Seven deep metaphors
“Deep metaphors are
basic frames or orientations
we have toward the world
around us. They constitute
a silent but rich and
powerful language of
thought and expression—
fundamental building blocks
for developing customer
— Gerald Zaltman, PhD, Harvard Researcher
What is a visual metaphor?
“The essence of a metaphor,” according to Lakoff and Johnson, “is understanding and experiencing one kind of thing in terms of another”. For example, a clock superimposed with the dollar sign can express visually the verbal metaphor ‘time is money.’
Metaphors shape our understanding of the world and influence our mental model of reality. (Mental models are the deeply held internal images—symbols and beliefs—we have about how the world works.) Metaphors affect customers’ behaviour and assist them with making decisions and choices, by providing familiarity and a deep sense of connection with the information they receive.
Learning theories posit that the brain converts verbal information into visual images, which are then used to encode the information and store it. The visual image acts in a sense as a retrieval system for the saved verbal information.
In visual communication, metaphors are super-images (or graphics) that have the power to instantly communicate your messages or ideas in the most compelling way. Their telegraphic, memorable, and gripping nature, makes them highly persuasive graphic devices.
What are deep metaphors?
“Deep metaphors are basic frames or orientations we have toward the world around us. They are ‘deep’ because they are largely unconscious and universal. They are ‘metaphors’ because they recast everything we think about, hear, say, and do.” Seven deep metaphors have been identified by Harvard professor Gerald Zaltman, PhD, through a market research technique called ZMET (Zaltman Metaphor Elicitation Technique) that probe what people think and how they verbalize this through metaphors.
Metaphors are very important in marketing communications, as visual images are entry points for accessing customers’ knowledge structures and influencing their behaviours.
Eg: Portraying the deep metaphor of trust can yield repeat patronage and loyalty.
Dr. Zaltman, a neuromarketing pioneer, famously stated that “most thinking occurs without awareness” and that even our conscious thought originates in unconscious processes. For him deep metaphors are like ‘a secret code of thought’, one that customers are unaware they are using. In the book Marketing Metaphorias, Dr. Zaltman, reports on his metaphor research that led him to uncover their semantic, three levels structure:
1. Surface Metaphor: ‘Don’t pour money down the drain’
2. Metaphor Theme: Money is like a liquid.
3. Deep Metaphor: Resource
The Seven Giants
Working with international teams in a large-scale global research, Dr. Zaltman has tested and validated the prevalence of these seven, most basic deep metaphors, he calls ‘Seven Giants’ that constitute the basis for all deep metaphors.
The Seven Giants are universally recognized and shared by people everywhere and appear in every industrial sector. They work across age, race, sex and culture and express fundamental concepts of Balance, Transformation, Journey, Container, Connection, Resource and Control. Zaltman believes that these deep metaphors are hardwired in our brains, and shape our social contexts and experiences. Making use of the deep metaphors below, can help you convert more prospects and create life-long loyalty that adds to your bottom line.
1. Balance – (imbalance) Justice, Equilibrium and Interplay of Elements. Includes ideas of justice, equilibrium, adjusting, maintaining or offsetting forces. Example: physical balance, moral balance, social balance and aesthetic and psychological balance. “People express psychological imbalance when talking about being out-of-sorts, down, and feeling off, and psychological balance when they say they feel centered, feel inner peace, or are back on track.”
2. Transformation – Changes in substance and circumstances. Transformation involves changing states or status. It can be surprising or expected; physically, emotionally etc. People may actively seek or avoid transformation.
3. Journey – Meeting of Past, Present and Future. People talk about many aspects of life being a journey. Journeys can be known ‘stay on track’ at work, you will earn a promotion; or unknown ‘taking the less travelled road’. They also can be fast or slow–‘time flies’ or ‘are we there yet?’ or be ‘an uphill climb’ or ‘all downhill from here’. Life, in general, is framed as a big journey.
4. Container– Inclusion, Exclusion and Other Boundaries. Containers perform two functions, keeping things in and keeping them out. They can protect us or trap us, can be opened or closed, and be positive or negative. They involve physical, psychological and social states.
5. Connection – (disconnection) Need to relate to oneself and others. Encompasses feelings of belonging or exclusion: being kept in or out of the loop, identifying with heros, drawn to celebrities, forming/breaking relationships. We express psychological ownership when we say my brand, my team, my candidate, my kind of person. Feelings of distance and separation from others reflect disconnection, as when losing a friend, missing a pet, or losing a job. Themes of connection and disconnection: giving and receiving gifts.
6. Resource – Acquisitions and Their Consequences. We need resources to survive. We would die without food and water. Family and friends are resources. Money is a resource and so is a smart friend. Products and services are also important resources: we can refer to a cell phone as a “lifeline,” or describe motor oil as a truck’s “lifeblood.” Companies also think of their product offerings as resources. For example, Apple may think of their iPhone as its “bread and butter”. Knowledge and information are other vital resources. An intelligent person is a “fountain of knowledge”; gaining an education is the “key” to one’s future.
7. Control – The Sense of Mastery, Vulnerability, and Well-Being. We human beings need to feel in control of our lives. Sometimes we succeed and sometimes we do not.
We speak of span of control and decision rights within organizations and of leaders gaining or losing authority. Social norms arise to control group interactions, and we imprison those who cannot follow these norms.
Benefiting from deep metaphors
By incorporating these deep metaphors into your communications, MängaDesign helps you to enhance your company’s ability to connect with prospects and deepen the intimacy and loyalty of your customers. Used skilfully, deep metaphors can reduce marketing costs, increase lead generation and reduce sales conversion costs.