From Burrito to Belonging…The Power of Projectives

by Rachel DuPerrieu

Living in a newly-blended household with three tweens, I often find myself tentatively digging into their feelings on a variety of topics such as their parents’ remarriage, budding hormones, friendships, Gryffindor vs. Slytherin, etc.  Have you ever asked an adolescent how he or she feels about something? “Good” or “it’s okay” is a typical response. (Good isn’t a feeling, but that’s another blog post!)

Often in qualitative research, we find ourselves in this same situation. Consumers can usually describe the rational, purposeful reasons why they purchase or believe something, but we truly want to uncover the emotional drivers and values that lie beneath.

Projective techniques grounded in behavioral science help us better understand how consumers interpret products and brands, and provide insight into their emotional values and connections. Here are a few noteworthy examples:

Laddering is often used to identify the links between product or service attributes and consumers’ values. One of my favorite examples of successful laddering started with the simple act of making burritos at home. Over the next few minutes, the burrito-making laddered to the role of Mexican food in creating the feeling of belonging. (This respondent had a tough childhood and remembered the feeling of belonging to a family during burrito dinners at his friend’s house.)

Personification is widely used to understand consumers’ perceptions of and relationships with brands. I am continuously amazed at how well respondents can articulate human emotions and attributes to (non-human) products and brands. This can be done through situations; for example, imagine you’re going away for the weekend with brands X, Y and Z. Where are you going, who’s bringing what, what will each be eating/drinking, how does each brand spend his/her time there, etc.? Personification may also be used with relationships, such as imagining a brand or retailer as a person in the consumers’ lives. Who would this brand or retailer be?  Setting up the brand/retailer in this way helps reveal the degree of closeness that exists, how the relationship has evolved (or not), what contributes to the degree of closeness they feel, and where they see the relationship going in the future.

Image association is another technique used to quickly move consumers from functional to emotional. Understanding the connections they make between the image and their feelings is more important than the image they choose:

“Using this [incontinence] product made me feel like I could be carefree. I felt protected and confident. It was freeing to not worry or be reminded that I have this issue. I could just enjoy my life, like these penguins are enjoying the surf.”

While historically used in qualitative research, projectives can also be highly effective in bringing richness and depth to quantitative research. Image association can be easily incorporated into an online survey, as can sentence completion, and open-end responses, coded and analyzed to reveal themes, can help define the why behind quantitative results. For example:

When I (insert situation), I wish I had an insurance product that (insert what you want the product to do) so that I can (insert the feeling or outcome you want as a result of having the insurance coverage) because (enter why this is important to you).

Projectives are not just for consumer research, either. Highly skilled moderators can use a physician’s doodle or drawing to uncover barriers in effectively treating certain conditions. Business-to-business decision-makers can explore the dimensions and relative strengths and weaknesses of competitors through category sculpting – identifying competitive brands as members of a family.

Speaking of members of a family, my hope is that these techniques and the moderator skills I’ve honed over the years (i.e. inherent curiosity) will help me navigate this season of parenting adolescents. Wish me luck!

As a member of Burke’s Qualitative Rachael DuPerrieu uses her innate curiosity and love of people to draw out consumer insights that impact client brands across a wide range of categories.

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