It’s Like Let Me Use Metaphors to Totally Get My Point Across


Share on LinkedIn

Like radical, man, but everyone tends to talk in metaphors. A picture tells a thousand words, they say. And we all use 5-6 metaphors a minute, according to author Gerald Zeitman in his book “How Customers Think”. So how much do you know about your customers’ metaphors? The ones they use to describe your brand. The analogies they use to explain the customer experience. And different similes used by various market segments. Lots of companies are now exploring the customer experience through metaphors, including BofA, DuPont, Glaxo Wellcome, GM, Hallmark, HP, Immunex, Mercedes, Motorola, P&G and Samsung, among many others.

Everyone knows that most of communication is nonverbal … they say upwards of 80%. Yet most techniques for capturing the voice of the customer tend to focus on verbal mechanisms. We typically measure conscious, verbal aspects of specific product and service elements. It’s hard to tap into the 95% of thought, emotion and learning occur in the unconscious mind. And customers’ stated likelihood of doing X is really misleading unless they’ve been able to specify the context of their decision-making. That context is a dynamic combination of physical, social and psychological settings and the customer’s emotional state.

The good news is that metaphors get around all this! You can finally dig into the great unconscious. Context supporting predictability is at your fingertips. The vast nonverbal message is within your grasp. Metaphors, along with techniques like paired item response latency, stories and consensus mapping, have paid dividends for savvy companies. A highly differentiated competitive edge. Market share gains and new product and service revenue streams. And re-channeling efforts from things that don’t make a dent to things that grow profit.

Try talking to a friend for 5 minutes without using metaphors. They’re part and parcel of how we see the world. They’re at the heart of our thinking. Heck, I can hardly write a sentence that sidesteps a metaphor. This approach to VOC and CEM has certainly been eye-opening!

Lynn Hunsaker

Lynn Hunsaker is 1 of 5 CustomerThink Hall of Fame authors. She built CX maturity via customer experience, strategic planning, quality, and marketing roles at Applied Materials and Sonoco. She was a CXPA board member and SVAMA president, taught 25 college courses, and authored 6 CXM studies and many CXM handbooks and courses. Her specialties are B2B, silos, customer-centric business and marketing, engaging C-Suite and non-customer-facing groups in CX, leading indicators, ROI, maturity. CX leaders in 50+ countries benefit from her self-paced e-consulting: Masterminds, Value Exchange, and more.


  1. I was a math major, so this metaphor about metaphors for me is somewhat akin to rolling a stone up a hill and checking to see whether or not I gathered any moss. After all, it’s not rocket surgery.

    Lynn makes an important point. By the time the customer experience has been so degraded that it is metaphorically recognizable we know the inmates (customers) are already running the asylum. (Of course I could be running by the seat of my pants.) The C-Suite disavows that they are being managed by either Wall Street or their customers, but when one looks at customer satisfaction rankings, for the firms at the bottom, they are operating without a safety net. Trying to convince them of this is like beating a dead horse to water – you can’t make it drink.

    Long gone are the days when it was sufficient for a firm to survey its customers, learn their jargon, and apply that as a CEM tool. Sometimes I’m not sure the firms even know who they are listening to. Oops. Did I just end that sentence with a preposition? I’ve never been the sharpest cookie in the jar.

  2. Thanks for your observations. Actually, metaphor research is extremely valuable for positioning and improving customers’ experiences. It’s a constructive approach that taps into the unconscious and nonverbal, as well as the various experiences that surround the product. I recommend it as an essential augmentation of typical product/service-specific conscious verbal research. How to do metaphor research? Author Gerald Zeitman generously provides useful techniques in the mid-section of his book “How Customers Think”. ClearAction also provides such guidance to firms.

    Lynn Hunsaker,, ClearAction mentors executives for customer profitability through advocacy and churn/hassle prevention.


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here