The Mustard Mountain (aka Blob Tree v2.0)

Director, Richard Walker, explains the thought-process and inspiration behind Mustard’s latest market research projective technique – the Mustard Mountain.

Pip Wilson is a renowned behavioural psychologist, who famously invented the Blob Tree. As you can see from the example image below, the blob tree includes a number of “treemen” (around 50 in the example below) all of whom express a broad range of emotions and feelings – but without words. Each are sexless, ageless and without racial characteristics. Each has a distinct position on (or near to) the tree, and each has its own distinct mood.

The blob tree test was originally used to help recognise and strengthen emotions amongst people who might otherwise struggle to clearly articulate their feelings (such as children). It would involve finding the figure that best resembles the self at a given time, and after that finding the one they would most like to resemble.

Tree Men Market Research

Variations of the blob tree have since been used in market research and customer consultations for several years, and for similar reasons. The Treemen is often used as stimulus material within qualitative sessions to encourage respondents to disclose their feelings and emotions related to any given customer experience. It can also be used to represent the perceptions of (or emotional relationship they have with) a brand or service provider more broadly.

The insights are generated not just by noting the individual tree character selected, but by questioning the respondent to understand specifically why that character was selected over others.

Why the Mustard Mountain?

The Mustard Mountain is our own, updated version of Pip Wilson’s “Blob Tree”. Mustard is always looking to find new, better ways of capturing insight. We wanted something contemporary and fun, but also highly useful.

We thought the Blob Tree needed an upgrade and wasn’t always 100% fit-for-purpose. We wanted to incorporate characters and scenarios that reflect the ways in which organisations are judged in the 21st Century. For example, we wanted to include characters and scenarios that would indicate tech-leading modernity versus old-fashionedness. We also decided to give our Mountaineers gender characteristics, primarily because we’re keen to understand how brands are perceived as male or female.

The Mustard Mountain (aka Blob Tree v2.0)

There was also plenty we wanted to retain – for example, the obvious expressions of fun, boredom, indecision, isolation, teamwork, friendliness, peril, etc.

The mountain, similar to the tree, acts as a nice analogy for “climbing to success”, with several different routes available to achieving that success.

Quantifying emotional brand engagement

As well as using the Mustard Mountain within qualitative research to understand the emotions connected to brands and customer experiences, we also wanted to develop something that could work in a quantitative research environment.

Mustard has developed several ways of measuring emotional connection within online surveys – for example using emojis and image boards.

Capturing emotional engagement within, for example, brand tracking surveys are becoming increasingly important to clients and the Mustard Mountain was designed with this in mind. The image is easily embedded into online surveys, and within the image, we have pre-coded more than 40 “clickable” areas for survey respondents to select.

In the same way that we ask respondents to qualify and clarify their mountaineer selections in qualitative research, within the survey we follow-up with open-text questions to establish a justification for their choice(s).

There is also some science going on behind this! We are monitoring which characters are being selected most and least often, and the extent to which these selections are being proceeded by a positive, negative or neutral open-text comment.

So far it is proving to be another really useful addition to our research toolkit.

Feel free to contact us if you would like to use the Mustard Mountain in a live research environment, we would be happy to supply a high-resolution image, and as part of our ongoing learning would be keen to hear which characters are selected across different scenarios. Get in touch by email –