Laddering Theory - Method, Analysis and Interpretation

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Thomas J. Reynolds and Jonathan Gutman
Journal of Advertising Research Feb/March, 1988

ersonal values research in marketing has recently re¬ceived a substantial amount of attention from both academics and practitioners This more in-depth profiling of the consumer and his or her relationship to products offers potential not only for understanding the "cognitive" positionings of current products but also permits the de¬velopment of positioning strate¬gies For new products. Endorsing this more psychological view of the marketplace, Sheth (1983) suggests that to be comprehensive in marketing products in the 1980's both researchers and manage¬ment are going to have to, if they have not already, adopt this con¬sumer-based orientation rather than one that merely focuses on product characteristics. The application of the personal values perspective to the mar¬keting of consumer products can be classified into two theoretically grounded perspectives, "macro" representing sociology and "micro" representing psychology (Reynolds, 1985). The macro approach refers to stan¬dard survey research method¬ology combined with a classification scheme to categorize re¬spondents into predetermined clusters or groups (e.g..VALS methodology of the Stanford Re¬search Institute). Products and their positioning strategies are then directed to appeal to these general target groups, such as the Merrill Lynch solitary bull appealing to the achiever ori¬entation whose desire is to send out and “get ahead of the pack” (Plummer, 1985). Reynolds (1985) notes, though strong on face validity these rather general classifications fail to provide an understanding, specifically, of how the concrete aspects of the product fit into the consumer’s life. As such, the macro survey approach only gives part of the answer, namely, the overall value orientation of target segments within the marketplace. Missing are the key de¬fining components of a posi¬tioning strategy—the linkages between the product and the per5onally relevant role it has in the life of the consumer. The more psychological perspective offered by the "micro" approach based upon Means-End Theory (Gutman 1982), spe¬cifically focuses on the linkages between the attributes that exist in products (the "means"), ‘he consequences for the consumer provided by the attributes, and the personal values (the “ends”) the consequences reinforce. The means-end perspective closely parallels the origin of attitude re¬search represented by Expec¬tancy-Value Theory (Rosenberg, 1956), which posits that con¬sumer actions produce conse¬quences and that consumers Learn to associate particular consequences with particular product attributes they have reinforced through their buying behavior. The common premise, then, is that consumers learn to choose products containing attributes which are instrumental to achieving their desired conse¬quences. Means-End Theory simply specifies the rationale un¬derlying why consequences are important, namely, personal values. The focus of this article is on detailing the specifics of the in-depth interviewing and analysis methodology, termed “lad¬dering” (Gutman and Reynolds, 1979; Reynolds and Gutman, 1984a), for uncovering means-end hierarchies defined by these key elements and their linkages or connections. The combination of connected elements, or ladder, represents the linkage between the product and the perceptual process of consumers, which as pointed out previously, yields a more direct and thus more useful understanding of the consumer.


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 associ¬ations with respect to self, fol¬lowing Means-End Theory (Gutman, 1982). Laddering in¬volves a tailored interviewing format using primarily a series of directed probes, typified by the “Why is...
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