means-end chain model
One of the more relevant aspects of marketing research from the scientific as well as the operative standpoint is the comprehension of consumer decision-making processes.
However, the methods employed to study consumer behaviour are often unsatisfactory due to the lack of a tool linking consumers’ knowledge of product characteristics and their needs, hence their own characteristics.
The means-end chain model is a conceptual tool which allows to understand how consumers perceive the self-relevant outcomes of product use and consumption (Grunert et al., 1995; Peter et al. 1999; Reynolds and Gutman, 1988; Vallette-Florence and Rapacchi, 1991).
It explores the connection between consumer and product through the construction of a simple associative network between concrete and abstract product attributes, functional and psychosocial consequences linked with product use and, finally, consumers’ instrumental and terminal values. Product attributes are but means through which consumers achieve their ultimate values, ends, via the positive consequences or benefits accruing from the attributes. In other words, goods/services are seen as means to satisfy needs that are conscious to a varying degree.
In the means-end chain model, products are thus not chosen and purchased for themselves or their acharcteristics, but rather for the meaning they engender in the mind of prospects (Reynolds and Gutman, 1988). In this way products, though selected for fairly concrete features, such as their characteristics and attributes (e.g. proportion of fat, color, origin, production method), and for the benefits which they are capable of providing – functional or psychosocial consequences (e.g. a healthy and tasty diet) - are in fact perceived subconsciously as aimed at and connected with the achievement of individual goals (Peter et al., 1999),
A means-end chain is thus a conceptual structure linking a product (defined as a bundle of attributes) and a consumer (regarded as a holder of values) (fig. 2). Attributes of products are assumed to lead to various consequences of product use or consumption which in turn satisfy consumers’ values. Such connections can be identified using the laddering technique, an interviewing method that aims at explaining consumer choices through the identification of the network of links among product attributes, the tangible positive outcomes associated to these (functional consequences), personal outcomes which pertain to the individual psychological realm or relationships with other people (psychosocial consequences) and, ultimately, values.