Marketing Metaphoria: Book Review

Metaphors and analogies form an integral part of our everyday lives. They form an integral part of our "mindscape" and help us to describe what we think, hear, say and do in a deeper fashion. Metaphors also help to drive human behaviours and add colour to our world.

Tapping the fields of consumer psychology and research, Marketing Metaphoria by Gerald Zaltman and Lindsay Zaltman describes how "deep metaphors" can help marketers better understand their customers. The highly readable book cites that these "human universals" are found in virtually every society. Deep metaphors (eg resource) are expressed through themes (eg money is like liquid) and surface metaphors (eg "I am drowning in debt", "Don't pour your money down the drain.").

Citing the problem of depth deficit amongst managers - "never confuse working hard with thinking hard" - the Zaltman's basic premise is that discovering similarities in consumer behaviours may be more fruitful than focusing on their differences. In other words, age-old techniques in segmentation are moot. By probing more deeply into the emotional and subconscious drivers of consumer behaviours, marketers are able to better understand how their products and brands are viewed through consumer lenses.

What are these deep metaphors then? There are seven main ones and as follows:

Balance: This covers ideas of harmony, equilibrium, adjustment and the maintenance and offsetting of forces. Examples cover physical, moral, social, aesthetic and social balance.

Transformation: This involves a changing state or status, eg "turning over a new leaf", children putting on makeup to play adult roles. They can be both positive (marriage) or negative (death).

Journey: As the saying goes, life is a journey. Confucius has famously said that "a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." Journeys can be both predictable and unpredictable, can be fast or flow ("time flies"), and both uphill and downhill.

Container: This metaphor looks at either keeping things in or keepting them out, becoming a form of protection or trap. We can be in a good or bad mood, stuck in a rut, store up our money, energy, and goodwill. Memories form one of the most vital containers for many of us.

Connection: Another universal deep metaphor, one which looks at feelings of belonging or exclusion. One can be connected to friends through social networks, and feel disconnection when losing a job, sending kids to college and so on.

Resource: Other than the more obvious food, water, money and fuel, resources can be freinds or family members - Simon and Garfunkel's "bridge over troubled waters", and the expression "a friend in need is a friend indeed". One can be a "walking encyclopedia" or "Mr Fixit".

Control: This doesn't just apply to those in power and authority but to everyone of us. When people succumb to a disease, they feel "powerless". Social norms may also dictate how people should behave, and losing control often denotes having a meltdown, throwing a tantrum or blowing our stack.

Other than the seven metaphors (kind of like Seven Giants or the Seven Dwarves in Snow White), other deep metaphors include Movement/Motion, Force, Nature, and System. These metaphors, like the ones above, are discerned through deep questioning and interview methods, involving trained facilitators who are able to use visual aids to paint vivid pictures and descriptions of consumer's thoughts, feelings and perspectives on various consumption scenarios.

To leverage on deep metaphors in consumer insight reports, marketing communication materials, products/services, and brands, the Zaltmans propose that one could adopt a strategy for "workable wondering". In order to meet the customer's personal values and life goals, marketers should develop product attributes that have functional and emotional consequences (psychological and social) that are seen to be aligned to those metaphors.

Like any other competitive strategy, the authors have also proposed that companies should focus on deep metaphors that are not already "owned" by a competitor. Focus is also a key virtue here, and firms should not go overboard in trying to be all things to all men in their use of metaphoric language and approaches.

Overall, I found the book an enjoyable and enlightening read, albeit a little short on implementation details. I guess Marketing Metaphoria probably works better as a primer to spur change in marketing research more rather than a textbook telling you how to do it. If you're jaded by the effectiveness (or ineffectiveness) of existing techniques in consumer research, deep metaphors may be a good weapon to add to your arsenal.

This advertisement uses the deep metaphors of resource and container (Courtesy of Meghan's Blog)

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