the researchers' representation of sets of ideas provided by consumers. The consensus map is also a metaphor for the consumer1s mental model, in that it represents the researchers understanding of how these ideas are organized and linked together in the consumer's thinking. Consumers will organize and interpret relevant information through the frames and filters represented by the consensus map. Of course, the relative importance of particular constructs and associated clusters of constructs will vary depending the issue at hand.

Deep Metaphors......Consumers also have deep metaphors. These very basic, core metaphors that structure consumers1 thinking in very fundamental ways. Deep metaphors are the home for latent and emerging needs, as well as the source of basic perceptual and behavioral pre-dispositions. (The importance of deep metaphors is reinforced by contemporary work in neurobiology and cognitive linguistics concerning embodied cognition and somatic markers. While we will not develop this important idea further, documentary references can be provided, if desired.) Deep metaphors are the most fundamental categories of thought that managers must understand. They can be an "umbrella concept" or "focal concept" around which a marketing position strategy is based. Managers can leverage deep metaphors by making sure that all elements in a marketing plan are consistent with, and reinforcing of, the focal strategic positioning defined by the deep metaphor. In this sense, deep metaphors can serve as fundamental design criteria in developing and presenting product and service offerings to consumers.

Thematic Metaphors......Consumers can represent or express each deep metaphor in various ways, called thematic metaphors, or broad meaning themes. These meaning themes express the deep metaphors in various ways, and organize the more concrete levels of meaning. For instance, balance is a deep metaphor that can be expressed by consumers in various ways (physical balance, emotional balance, moral balance).

Surface Metaphors......Finally, the research also identifies the spoken metaphors consumers explicitly mention during the interview (heartburn is like a dragon shooting flames up my throat). Because these metaphors are at the surface of consciousness, we call them surface metaphors. Surface metaphors are used to illustrate and understand the deep metaphors, thematic metaphors, and constructs.

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