Penetrating Adolescents' Mental Models of Mp3 with ZMET

By Ling, I-Ling; Yang, Chun-Ming et al. | Adolescence, Winter 2009 | Go to article overview

Penetrating Adolescents' Mental Models of Mp3 with ZMET


Ling, I-Ling, Yang, Chun-Ming, Liu, Yi-Fen, Tsai, Yu-Hsuan, Adolescence


Knowing what adolescents' want is fundamental for a successful business. Many techniques have been used by companies to understand consumers' thoughts. However, what they think is always hard to measure. For example, many teenagers like to buy silver cell phones. When researchers ask why they choose this kind of phone, they do not know the reason. It is the subconscious that influences their decision. Silver may represent fashion or pride to the teenagers. Since the subconscious often cannot be elicited from verbal communication, it has become a challenge for researchers. There are many shortcomings in the existing techniques. Qualitative technique is limited by the type of communication. The most qualitative technique uses verbal communication, but Burgoon, Buller, and Woodall (1989) stated that more than 80% of all human communication is nonverbal using picture, color, and music.

A wide variety of market research methods can be used for investigating product innovation. These methods can be divided into four categories for (1) understanding customers, (2) idea generation, (3) concept testing, and (4) estimating market size, growth, and composition. The first two categories tend to be more qualitative and require divergent thinking. The second two methods are more evaluative. However, many combinations and variations of methods are possible.

One of the methods for understanding customers is a newly patented research tool, the Zaltman Metaphor Elicitation Technique known as ZMET.

Zaltman and Zaltman (2008) point out that managers need deep insights from customers in order to have deep insights about customers. Deep insights are based on the fundamental or core beliefs customers have about a topic such as an activity (snacking), a problem (cleaning floors), or a product (computer software), and the role it plays in their lives. These beliefs operate in largely unconscious ways to structure, guide, and motivate consumers' conscious interpretations and choices. To gain access to these core meanings, we need innovative research methodoligies that can help customers delve into their unconscious thoughts and emotions and bring them to the surface. The principle of the ZMET is to tap individuals' underlying emotional connections. First, participants collected pictures that symbolized their thoughts and feelings. Then they had an intense two-hour personal interview with a researcher. With help from a graphic artist, participants created collages of their thoughts and feelings. Finally, they received multimedia presentations. The ZMET is used mostly in TV advertising, but also produces ideas for product design (Zaltman & Coulter, 1995).

The ZMET method, developed to understand consumers' subconscious thoughts, decisions, and behaviors, was chosen for this study because of its unique ability to achieve a deeper understanding of how adolescents are interpreting mp3. The ZMET relies on visual images. However, pictures are not the only communication representation; music may be another. Based on this view, in order to discover individuals' hidden thoughts about the products they use, this article combined music and pictures as the metaphors for broadening the ZMET research scope. The authors sought to address this problem by promoting an approach that provides deep insights into adolescents' beliefs about mp3.

Mental Model

The mental model first proposed by Craik (1943) is a specific, dynamic form of mental representation constructed by outside experiences. Johnson-Laird (1983, 1989) believed that the mental model was an abstract, analog representation. Through this representation, one could infer and forecast an event, and then take appropriate action. Two uses of the mental model exist in past literature. One refers to the representation of a given object (Christensen & Olson, 2002; Zaltman, 1997), and another refers to the cluster of interconnected neurons that are fundamental to cognitive processing (Zaltman, 1997). …

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