Zaltman Metaphor Elicitation Technique

July 22, 2012

If you recall, Señor Lopez Lomong, last year we had some back and forth about curation.  Courtesy of a curator I’ve been following recently, I came across a recent article about curation especially in the Tumblr and Pinterest context.

“Someone on Pinterest once posted a slide that read: ‘Pinterest: Where women go to plan imaginary weddings, dress children that don’t exist and decorate homes we can’t afford.’ But to focus on the ‘aspirational’ aspect is to miss the point. People don’t post stuff because they wish they owned it, but because they think they are it, and they long to be understood, which is different.”

You talked about surveys in your motivational misalignment post, but conflated them with observational data.  In my view, surveys are very different from observational data.  In my reckoning, surveys are explicitly carried out with explicit question-asking and elicitation, whereas observational studies try to implicitly elicit things just by watching things unfold as they normally do, with their inherent sample selection biases which should then be corrected.  (In fact, the Anderson and Oliver (1987) paper I mentioned is empirically validated through surveys by Cravens, Ingram, LaForge, and Young (1993), whereas in this day of social media data and enterprise data collection, a validation based on that observational data could be attempted.)

The Zaltman metaphor elicitation technique is a survey method of sorts that tries to elicit consumer insight not from words, but from images. To understand the thoughts and feelings of customers about products or brands, Zaltman says that image-based elicitation is more effective than text-based elicitation. Rather than filling out a question-answering survey, a customer is tasked with taking several photographs representing their feelings on a product; researchers then interpret those photographs metaphorically in conjunction with conversations with the customer to draw conclusions on the voice of the customer.  This is quite a costly and labor-intensive process.

Instead of the explicit photograph-taking to represent feelings on products, wouldn’t it be great if there were a ready source for such images that could be analyzed as observational data?  Oh right, there now is: Pinterest.  How could a machine analyze the images instead of a researcher?  Couldn’t Torralba, Fergus, and Freeman’s 80 Million Tiny Images approach be used to find similar images and collect all the text surrounding and associated with the similar images, with that text information then being further analyzed by a machine good at natural language and evidence-based learning?

As commented upon by Wolff,

“At the heart of the Internet business is one of the great business fallacies of our time: that the Web, with all its targeting abilities, can be a more efficient, and hence more profitable, advertising medium than traditional media. Facebook, with its 900 million users, its valuation of around $60 billion (as of early June), and a business derived primarily from fairly traditional online advertising, is now at the heart of the heart of this fallacy.

“As Facebook gluts an already glutted market, the fallacy of the Web as a profitable ad medium will become hard to ignore. The crash will come. And Facebook—that putative transformer of worlds, which is, in reality, only an ad-driven site—will fall with everybody else.

“Facebook has the scale, the platform, and the brand to be the new Google. It lacks only the big idea. Right now, it doesn’t actually know how to embed its usefulness into world commerce (or even, really, what its usefulness is).”

He further states that the big idea will have to be something around the knowledge about people found inside the observational data that Facebook possesses.  I couldn’t agree more.  Along the same lines, the big idea for Pinterest should be image-based elicitation for consumer insight.



  1. A thought-provoking post. Thank you.
    Pinterest at heart makes people feel better about themselves. I don’t think Facebook generates the same release of serotonin.

    • I haven’t used Pinterest, but I’m sure you’re right about it making people feel better. The main character in the film Last Holiday gets the same good feeling from her book of possibilities.

      I’ve been watching the current season of Design Star, and have been a little surprised to see how significant a fraction the tasks are about curation rather than creation. The home shows of several years ago like Trading Spaces and While You Were Out used to be much more about creation. The pendulum has swung.

      In large enterprises with globally-distributed teams, we don’t necessarily get to see the carefully or carelessly curated offices of our peers. So if I was working with you Richard, but never came to Redmond, I would never get to see that you have all your crystalline awards displayed with pride. A virtual workspace that could be curated in social business applications is a definite need because of the serotonin release it can bring, but I don’t think it is currently offered.

      • Though I do have several crystalline awards in my physical office, all are in the original packaging in a cabinet collecting dust. I do however, have a Dilbert birthday card from eons ago pinned to my wall.

        Interesting point though. Internally we have “profile pages” connected to our Active Directory. One can customize it to list past projects, etc, but not to the extent that one could customize MySpace pages. I wonder if Yammer has something similar (now that we’re all in one big petri dish). The question is whether or not it’s worthwhile curating this space; I don’t think many do. While sprucing up a physical office with conversation pieces may be useful in the physical realm, “your space” in the virtual one just isn’t visited in the same way.

        I’ve been thinking more about the enterprise space of late. Lots of opportunity there.

      • Was that birthday card sent by Craphonso?

        It’s interesting to learn that Yammer is a Microsoft company now. There certainly is a lot of opportunity to make and sell business machines.

  2. […] Ashvins The Ultimate Machinists « Zaltman Metaphor Elicitation Technique go, go, no go August 14, […]

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