The Picture Metaphor Interview Technique Explained


This is a powerful interview technique that reveals the participant’s fundamental thoughts and behaviors associated with an aspect of consumption. It is used to understand how they perceive a brand, an action or behavior or event, or even an intangible concept. It is similar to other metaphor techniques like Warshak’s ink prints, but this gives the interviewee more lateral in choosing imagery.

It is based on the premise that the brain works in images more directly than in words. Therefore, it is easier and more direct for interviewees to relate feelings through the use of images than through verbalization.

A pioneer in this technique is Gerald Zaltman, and this method is occasionally called ZMET, although the process described in this post is not necessarily an endorsed ZMET technique.

Because the interview is very thorough, sample sizes are usually small yet maintain a relatively high level of reliability. The image included with this post is from a study that a group of CU Denver students and I did about impulsive purchasing behavior. It is the collection of images that a participant compiled to illustrate her feelings associated with the behavior in a specific instance.

Methodology:
Subjects focus on a recent impulse buying experience when they purchased additional items along with a planned purchase of jeans. They verbalize the experience, then are given several stock books of images. The subjects find ten to twelve pictures that are metaphors for emotions, thoughts and behaviors that they experience while making their respective impulse purchases. After gathering the images, subjects engage in storytelling. After each image is reviewed, we discussed any missing images; pictures they could not find that would have been relevant to their impulse buying experience.

The next stage of the interview involves sorting the images into meaningful sets. In order to construct elicitation, three images are placed in front of the participant. The participant is asked which two are similar, and which one is different.

The fifth stage of the interview is metaphor elaboration. The interviewee selects three images and imagines widening the frame in any direction and to describe what would enter the picture that would reinforce or contradict its meaning for them.

Sensory metaphors are used later in the interview after the participant has spent time contemplating impulsive purchases. At this stage, they are asked to use non-visual senses to convey what is and is not representative of impulse purchases. The follow-up exercise of creating a vignette about the impulse purchase is particularly revealing.

Analysis
All metaphors are identified and synonyms are merged. During the interview process, if a participant noted that two ideas are interrelated, links between the concepts are constructed.

Next, the lists are combined to create a laddering map. This laddering map represents the main concepts identified by the participants and the links between the concepts reflect their responses during the interview. As a laddering map, it identifies the dominant (most frequently mentioned) concepts, as well as supportive concepts.

As recurring responses began to emerge, meaningful categories are created around key concepts.

laddering map

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