by: John Caddell
Father-and-son team Gerald and Lindsay Zaltman, authors of "Marketing Metaphoria: What Deep Metaphors Reveal About the Minds of Consumers," assert that beneath our purchasing decisions lie deep, unconscious frames of how the world works.
Companies who can understand these frames and connect their products with them can own key positions in their marketplace and build tremendous brand power.
Did you ever wonder why nearly every Budweiser campaign centers around guys drinking together? According to the Zaltmans, it is because they are reinforcing the brand's association to connection, one of the seven heavyweight "deep metaphors" that account for more than 70% of the metaphor usage found in their research. The other "giants" are:
- Container (keeping things in or out)
An example of deep metaphor usage is the Michelin advertising image of a baby sitting in the tire. The deep metaphor of container is at work here--high-quality, well-designed tires provide a safe cocoon for the occupants of the car. And by extension Michelin owns the safety position with tires. Other brands must find other metaphors to occupy within our brains (say, journey or control).
As a way of showing how understanding deep metaphors can help companies create innovative products, the authors describe how the hearing-aid company Oticon redefined its product category. Oticon interviewed hearing-aid wearers about why they frequently didn't wear their devices. They learned that typical hearing aids were gawky-looking and prominent, thereby stoking users' deep fears of being broken, ugly containers. The company then created a new product that was smaller and sleeker, resembling a high-tech cellphone device more than an old-fashioned hearing aid, and combined it with an advertising campaign reinforcing the "escape" metaphor.
The authors urge readers to use this type of "workable wondering" to reimagine their innovation approaches, not just to find new ways to package or promote the same old products. I agree. When marketers use psychology to understand customers deeply, and respond to those unspoken needs, they're doing a service. (If they're just trying to get into my brain to sell me more peanut butter, well, that's just creepy.)
"Marketing Metaphoria" is a fascinating, fresh look at understanding how humans react to products beyond their functional attributes--a topic as old as advertising itself. But in connecting itself with the entire innovation process, it's more than just a book about communication.
A video interview with co-author Gerald Zaltman, where he elaborates on deep metaphors and how they can be discovered, can be found here.