Laddering refers to an in-depth, one-on-one interviewing technique used to develop an understanding of how consumers translate the attributes of products into meaningful associations with respect to self, following Means-End Chain theory. It is a useful technique of qualitative research in understanding behaviours and has been utilized specially in marketing in order to explore individuals’ opinions, attitudes and beliefs.
According to the Means-End Chain theory, there is a hierarchy of consumer perceptions and product knowledge that ranges from attributes (A) to consumption consequences (C) to personal values (V), as follows:
- Attributes—At the top level of this hierarchy, attributes are most recognizable by individuals. Individuals recognize the attributes of a product or system easily.
- Consequences—In turn, the attributes have consequences for the individual. For example, the convertible makes its driver feel young and free. Each attribute may have one or more consequences for any given individual.
- Core values—Finally, each consequence is linked to a core value of the person’s life.
Whereas the means-end chain approach is a theory about how such relations are arranged in the minds of consumers, the laddering interview is a method for investigating actual instances of such ‘mental relations’. Since both approaches are based on the same idea of mental hierarchical value systems, laddering is used as a tool for eliciting means-end chains.
After conducting laddering interviews with 10 participants (males and females age 21 to 45), we proceeded to construct the respective means-end ladders for each participant. All attributes, consequences and values are then collated into a table and further segmented for a more detailed overview.
The following explains the rationale of the breakdown and definitions of the mentioned terms:
Consumers often think about products and brands as bundles of attributes.
Types of product attributes:
- Concrete attributes – tangible,physical characteristics
- Abstract attributes – subjective, intangible
Consumers think about products and brands in terms of consequences.
Types of consequences:
- Functional consequences – tangible outcomes of product use
- Psychosocial consequences – the psychological/social outcomes of product use
Products and brands can help consumers satisfy or achieve values. Values are people’s broad life goals.
Types of values:
- Instrumental values – preferred modes of conduct
- Terminal values – preferred states of being or broad psychological states
- Core values – central to people’s self-concept/self-schema
One important reason as to why we chose the laddering technique was because we felt that this is a technique that was able to provide us deeper insight into higher order values that consumers associate with Tiffany & Co. Looking at the attributes consolidated from our interviews, there are significantly more abstract attributes as compared to concrete attributes. Abstract attributes such as romance, exquisiteness and timelessness all constitutes to the “Tiffany experience” that the brand tries to create. Considering how Tiffany places strong emphasis on the intangible, emotional aspects of its products rather than the physical aspects, this shows success on Tiffany’s part as it is indeed proven to be remembered more for those aspects. Moving on to the consequences and values, the findings did not deviate much from what the team had expected.
However, looking at ladders 7-10, these are some findings that did not concur with the norm. Consumers who did not fancy Tiffany find it over-commercialized, overpriced and overrated. Similar to Elysius, one of our brand diary participants in Assignment 2, one of the male participants found Tiffany “too feminine and more suited for females” as well. For the participants who did not show positive affect towards Tiffany and whose values are not aligned with Tiffany’s brand values, there were no values elicited for their means-end ladders.