Projective techniques in marketing are ways of using a person’s freely given descriptions of pictures, words, or other stimuli as a means to assess his or her personal style and motives. There are several motivational factors traditionally measured with projective tests. These include the sophistication level, behavioral style, and potentially important motives. The original idea of projective testing was born out of the psychoanalytic notion of “projection.”
Classical Projective Tests
Freud posited that people with strong motivations (such as strong anxiety or drives toward things they can’t achieve) would tend to “project” those motives or drives outside themselves into pictures, other people, or things they see and hear. The classical projective tests that grew out of the psychoanalytic movement are the Rorschach Inkblot Test, a series of evocative but non-specific shapes that look like blots of ink, and the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT), a series of evocative images of people and situations that invite stories.
On that basis, the projective test was designed to give subjects a chance to react to evocative stimuli under the watchful eye of a tester. In a sense, the projective test gives the tester a chance to view a sample of the behavior of a subject under controlled conditions where a lot is known about how people generally react to the stimuli. The projective tests in modern practice are used for a variety of assessments.
Behavioral style. Research done in the early twentieth century found that certain behaviors tend to hang together. These groups of behaviors can be thought of as a behavioral style. People who talk fast may tend to walk fast and bring ideas together quickly in their speech. Others may tend to do everything very forcefully or loudly, and others may have a soft or deliberate style.
Level of sophistication. When you ask a subject to interpret a picture of his or her impression of complex non-representational images, a trained examiner can tell a lot about how he or she uses language and how much detail in the image they can have meaningful interpretations for. This kind of scoring of projective tests is the same as grading the maturity of a drawing.
Motivations. The TAT is specially formulated to bring out a subject’s priorities, motives, and the way the world stimulates or frustrates him or her. Things that motivate or frustrate people come out in the stories they tell about the pictures. The Rorschach suggests motivations in the way the subject describes the inkblot shapes.
Projective Tests in Marketing Research
Projective tests that help market researchers reveal the hidden motives that could be associated with buying behavior are widely used in market research. Responses to projective tests have to be carefully content analyzed and used in association with a variety of tools to be practical. A number of projective-type techniques have been developed to focus on marketing preferences.
“Bring an Item” is a procedure where a sample from the public brings into a focus group or marketing test group, an item they associate with the brand in question. Responses are recorded and analyzed for hints about attitudes. “Guided Fantasy” or or “Guided Visualization” is used by some market researchers. Respondents are guided through a shared fantasy or individual experience where brands and products figure as items in the fantasy or past shopping experience. Attitudes or opinions expressed in the fantasy are used as measures of consumer motives and attitudes.
Other projective techniques that uncover hidden motivation include Dear John letters, where consumers break up with a brand, visual analogy where they find images/pictures that reflect feels and cartoon type “thought bubbles” to assess their attitudes. Role-playing is also used as a device to assess attitudes, and motives related to brands and products.
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