Gerald Zaltman

Joseph C. Wilson Professor of Business Administration, Emeritus

*Joined Harvard Faculty: 1991
Prior Faculty Appointments: Northwestern University, 1968-75;
University of Pittsburgh, 1975-91

*Doctoral Degree in Sociology Received from: The John Hopkins University;
MBA Degree Received from: The University of Chicago; AB Degree Received from: Bates College

Gerald Zaltman is the Joseph C. Wilson Professor of Business Administration Emeritus at the Harvard Business School and a former member of the Executive Committee of Harvard University's Mind, Brain, and Behavior Interfaculty Initiative.  He was previously Co-Director of The Mind of the Market Laboratory at HBS.  He is a co-founder and senior partner in the research based consulting firm of Olson Zaltman Associates whose clients include some of the world’s most respected firms and brands.  Professor Zaltman holds a Ph.D in sociology from The Johns Hopkins University, an M.B.A from the University of Chicago, and an A.B. in government from Bates College.  Professor Zaltman held positions at Northwestern University and the University of Pittsburgh before joining Harvard University in 1991.

 His research interests focus on customer behavior and marketing strategy.  His book, How Customers Think: Essential Insights into the Mind of the Market (2003) has been translated into 15 languages.  It has received several awards and has ranked among the top five selling business books in North America and Europe. His newest book, co-authored with Lindsay Zaltman, is Marketing Metaphoria: What Deep Metaphors Reveal about the Minds of Consumers (2008).  This book addresses the deep metaphors or unconscious frames people use that influence their thinking and behavior. 

 Professor Zaltman’s work has been featured in The New York Times, Fortune Magazine, Forbes, US News & World Report, Time, Fast Company Magazine, American Demographics, and other major publications.  Professor Zaltman is a consultant to corporations around the globe and frequent keynote speaker at major conferences.  He holds three patents for market research tools including the patent on the use of neuroimaging in marketing.  Another patent, ZMET, is used around the world by major firms and international agencies.  It has been described by several writers as the most significant innovation in market research in more than two decades.

 Professor Zaltman has authored numerous books in the areas of social change, marketing, and the use of knowledge and has published widely in the major journals in marketing and the social sciences. He is a current or past member of the editorial boards of numerous journals in marketing and the social sciences.  He is a past President of the Association for Consumer Research. 

 His awards include the American Marketing Association's Richard D. Irwin Distinguished Marketing Educator Award in 1989, The Association for Consumer Research Distinguished Fellow Award in 1990, the Knowledge Utilization Society's Thomas J. Kiresuk Award for Excellence in Scientific Research in 1992, the JAI Press Distinguished Scholar Award from the Society for Marketing Advances in 2000, the ARF Member Recognition Award in 2007, and in 2008 he will receive the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Buck Weaver Award sponsored by General Motors for outstanding work in bringing knowledge and practice together.


  1. Background

    by Gerald Zaltman

    A major theme underlying most of Gerald Zaltman's research concerns the representation of thought. This includes how managers and customers represent their thinking to others and how they represent ideas and knowledge given to them. This theme finds expression in a number of projects. A major underlying methodology for many of these projects involves the Zaltman Metaphor Elicitation Technique a unique, multidisciplinary based research tool now being used by major firms and leading academic researchers. (See ZMET Home Page).
  2. How Executives and Artists Approach Ill-Structured Problems

    by Gerald Zaltman

    An ill-structured problem is one which is not routine, has no obvious best answer, and even the nature of the problem may be unclear. Ill-structured problems tend to be particularly significant when they arise. Using ZMET, this research investigates how experienced executives and novices approach this important task. A companion study concerns how artists visualize approaches to their work which also tends to be ill-structured. It is expected that accomplished visual artists may address ill-structured tasks in ways that provide useful insights for managers.
  3. Seeing Thought

    by Gerald Zaltman

    This program of research combines the results from ZMET studies to create marketing stimuli such as advertising, retail store designs, product concepts, product design, and so forth, which are then presented to a sample of consumers whose reactions are observed using various brain imaging technologies. These techniques for measuring brain activity in response to marketing stimuli based on deep understanding of the consumer have great promise in detecting significant responses that go undetected and/or are misrepresented by existing market research methods. Gerald Zaltman is working with Professor Stephen M. Kosslyn, The Department of Psychology, Harvard University and the Mass. General Hospital.
  4. The Ownership of Deep Metaphors

    by Gerald Zaltman

    Deep metaphors are basic orienting structures of human thought. They guide in subtle and overt ways how customers and managers process information about any product, service, or activity and event. It is essential for a firm to understand deep metaphors as they are experienced in particular product markets and to know how to gain ownership of them. Gaining ownership refers to the process whereby consumers or other stakeholders automatically associate a particular deep metaphor with a brand and do so in such a way that any competitor invoking this deep metaphor unavoidably makes the 'owning' firm's brand salient.