The Hierarchical Approaches: The Zeithaml Model

The hierarchical approaches, compared to those multidimensional, do not focus on the attributes of the product, but on the association between these attributes and more abstract categories, the values, which can create interest in certain products. Those models, in which means-end chain theory (Gutman 1982) is the most common approach, have in common the notion that consumers may infer some attributes from others. These may be attributes at the same level of abstraction, but in most cases, the inference will be from the concrete to the abstract. This model implies that consumers' subjective product perception is established by associations between product attributes and more abstract, more central cognitive categories such as values, which can motivate behavior and create interest for product attributes. A product attribute is not relevant in and by itself, but only to the extent that the consumer expects the attribute to lead to one or more desirable or undesirable consequences. In turn, the relevance and desirability of these consequences are determined by the consumer's own personal values. The consumer is motivated to choose a product if it gives desirable consequences, thereby contributing to the attainment of personal values (Grunert, 1995).

The idea of linking the characteristics of the product to deep purchase motivations is commonly called the means-end chain model, one of the most popular hierarchical models.

A means-end chain (Gutman, 1991, 1982; Olson, 1989; Zeithaml, 1988; Olson & Reynolds, 1983) is a model of the cognitive structure of the consumer, which shows how a product feature, abstract or concrete, is related to the functional or psychosocial consequences of the product consumption, which are also linked to the achievement of certain values (Grunert, 1995).

The means-end models are based on the assumption that consumers organize the information at different levels of abstraction, from simple product attributes to personal and more abstract values (Olson & Reynolds, 1983; Myers & Shocker, 1981; Cohen, 1979; Reynolds & Gutman, 1988; Geistfeld, Sproles & Badenshop, 1977; Howard, 1977; Young & Feigin, 1975; Rokeach, 1973); the means-ends chains are therefore links that consumers establish between what they perceive, concerning the products characteristics, and the complex motivations that made them decide to purchase.The purpose of these models is therefore to show how consumers structure the experiences and information about the products so that companies can focus on the appropriate characteristics to obtain certain signfica- tive consequences.

Consumer Perceptions of Price, Quality, and Value. Source

Figure Consumer Perceptions of Price, Quality, and Value. Source: Zeitham, 1988.

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