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Consumer Behaviour

Means End Theory

Essentially, the theory brings a systematic approach to visualise a ‘Consumer Decision Map’ that starts from product attributes, leading to benefits, which finally lead to key personal values that drive consumption.
Understanding these linkages can provide your team an edge in identifying ‘focal points’ – i.e. benefits / values having a lot of links – which tend to be spaces where market leaders / first movers try to consolidate. This can also be used in finding new spaces to occupy.
While constructing these visual maps, you should keep in mind that:
– This could differ within sub-segments within your product category (the more fine-tuned to a particular target group, the better)
– For some reason, it is important that the links don’t cross each other (make trade offs and choose stronger links if you come across such a situation)
– Over time, many focal points are copied by competitors and hence you should re-evaluate maps often.
– There are multiple ways of looking at attributes, benefits and values (more on this ahead).

The trick here is to look at attributes from multiple angles and to understand the influence they have on another. Attributes could vary by:
(i) Intrinsic (Materials, Manufacturing process, Form) or Extrinsic attributes (Brand Equity, Pricing, Customer Support and service)
(ii) Pre-performance (those that the user can evaluate before purchase or usage) and performance related.
(iii) Objective (Mileage, weight, size, etc.) vs. Subjective (fragrance quality, smoothness of ride)
(iv) Being relatively abstract and led by imagery (you would see this more in ‘opaque’ products)
Do understand how different attributes can affect each other (see the flow of influence – shown as yellow arrows) and understand that small incremental improvements in brand, packaging, etc can thus have major cascading improvements.
Product Attributes types

Similarly, product benefits can vary on the following lines:
(i) Instrumental benefits (Functional, financial and experiential) vs. Expressive and Psychological benefits (Affirming a particular self image, Reinforce ideal self image in the mind of others)
(ii) Conscious (fully aware of the benefits) vs
Pre-Conscious (aware of benefits but not associated with the product) vs
Latent (Not recognized as a need by itself)

This should go beyond ‘happiness’ and you should dig deeper on the following lines.
Self Esteem
Social Recognition
Fun – Enjoyment – Excitement
Welfare of Future Generations
This can further be delved into by looking at instrumental and terminal values.

Types of values

What to do next?
This approach can help you take a fresh look into positioning strategies, product improvement, packaging features, etc.
While the tool is quite simplistic, it actually gives one a fresh perspective of what is important in the purchase process, and a clear direction on differentiation that would be relevant.
For example, you would realise that in the packaged juice example given above, there would be a huge advantage to the first manufacturer who could claim “100% Natural”, instantly connecting the communication in multiple ways with the consumer’s need. Go ahead, Try a map with your cross – functional team !

Further Recommended Reading
Strategic Marketing Management – A means end approach, Mark E.Parry
The Nature of human values, Milton Rokeach



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