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Uncovering Customers' Real Motivations

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It seems to be a no brainer that products are designed to fulfill consumer needs. It seems equally obvious that advertising and other marketing communications are supposed to relate a product to consumers' underlying needs and values. The real problem seems to be finding out what consumers want and why they want it.

Tools to Uncover Why

Since the 1950s marketers have devised various tools and methods designed to uncover consumer motivations-projective techniques like sentence completion, collages, or word association tests, focus groups, ethnographic studies, and depth interviews. While all these method may yield valuable insights, one that is useful but less well known is a technique called "laddering."

Goals of Laddering

The basic goal of laddering is to identify what attributes of a product consumers find important and then link these important attributes to motivations and values central to consumers' lives. Laddering proceeds in a series of steps as follows.

Step 1: Finding Differences Among Brands

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Debbie MacInnis is the Charles L. and Ramona I. Hilliard Professor of Business Administration and a professor of marketing at USC's Marshall School of Business. She is co-author of a recent book on brand admiration, which blends years of best-practice thinking from academia with the real-world practice of marketing.

LinkedIn: Debbie MacInnis


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