Mapping consumers' mental models with ZMET



In the quest to understand the customer, consumer researchers, whether practitioner or academic, must understand the perceived personal relevance of a product, service, or brand from the consumers' perspective. Fundamentally, what must be understood are the cognitive structures or mental models that underlie consumers' feelings of involvement. This article demonstrates the power of the Zaltman metaphor-elicitation technique (ZMET) (Zaltman, 1997) to gain such consumer insight by first eliciting and then mapping consumers' knowledge structures. The article provides illustrations of how ZMET can be used to create a collective cognitive map for a group of consumers, and how ZMET data can be mapped in different ways to give greater insight into consumers' product knowledge structures. Also provided is a description of how the knowledge structures of consumers are subdivided and grouped around important meaning themes that frame and motivate a person's involvement with an activity. Ultimately, it is demonstrated that consumers' mental models are made up of both cognitive (beliefs) and emotional (feelings) components, and that these structures of meaning are activated by the current consumption situation. © 2002 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.