How Qualitative Research Benefits From Morphology

Dirk Ziems

How Qualitative Research Benefits From Morphology

There Is Nothing As Practical As A Good Psychological Theory
- How Qualitative Research Benefits From Morphology

Social psychologist Kurt Lewin said: „There is nothing as practical as a good theory.” Looking at today’s reality, this sentence no longer appears correct. Qualitative market research is supposed to be highly efficient and pragmatic; there seems to be no room for time-consuming deep-diving into fundamental theories. Which benefit does mere theory have for real-life research after all? Now that the excitement about theories like neuropsychology and behavioral economics has faded a bit, the market research community currently seems to prefer focusing on pure application practice again.

We would like to take a different stance. We are of the opinion that qualitative market research should deal closely with fundamental theories, and rather more than less. We would like to link this to a short presentation of the theory of morphological market psychology, which we think is one of the most modern, practical, and enriching psychological theories that market research can be based on.

Morphology: method-driven analysis instead of subjective interpretation

What is morphology? Morphology studies how forms are structured and built, and how form building happens. This can refer to natural forms like the development and transformation of rock formations, or the development of the diverse life forms of flora and fauna. Last but not least, the morphological basic approach can also be applied to psychology in order to describe and reconstruct the structure and construction of experience and behavior patterns.

Which perspective does morphological psychology provide for market research? Daily routines and consumption patterns are also living forms that have their own dynamic internal logic. To copy this own logic and to reconstruct the structural design of these patterns has enormous practical added value for marketing. Time and again, qualitative market research suffers from the lack of a solid framework into which collected data can be integrated. The data obtained in interviews, focus groups, from collages or community chats gets very often classified only based on a shaky foundation. Qualitative processes observe plenty of phenomena, for example countless completely different usage forms and contradicting opinions. The way the collected phenomena material should be analyzed and systemized remains often relatively vague. The individual researcher decides which voice will be given more weight. Or a certain statement is met with general distrust because it seems like the respondent’s motive was social desirability but they did not really mean what they said. The entire evaluation and analysis process is subject to the sovereignty of interpretation of the subjective researcher or to the consensus of the group of research participants.

Case study: reconstructing cleaning motives and brand promises

A good alternative draft is to have a solid theory as the basis. Morphological market psychology is based on the theory that consumer experience and behavior can be explained by the self-regulation and own dynamics of everyday routines and product usage forms. And these product usage forms can be analyzed in detail by means of a concrete evaluation scheme:

Product usage forms are revealed in conscious stories that show the way to relevant fundamental qualities. Let’s look at the example of house cleaning: dirty things, filthy things, ever recurring rests, the Sisyphean task of always having to restore the clean initial state – this all contributes to what we experience when we are cleaning or what we associate with cleaning.

The usage stories reflect further psychological fields of tension that are more deeply rooted on a subconscious level: when we clean we live a fundamental aggression, to show the dirt who’s the boss. Especially brands like “Der General” (cleaning fights, ground operations) or “Domestos” (killing the germs) appeal to this motive on a subconscious level. If we notice that we get too involved in the cleaning process, that we become a cleaning maniac, we counteract: Cleaning is supposed to be a part of the daily routine and is integrated into pragmatic and compromise-like cleaning rituals. Communication hints at this motive idea when it praises the easy use, immediate and miraculous effect of detergents (e.g. the immediate shine provided by Swirl).

A third field of tension of the product usage form “cleaning” describes the relation of equipment and ideals: We equip ourselves, by means of detergents, with images of orientation and guidance that represent a successful handling of the cumbersome cleaning issue. Morphological market analysis can reveal the enormous power of brands looking at this context. The “General”, already mentioned above, conveys a feeling of strength, brands like “Ajax” or “Mr. Clean” promise carefree delegation of work to the detergents’ power, “Frosch” (Frog) on the other hand aims at compromise-like rearguard action, legitimized by an ecological ideal.

The example “Product usage of detergents” and classification of brands shows the practical benefit of the morphological market theory. Based on the methodical reconstruction of inherent psychological motive tensions, the numerous phenomena can be almost completely integrated into a total picture. This is how morphological theory enables us to define market segments, market positioning or decisions for communication targeting based on a solid foundation of quantitative insights, beyond the subjectivity of just one researcher or marketing expert.


Benefits of morphological market psychology

  • Focus on psychology of product usage
  • Describes central and relevant product qualities in a realistic everyday context
  • Detects both conscious and subconscious motives
  • Identifies and explains central metaphors, symbols, and myths, determining the product field and the brands
  • Understands the questions marketing addresses in the context of the relevant cultural-psychological background
  • Can be linked to related theoretical approaches like semiotics, neuropsychology, ethnology
  • Integrates qualitative and quantitative research: knowing drivers, measuring what is relevant
  • Superior option for practical implementation in the marketing process

Development of morphology: looking back and ahead

Morphological market psychology mediates between tradition and innovation. It first entered the field of qualitative market research in Germany in the 1980s and revived the ideas of depth-psychological motive research which had a great influence on the advertising and marketing industry in the US back in the 50s and 60s. By now, morphological market psychology has developed countless tools for analysis and reconstruction that closely interact with the processes of strategic and operative marketing: analysis models for motive insight research are an integral part of this concerted work, just like segmentation models, and brand and communication models. The models have been fully differentiated for ten industries and dozens of product fields.

Over the decades, morphology has also conducted cultural-psychological and intercultural research and contributed greatly to the field of trend marketing and international marketing with the respective insights. Today, morphological studies are no longer only conducted in Europe but across the globe. concept m is active in over 40 countries with its international network.

Morphology does not only explore new horizons for the application but also for the development of theories. “Open morphology” has exchanged ideas with theoretical approaches like semiotics, ethnology, and neuropsychology – always following the ideal: “There is nothing as practical as a good theory that remains vivid and undogmatic, and proves successful in an ever-changing world.”

The article was published in edition 3/2016 from Planung&Analyse.

For further information please contact:


Thomas Ebenfeld
Co-Founder and Shareholder


Rochus Winkler
Co-Founder and Shareholder


Dirk Ziems
Co-Founder and Shareholder

Dirk Ziems
Dirk Ziems ist Experte für tiefenpsychologisches Marketing und berät auf Basis von Markt-, Medien- und Kulturforschung weltweit Unternehmen und Konzerne in zahlreichen Branchen und Ländern. Als Mitbegründer der Global Research Boutique Concept M und der Marketingberatung Flying Elephant begleitet er Themen wie die Adaption von Erfolgsprodukten in neuen kulturellen Kontexten, das tiefe Verständnis neuer Konsumgenerationen in China und USA, die Transformation der Werbekommunikation in der neuen digitalen Medienwelt oder die Neuorientierung der Brands in Post-Corona-Zeiten. Dirk Ziems ist auch als Gastdozent an verschiedenen Universitäten tätig.

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