How to Conduct a ZMET Interview

Two people are having a discussion.
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Zaltman Metaphor Elicitation Technique, or ZMET, was developed by Harvard Business School professor Gerald Zaltman. A ZMET interview aims to discover how individuals and groups react to the materialistic and metaphorical world on a practical and more philosophical, existential level. This information can make marketing programs more meaningful and effective. A ZMET interview should last approximately two hours. The interviews focus mainly on the subjects' visual perceptions and how these relate to their emotional states and interpretations coming from the other senses.

Give the interviewee the question you wish to interview him about. This may have something to do with his perception of the brand, product or service you are exploring, or it may be a more open-ended question about how he interprets the world.

Instruct the interviewee to collect eight to 10 photos, advertisements, drawings and other visual media related to how he interprets the question. Allow the interviewee several days to think about the question and select his material. If there is more than one interview, schedule the interviews for different times so each interviewee can be spoken to individually.

Ask the interviewee to describe why each picture represents the concept, question or answer to the question he was asked to think about. Encourage the interviewee to get active and tell stories related to the pictures. Probe the interviewee to ascertain the key concepts in the stories he tells.

Ask the interviewee to describe any ideas related to the question he was not able to find pictures of. Encourage the subject to describe what types of pictures would represent those concepts.

Select three random images from among those provided by the interviewee. Ask the subject to tell you how two of the pictures are similar and how the third is different than the first two in how they relate to the topic or question. Ask why the pictures are different and how these distinctions relate to his conception of the topic.

Select one of the pictures and ask the interviewee to describe what other actions might be going on in the scene that are not included in the picture. Ask the interviewee to imagine himself in the scene pictured, what he would do and how they would feel. Ask the interviewee to imagine other individuals or other objects involved in the scene, how they may help accomplish the task or overcome a challenge, who the others would be and what they would do. Ask the interview why these other people or things would be significant to him. Repeat with two to three images.

Ask the interviewee to describe the question or concept in nonvisual metaphors. Ask him to describe sounds, smells, tactile perceptions and feelings related to the concept or question.

Ask the interviewee to describe a short movie or scene relating to the concept or question. Ask him who would be in the scene, where and when it would take place, what the weather would be, who the characters are and what kind of tone the scene would take.

Select five to seven of the images which you feel are the most important to the interviewee. Scan these into your digital imaging software. Work with the interviewee to create a digital collage of the images. Note the placement of the images in relation to one another, their sizes, shapes and how the interviewee modifies them. Use this information to further your understanding of how the interviewee relates to the concept or question.

Darby Stevenson began writing in 1997 for his high-school newspaper, the "Alsea Valley Voice," which won him statewide awards for Best Feature Article and Best Personality Interview. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in international studies and a Bachelor of Arts in religious studies from the University of Oregon.