Understanding Consumer Decision-Making with Means-End Research - Rockbridge (2023)

Written by: Gina Woodall, President

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 isladderingand 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?

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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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Building Value Chains Through Laddering Interviewing.As you can imagine, building these value chains with consumers takes special skill and highly trained facilitators. The interviewing technique used to identify the value chains is called laddering. It is a qualitative method requiring facilitators to encourage respondents to describe in their own words why something is important to them by filling in each “rung” of the ladder, which ultimately forms the value chain.

To begin building a ladder based on our previous example, the facilitator asks a broad question such as, “Why do you drive an SUV instead of a mini-van?” Through a series of probing questions, the interviewer takes the respondent up the ladder step-by-step. It is critical to get specifics at each level of the ladder, and sometimes respondents challenge the interviewer by jumping around different levels of the ladder. The ladder is not useful to the analysis unless each step is completed with a single specific response. It is helpful to confirm the ladder with respondents to ensure that their thought process was accurately captured. Below is an example of an interviewer/respondent dialogue that builds the value chain where driving an SUV leads to social acceptance.

If this was a common value chain among the target group of soccer moms, it suggests advertising for an SUV should focus on linking the attractive styling to feelings of being trendy and up-to-date. The personal value of social acceptance should be inferred, but not directly portrayed, as it is the state-of-mind the advertising should reinforce.

The laddering interviewing technique has traditionally been conducted in-person in a one-on-one interview due to the intensive probing required to elicit each rung on the ladder. However, it can be successfully completed by phone, as well as online using sophisticated software that augments the ladder building process and summarizes it on the screen for respondents.

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Case Study: Online Channel Adoption.A major financial services provider wanted to increase adoption of its online self-service channel. The company had successfully attracted early adopters to the system, but didn’t know how to encourage the next generation of adopters. This is a common issue among technology products and services, and a tough one to address by simply adding new product features, as the next generation needs more than just new bells and whistles. Customers are being asked to make a major shift in how they interact and conduct their personal business. What will trigger these customers to make the change from in-person or telephone service to the online channel?

To address the issue, a means-end approach was used which included 75 laddering interviews. Approximately 50 interviews were conducted with non-users of the online channel, and about 25 interviews were conducted with current users of the online channel to draw comparisons. As a rule of thumb, at least 25 laddering interviews are needed per group to conduct a conclusive analysis of the data. Each interview lasted 30 minutes on average. These interviews were conducted online using Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) which allowed the facilitator to talk to the respondent through their computer while the respondent typed their answers on a web page.

The interviewer asked each respondent about their reasons for using or not using the online channel to conduct their personal financial management. The interviewer built a positive ladder based on an initial question, such as “what do you think is the key advantage to using the online channel?” The interviewer also built a negative ladder to understand the barriers to adoption using a question similar to “what do you think is the keydisadvantage to using the online channel?” Not all laddering studies include negative ladders, but it was highly relevant to do so in this case given the research objectives.

Interpreting the Results.Analysts code the ladders from a means-end study to provide quantitative data for the analysis. The primary output from the analysis is a Consumer Decision Map (CDM) which reveals the most common decision paths, or value chains, that explain consumer behavior.

An example of a CDM showing two primary decision paths for users of an online service channel is shown on the next page. As you can see in this example, two general paths emerge from the interviewing, one oriented around achievingpeace of mindand one aroundquality of lifegains from using the online channel. In the decision path on the left, the major feature of the online channel that leads to adoption is the ability toaccess information and conduct personal business in real-time. This keeps usersin touch with their finances, which gives them a feeling of beingin controlof their money, and afreedom from worry. Ultimately, this gives thempeace of mindand the ability to befinancially secure.

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Example of a Consumer Decision Map

Putting Means-End Research to Use in Marketing Efforts.CDMs provide the roadmap for crafting communications and branding strategies. Marketers can leverage key attributes and consequences of the product, and draw connections between them. In the online self-service channel example, suppose it was found that non-users avoided the online channel for the same reasons users turned to it: increased security. In this case, messaging that focused on how the online channel can help you “find peace of mind” would be appropriate. Again, the personal values at the top of the value chain should be portrayed indirectly or symbolically in the context of communications.

The means-end approach using the laddering interviewing technique provides a proven method for researchers to uncover underlying motives and decision processes, and is the basis for our MaxMessage™ solution, which provides powerful communicationsthat move consumers to action and build brand loyalty.

Click below to learn more about ourMaxMessage™ solution or contact Joe Taliuaga at 703-757-5213 ext.123 orjtaliuaga@rockresearch.com. We’d be happy to answer any questions you have.

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What are the 5 stages of the customers decision making process? ›

5 Essential Steps in the Consumer Buying Process
  • Stage 1: Problem Recognition.
  • Stage 2: Information Gathering.
  • Stage 3: Evaluating Solutions.
  • Stage 4: Purchase Phase.
  • Stage 5: The Post-Purchase Phase.
27 Mar 2019

What are the four levels in means-end theory? ›

The end of a means-end chain can be a functional consequence (Stops cavities), a psychosocial consequence (I can be the real me), an instrumental value (I will be clean), and to a value (Self-esteem).

What are the 6 components of the mean end chain? ›

... has been argued that the means-end method consists of six aspects or levels of a hierarchy: concrete attributes, abstract attributes, functional consequences, psychosocial consequences, instrumental values and terminal values as described by many researchers (Gutman, 1982(Gutman, , 1997Mulvey et al., 1994;Olson and ...

What are the 4 types of consumer decisions? ›

Generally speaking, there are different consumer buying behaviours, which can be categorised in the following:
  • Extended Decision-Making.
  • Limited Decision-Making.
  • Habitual Buying Behavior.
  • Variety-Seeking Buying Behavior.

What are the 5 methods for decision-making? ›

5 Steps to Good Decision Making
  • Step 1: Identify Your Goal. One of the most effective decision making strategies is to keep an eye on your goal. ...
  • Step 2: Gather Information for Weighing Your Options. ...
  • Step 3: Consider the Consequences. ...
  • Step 4: Make Your Decision. ...
  • Step 5: Evaluate Your Decision.

What are the 3 types of customer decision-making? ›

The three types are nominal decision making, which requires little to no search for alternatives; limited decision making, which requires some but not much of a search for alternatives; and extended decision making, which requires extensive evaluation of alternatives and post-purchase evaluation.

What are the 6 types of decision-making? ›

Types of Decision Making
  • Programmed And Non-Programmed Decisions: Programmed decisions are routine and repetitive in nature. ...
  • Operational and Strategic Decisions: ...
  • Organizational and Personal Decisions: ...
  • Major and Minor Decisions: ...
  • Individual and Group Decisions: ...
  • Tactical and Operational Decisions:

What is the main goal of means-end analysis? ›

In means-ends analysis, one solves a problem by considering the obstacles that stand between the initial problem state and the goal state. The elimination of these obstacles (and, recursively, the obstacles in the way of eliminating these obstacles) are then defined as (simpler) subgoals to be achieved.

Why is Means-End Theory important? ›

It allows for an interpretation of the values of a group of consumers and which connections (i.e., chains) are the strongest and, therefore, most important for the comprehension of the phenomenon and decision-making related to its application (Reynolds & Gutman, 1988).

What is the means-end model? ›

A means-end chain is a model that seeks to explain how a product or service selection facilitates the achievement of desired end states. Such a model consists of elements that represent the major consumer processes that link values to behavior.

What is an example of means-ends analysis? ›

In means-ends analysis, the problem solver begins by envisioning the end, or ultimate goal, and then determines the best strategy for attaining the goal in his current situation. If, for example, one wished to drive from New York to Boston in the minimum time possible, then,…

What is a means-end diagram? ›

This article in particular, describes a tool for the systematic and organized identification of means aimed at fulfilling the objectives from each actor involved in a decision-making or problem solving process. It is called means-end diagram. A means-end diagram is apparently similar to a goal tree [2].

How do you identify consumer means-end chains? ›

Identifying Consumers' Means-End Chains

There are two basic steps that can be used. First, the researcher must identify or elicit the product attributes that are most important to consumers when he or she make a purchase decision and the other one is in the process of laddering.

What are the 7 kinds of consumer? ›

Euromonitor's Survey team developed seven global consumer types from the survey data: the Undaunted Striver, Impulsive Spender, Balanced Optimist, Aspiring Struggler, Conservative Homebody, Independent Skeptic and Secure Traditionalist.

What are the 7 types of decision-making? ›

The 7 Styles of Decision Making
  • Collective reasoning. People with this style naturally gather a group of opinions before making any decision. ...
  • Data driven. Hard data, especially numbers, are the basis of these individual's decisions. ...
  • Gut reaction. ...
  • List approach. ...
  • Spiritually guided. ...
  • Story living. ...
  • Passive undecided.
3 Sept 2015

What are the 6 factors affecting decision-making? ›

Significant factors include past experiences, a variety of cognitive biases, an escalation of commitment and sunk outcomes, individual differences, including age and socioeconomic status, and a belief in personal relevance. These things all impact the decision-making process and the decisions made.

What are the 3 C's of customer satisfaction? ›

The three Cs of customer satisfaction: Consistency, consistency, consistency. It may not seem sexy, but consistency is the secret ingredient to making customers happy.

What are the factors affecting consumer decision-making process? ›

Here are 5 major factors that influence consumer behavior:
  • Psychological Factors. Human psychology is a major determinant of consumer behavior. ...
  • Social Factors. Humans are social beings and they live around many people who influence their buying behavior. ...
  • Cultural factors. ...
  • Personal Factors. ...
  • Economic Factors.

What are the 8 stages of decision-making? ›

8 steps for an effective decision-making process
  • Identify the issue. ...
  • Research thoroughly. ...
  • Make a list of viable solutions. ...
  • Include other team members in discussions. ...
  • Evaluate your ideas based on their impact. ...
  • Choose the best option. ...
  • Evaluate the results of your decision. ...
  • Modify your process for your next project.
22 Jun 2022

What are the 4 components of decision-making? ›

There are 4 basic elements in decision theory: acts, events, outcomes, and payoffs.

What are the 17 important types of decisions? ›

Types of Decision Making – 17 Important Types of Decisions
  • Programmed Decisions: They are otherwise called routine decisions or structured decisions. ...
  • Non-Programmed Decision: ...
  • Major Decision: ...
  • Minor Decision: ...
  • Operative Decision: ...
  • Organisational Decision: ...
  • Personal Decision: ...
  • Individual Decision:

What type of strategies are followed in means-end analysis? ›

Means end analysis is a technique used to solve problems in AI programs. This technique combines forward and backward strategies to solve complex problems. With these mixed strategies, complex problems can be tackled first, followed by smaller ones.

Who proposed the means-end analysis? ›

Means-End Analysis is essentially an early form of Gap Analysis . It was created by researchers Allen Newell and Herbert Simon in the late 1950s, and it was then published their 1972 book, "Human Problem Solving."

What is a means-end analysis marketing? ›

Well grounded in academic research and marketing literature, the means-end theory asserts that people make choices about a product, service or issue in a manner that taps into four dimensions: attributes, benefits, emotions and personal values.

What is the relationship between means and end? ›

The customary dichotomy between means and ends originates in, and reinforces, the view that they are two entirely different categories of action and that their relationship is mainly a technical matter to be settled by considering what will be effective and what is possible in a given situation, that the ethical ...

What is MEC analysis? ›

Means-End Chain Theory has been developed in order to understand how consumers link attributes (A) of products with particular consequences (C), and how these consequences satisfy their personal values (V). The associations in the mind of the consumer between A's, C's and V's are labelled means-end chains (MEC).

How does a means-end chain connect product attributes to personal values? ›

A means-end chain, therefore, is a structure that connects product or service attributes to consequences produced by these and the latter to values (Mulvey et al., 1994; Reynolds & Gutman, 1988). For example, the attribute quality can lead to a consequence of optimizing time, which can also lead to the value security.

What is an example of means end behavior? ›

For example, infants increased looking at the end object and decreased looking at the means objects with age.

What is an example of a means to an end? ›

something you do in order to achieve something else: For me, going to college is just a means to an end, a way to get a better job.

What does the saying a means to an end mean? ›

: something done only to produce a desired result.

What is the difference to you of means and ends? ›

Ends, or goals, are what we aim to do, and means are what we use to do what we aim to do. Our means are the things we use and the actions we take to create our ends. The purpose of an end or goal is not to achieve some imagined or desired future state, but rather to resolve some present challenge.

What is the problem space of means-end analysis? ›

What is the problem space of means-end analysis? Explanation: The problem space of means-end analysis has an initial state and one or more goal states. Explanation: An algorithm A is admissible if It is guaranteed to return an optimal solution when one exists.

What is analysis of means used for? ›

The analysis of means (ANOM) is a graphical method for presenting multiple group comparisons with an overall mean (“grand mean”). Ever since Ott published his pioneering paper (Ott 1967), ANOM has enjoyed great popularity in quality control, and piles of extensions and applications have been discussed.

What do you mean by end and means in logic? ›

The logical function of accounting ends is that of stimulating and directing appropriate accounting actions as means toward those ends. These ends should be tested for desirability, whereas the means should be tested for suitability. The pairing of ends and means should be based on realistic and convincing reasons.

What is means and end in management? ›

Means-end analysis, or MEA, is a method of thinking about organizational planning that can help you to reach your ultimate goals. One of the first things that needs to be done with regard to a means-end analysis is to shift the thinking from goals to smaller objectives.

What is the process of logically approaching the task of identifying the ends and the means of achieving them known as? ›

Means–ends analysis (MEA) is a problem solving technique used commonly in artificial intelligence (AI) for limiting search in AI programs. It is also a technique used at least since the 1950s as a creativity tool, most frequently mentioned in engineering books on design methods.

What is the difference between consumer and end consumer? ›

Any person, other than the buyer who buys the product or services, consumes the product by taking his/her permission is categorized as a consumer. In simple word, the end-user of the goods or services is termed as a consumer.
Who is a Consumer?
Individual or CompanyIndividual, family or group
11 more rows

What means end customer? ›

a person who buys and uses a product or service: We have kept our prices the same, so our increased production costs have not been passed on to the end consumer. Customer surveys allow us to learn more about the end consumer.

What is end to end consumer experience? ›

End-to-end customer experience refers to all the interactions between the user and the business throughout the relationship. There are significant benefits to a good customer experience. It gives you competitive advantages, promotes loyalty and helps you retain customers.

What are the seven 7 stages of the organizational buying decision process and what are the implications for sales people at each stage? ›

The traditional B2B buying process has seven steps: need recognition, defining the need, developing the specifications, searching for appropriate suppliers, evaluating proposals, making the buying decision, and postpurchase evaluation.

What are the 8 decision-making steps? ›

The Decision‐Making Process
  • Define the problem.
  • Identify limiting factors.
  • Develop potential alternatives.
  • Analyze the alternatives.
  • Select the best alternative.
  • Implement the decision.
  • Establish a control and evaluation system.

What are the 6 steps in consumer decision process? ›

Let's look at the six stages of the buying process below:
  1. Stage #1: Problem Recognition. ...
  2. Stage #2: Information Search. ...
  3. Stage #3: Evaluation of Alternatives. ...
  4. Stage #4: Purchase Decision. ...
  5. Stage #5: Purchase. ...
  6. Stage #6: Post-Purchase Evaluation.

What are the 10 steps of decision-making? ›

10 Steps to Making Better Decisions
  • Assess the Situation. Take the time to identify the situation clearly and then organize the issues that need to be addressed. ...
  • Take a Fresh Perspective. ...
  • Consider Your Options. ...
  • Analyze Each Option. ...
  • Get Unstuck. ...
  • Make the Decision. ...
  • Define an Action Plan. ...
  • Communicate Your Decision.

What are the 3 elements of decision-making? ›

Instinct is your gut reaction to a situation or stimulus. Judgment is about applying data and experience to analyze a situation. Perspectives is about seeking external expertise that can expand, influence or change your point of view.

What are the 5 factors influencing consumer behavior? ›

5 Factors Influencing Consumer Behaviour
  • Psychological Factors.
  • Social Factors.
  • Cultural Factors.
  • Economic Factors.
  • Personal Factors.
1 Dec 2022

What are the 4 factors that influence consumer behavior? ›

In general, there are four factors that influence consumer behaviour. These factors impact whether or not your target customer buys your product. They are cultural, social, personal and psychological.

What are the 3 types of consumer purchasing decisions? ›

There are three types of consumer decisions to consider:
  • Nominal.
  • Limited.
  • Extended.
25 Apr 2017

What are the 6 principles of decision-making? ›

Principles of Decision Making - 6 Things You Need to Know
  • Identify and define the problem. You must clearly define the problem before you can solve it. ...
  • Gather and analyze information. ...
  • Development alternative solutions. ...
  • Choose the best alternative. ...
  • Take action. ...
  • Evaluate the decision.
8 Nov 2017

What are the 3 types of decisions? ›

Types of decisions
  • strategic.
  • tactical.
  • operational.

What are the types of consumer decision rules? ›

Consumers use five decision rules: conjunctive, disjunctive, elimination-by-aspects, lexicographic, and compensatory. Consumers frequently use more than one rule to make a single decision.

Why is consumer decision-making process important? ›

It's important to understand the consumer decision-making process because it allows you to anticipate the needs of consumers , which in turn helps you plan marketing or sales strategies based on those needs.

What are the five stages of the consumer buying process with example? ›

The 5 Stages of Consumer Buying/Decision Making Process
  • Recognition of needs and wants.
  • Information search.
  • Evaluation of alternatives.
  • Purchasing.
  • Post-purchase evaluation.


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