The study of consumers helps firms and organizations improve their marketing strategies by understanding issues such as how
The psychology of how consumers think, feel, reason, and select between different alternatives (e.g., brands, products);
The psychology of how the consumer is influenced by his or her environment (e.g., culture, family, signs, media);
The behavior of consumers while shopping or making other marketing decisions;
Limitations in consumer knowledge or information processing abilities influence decisions and marketing outcome;
How consumer motivation and decision strategies differ between products that differ in their level of importance or interest that they entail for the consumer; and
How marketers can adapt and improve their marketing campaigns and marketing strategies to more effectively reach the consumer.
One “official” definition of consumer behavior is “The study of individuals, groups, or organizations and the processes they use to select, secure, use, and dispose of products, services, experiences, or ideas to satisfy needs and the impacts that these processes have on the consumer and society.” Although it is not necessary to memorize this definition, it brings up some useful points:
Behavior occurs either for the individual, or in the context of a group (e.g., friends’ influence what kinds of clothes a person wears) or an organization (people on the job make decisions as to which products the firm should use).
Consumer behavior involves the use and disposal of products as well as the study of how they are purchased. Product use is often of great interest to the marketer, because this may influence how a product is best positioned or how we can encourage increased consumption. Since many environmental problems result from product disposal (e.g., motor oil being sent into sewage systems to save the recycling fee, or garbage piling up at landfills) this is also an area of interest.
Consumer behavior involves services and ideas as well as tangible products.
The impact of consumer behavior on society is also of relevance. For example, aggressive marketing of high fat foods, or aggressive marketing of easy credit, may have serious repercussions for the national health and economy.
There are four main applications of consumer behavior:
The most obvious is for marketing strategy—i.e., for making better marketing campaigns. For example, by understanding that consumers are more receptive to food advertising when they are hungry, we learn to schedule snack advertisements late in the afternoon. By understanding that new products are usually initially adopted by a few consumers and only spread later, and then only gradually, to the rest of the population, we learn that (1) companies that introduce new products must be well financed so that they can stay afloat until their products become a commercial success and (2) it is important to please initial customers, since they will in turn influence many subsequent customers’ brand choices.
A second application is public policy. In the 1980s, Accutane, a near miracle cure for acne, was introduced. Unfortunately, Accutane resulted in severe birth defects if taken by pregnant women. Although physicians were instructed to warn their female patients of this, a number still became pregnant while taking the drug. To get consumers’ attention, the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) took the step of requiring that very graphic pictures of deformed babies be shown on the medicine containers.
Social marketing involves getting ideas across to consumers rather than selling something. Marty Fisheye, a marketing professor, went on sabbatical to work for the Centers for Disease Control trying to reduce the incidence of transmission of diseases through illegal drug use. The best solution, obviously, would be if we could get illegal drug users to stop. This, however, was deemed to be infeasible. It was also determined that the practice of sharing needles was too ingrained in the drug culture to be stopped. As a result, using knowledge of consumer attitudes, Dr. Fishbein created a campaign that encouraged the cleaning of needles in bleach before sharing them, a goal that was believed to be more realistic.
As a final benefit, studying consumer behavior should make us better consumers. Common sense suggests, for example, that if you buy a 64 liquid ounce bottle of laundry detergent, you should pay less per ounce than if you bought two 32 ounce bottles. In practice, however, you often pay a size premium by buying the larger quantity. In other words, in this case, knowing this fact will sensitize you to the need to check the unit cost labels to determine if you are really getting a bargain.
There are several units in the market that can be analyzed. Our main thrust in this course is the consumer. However, we will also need to analyze our own firm’s strengths and weaknesses and those of competing firms. Suppose, for example, that we make a product aimed at older consumers, a growing segment. A competing firm that targets babies, a shrinking market, is likely to consider repositioning toward our market. To assess a competing firm’s potential threat, we need to examine its assets (e.g., technology, patents, market knowledge, awareness of its brands) against pressures it faces from the market. Finally, we need to assess conditions (the marketing environment). For example, although we may have developed a product that offers great appeal for consumers, a recession may cut demand dramatically.
Consumer Research Methods
Market research is often needed to ensure that we produce what customers really want and not what we think they want.
Primary vs. secondary research methods. There are two main approaches to marketing. Secondary research involves using information that others have already put together. For example, if you are thinking about starting a business making clothes for tall people, you don’t need to question people about how tall they are to find out how many tall people exist—that information has already been published by the U.S. Government. Primary research, in contrast, is research that you design and conduct yourself. For example, you may need to find out whether consumers would prefer that your soft drinks be sweater or tarter.
Research will often help us reduce risks associated with a new product, but it cannot take the risk away entirely. It is also important to ascertain whether the research has been complete. For example, Coca Cola did a great deal of research prior to releasing the New Coke, and consumers seemed to prefer the taste. However, consumers were not prepared to have this drink replace traditional Coke.
Secondary Methods. For more information about secondary market research tools and issues, please see.
Primary Methods. Several tools are available to the market researcher—e.g., mail questionnaires, phone surveys, observation, and focus groups. Please see for advantages and disadvantages of each.
Surveys are useful for getting a great deal of specific information. Surveys can contain open-ended questions (e.g., “In which city and state were you born? closed-ended, where the respondent is asked to select answers from a brief list .Male Female.” Open ended questions have the advantage that the respondent is not limited to the options listed, and that the respondent is not being influenced by seeing a list of responses. However, open-ended questions are often skipped by respondents, and coding them can be quite a challenge. In general, for surveys to yield meaningful responses, sample sizes of over 100 are usually required because precision is essential. For example, if a market share of twenty percent would result in a loss while thirty percent would be profitable, a confidence interval of 20-35% is too wide to be useful.
Surveys come in several different forms. Mail surveys are relatively inexpensive, but response rates are typically quite low—typically from 5-20%. Phone-surveys get somewhat higher response rates, but not many questions can be asked because many answer options have to be repeated and few people are willing to stay on the phone for more than five minutes. Mall intercepts are a convenient way to reach consumers, but respondents may be reluctant to discuss anything sensitive face-to-face with an interviewer.
Surveys, as any kind of research, are vulnerable to bias. The wording of a question can influence the outcome a great deal. For example, more people answered no to the question “Should speeches against democracy be allowed?” than answered yes to “Should speeches against democracy be forbidden?” For face-to-face interviews, interviewer bias is a danger, too. Interviewer bias occurs when the interviewer influences the way the respondent answers. For example, unconsciously an interviewer that works for the firm manufacturing the product in question may smile a little when something good is being said about the product and frown a little when something negative is being said. The respondent may catch on and say something more positive than his or her real opinion. Finally, a response bias may occur—if only part of the sample responds to a survey, the respondents’ answers may not be representative of the population.
Focus groups are useful when the marketer wants to launch a new product or modify an existing one. A focus group usually involves having some 8-12 people come together in a room to discuss their consumption preferences and experiences. The group is usually led by a moderator, who will start out talking broadly about topics related broadly to the product without mentioning the product itself. For example, a focus group aimed at sugar-free cookies might first address consumers’ snacking preferences, only gradually moving toward the specific product of sugar-free cookies. By not mentioning the product up front, we avoid biasing the participants into thinking only in terms of the specific product brought out. Thus, instead of having consumers think primarily in terms of what might be good or bad about the product, we can ask them to discuss more broadly the ultimate benefits they really seek. For example, instead of having consumers merely discuss what they think about some sugar-free cookies that we are considering releasing to the market, we can have consumers speak about their motivations for using snacks and what general kinds of benefits they seek. Such a discussion might reveal a concern about healthfulness and a desire for wholesome foods. Probing on the meaning of wholesomeness, consumers might indicate a desire to avoid artificial ingredients. This would be an important concern in the marketing of sugar-free cookies, but might not have come up if consumers were asked to comment directly on the product where the use of artificial ingredients is, by virtue of the nature of the product, necessary.
Focus groups are well suited for some purposes, but poorly suited for others. In general, focus groups are very good for getting breadth—i.e., finding out what kinds of issues are important for consumers in a given product category. Here, it is helpful that focus groups are completely “open-ended:” The consumer mentions his or her preferences and opinions, and the focus group moderator can ask the consumer to elaborate. In a questionnaire, if one did not think to ask about something, chances are that few consumers would take the time to write out an elaborate answer. Focus groups also have some drawbacks, for example:
They represent small sample sizes. Because of the cost of running focus groups, only a few groups can be run. Suppose you run four focus groups with ten members each. This will result in an n of 4(10)=40, which is too small to generalize from. Therefore, focus groups cannot give us a good idea of:
What proportion of the population is likely to buy the product?
What price consumers are willing to pay.
The groups are inherently social. This means that:
Consumers will often say things that may make them look good (i.e., they watch public television rather than soap operas or cook fresh meals for their families daily) even if that is not true.
Consumers may be reluctant to speak about embarrassing issues (e.g., weight control, birth control).
Personal interviews involve in-depth questioning of an individual about his or her interest in or experiences with a product. The benefit here is that we can get really into depth (when the respondent says something interesting, we can ask him or her to elaborate), but this method of research is costly and can be extremely vulnerable to interviewer bias.
To get a person to elaborate, it may help to try a common tool of psychologists and psychiatrists—simply repeating what the person said. He or she will often become uncomfortable with the silence that follows and will then tend to elaborate. This approach has the benefit that it minimizes the interference with the respondent’s own ideas and thoughts. He or she is not influenced by a new question but will, instead, go more in depth on what he or she was saying.
Personal interviews are highly susceptible to inadvertent “signaling” to the respondent. Although an interviewer is looking to get at the truth, he or she may have a significant interest in a positive consumer response. Unconsciously, then, he or she may inadvertently smile a little when something positive is said and frown a little when something negative is said. Consciously, this will often not be noticeable, and the respondent often will not consciously be aware that he or she is being “reinforced” and “punished” for saying positive or negative things, but at an unconscious level, the cumulative effect of several facial expressions are likely to be felt. Although this type of conditioning will not get a completely negative respondent to say all positive things, it may “swing” the balance a bit so that respondents are more likely to say positive thoughts and withhold, or limit the duration of, negative thoughts.
Projective techniques are used when a consumer may feel embarrassed to admit to certain opinions, feelings, or preferences. For example, many older executives may not be comfortable admitting to being intimidated by computers. It has been found that in such cases, people will tend to respond more openly about “someone else.” Thus, we may ask them to explain reasons why a friend has not yet bought a computer, or to tell a story about a person in a picture who is or is not using a product. The main problem with this method is that it is difficult to analyze responses.
Projective techniques are inherently inefficient to use. The elaborate context that has to be put into place takes time and energy away from the main question. There may also be real differences between the respondent and the third party. Saying or thinking about something that “hits too close to home” may also influence the respondent, who may or may not be able to see through the ruse.
Observation of consumers is often a powerful tool. Looking at how consumers select products may yield insights into how they make decisions and what they look for. For example, some American manufacturers were concerned about low sales of their products in Japan. Observing Japanese consumers, it was found that many of these Japanese consumers scrutinized packages looking for a name of a major manufacturer—the product specific-brands that are common in the U.S. (e.g., Tide) were not impressive to the Japanese, who wanted a name of a major firm like Mitsubishi or Proctor & Gamble. Observation may help us determine how much time consumers spend comparing prices, or whether nutritional labels are being consulted.
A question arises as to whether this type of “spying” inappropriately invades the privacy of consumers. Although there may be cause for some concern in that the particular individuals have not consented to be part of this research, it should be noted that there is no particular interest in what the individual customer being watched does. The question is what consumers—either as an entire group or as segments—do. Consumers benefit, for example, from stores that are designed effectively to promote efficient shopping. If it is found that women are more uncomfortable than men about others standing too close, the areas of the store heavily trafficked by women can be designed accordingly. What is being reported here, then, are averages and tendencies in response. The intent is not to find “juicy” observations specific to one customer.
The video clip with Paco Underhill that we saw in class demonstrated the application of observation research to the retail setting. By understanding the phenomena such as the tendency toward a right turn, the location of merchandise can be observed. It is also possible to identify problem areas where customers may be overly vulnerable to the “but brush,” or overly close encounter with others. This method can be used to identify problems that the customer experiences, such as difficulty finding a product, a mirror, a changing room, or a store employee for help.
Online research methods. The Internet now reaches the great majority of households in the U.S., and thus, online research provides new opportunity and has increased in use.
One potential benefit of online surveys is the use of “conditional branching.” In conventional paper and pencil surveys, one question might ask if the respondent has shopped for a new car during the last eight months. If the respondent answers “no,” he or she will be asked to skip ahead several questions—e.g., going straight to question 17 instead of proceeding to number 9. If the respondent answered “yes,” he or she would be instructed to go to the next question which, along with the next several ones, would address issues related to this shopping experience. Conditional branching allows the computer to skip directly to the appropriate question. If a respondent is asked which brands he or she considered, it is also possible to customize brand comparison questions to those listed. Suppose, for example, that the respondent considered Ford, Toyota, and Hyundai, it would be possible to ask the subject questions about his or her view of the relative quality of each respective pair—in this case, Ford vs. Toyota, Ford vs. Hyundai, and Toyota vs. Hyundai.
There are certain drawbacks to online surveys. Some consumers may be more comfortable with online activities than others—and not all households will have access. Today, however, this type of response bias is probably not significantly greater than that associated with other types of research methods. A more serious problem is that it has consistently been found in online research that it is very difficult—if not impossible—to get respondents to carefully read instructions and other information online—there is a tendency to move quickly. This makes it difficult to perform research that depends on the respondent’s reading of a situation or product description.
An online search data and page visit log provides valuable ground for analysis. It is possible to see how frequently various terms are used by those who use a firm’s web site search feature or to see the route taken by most consumers to get to the page with the information they ultimately want. If consumers use a certain term frequently that is not used by the firm in its product descriptions, the need to include this term in online content can be seen in search logs. If consumers take a long, “torturous” route to information frequently accessed, it may be appropriate to redesign the menu structure and/or insert hyperlinks in “intermediate” pages that are found in many users’ routes.
Scanner data. Many consumers are members of supermarket “clubs.” In return for signing p for a card and presenting this when making purchases, consumers are often eligible for considerable discounts on selected products.
Researchers use a more elaborate version of this type of program in some communities. Here, a number of consumers receive small payments and/or other incentives to sign up to be part of a research panel. They then receive a card that they are asked to present any time they go shopping. Nearly all retailers in the area usually cooperate. It is now possible to track what the consumer bought in all stores and to have a historical record.
The consumer’s shopping record is usually combined with demographic information (e.g., income, educational level of adults in the household, occupations of adults, ages of children, and whether the family owns and rents) and the family’s television watching habits. (Electronic equipment run by firms such as A. C. Nielsen will actually recognize the face of each family member when he or she sits down to watch).
It is now possible to assess the relative impact of a number of factors on the consumer’s choice—e.g.,
What brand in a given product category was bought during the last, or a series of past, purchase occasions;
Whether, and if so, how many times a consumer has seen an ad for the brand in question or a competing one;
Whether the target brand (and/or a competing one) is on sale during the store visit;
Whether any brand had preferential display space;
The impact of income and/or family size on purchase patterns; and
Whether a coupon was used for the purchase and, if so, its value.
A “split cable” technology allows the researchers to randomly select half the panel members in a given community to receive one advertising treatment and the other half another. The selection is truly random since each household, as opposed to neighborhood, is selected to get one treatment or the other. Thus, observed differences should, allowing for sampling error, the be result of advertising exposure since there are no other systematic differences between groups.
Interestingly, it has been found that consumers tend to be more influenced by commercials that they “zap” through while channel surfing even if they only see part of the commercial. This most likely results from the reality that one must pay greater attention while channel surfing than when watching a commercial in order to determine which program is worth watching.
Scanner data is, at the present time, only available for certain grocery item product categories
Food items, beverages, cleaning items, laundry detergent, paper towels, and toilet paper. It is not available for most non-grocery product items. Scanner data analysis is most useful for frequently purchased items (e.g., drinks, food items, snacks, and toilet paper) since a series of purchases in the same product category yield more information with greater precision than would a record of one purchase at one point in time. Even if scanner data were available for electronic products such as printers, computers, and MP3 players, for example, these products would be purchased quite infrequently. A single purchase, then, would not be as effective in effectively distinguishing the effects of different factors—e.g., advertising, shelf space, pricing of the product and competitors, and availability of a coupon—since we have at most one purchase instance during a long period of time during which several of these factors would apply at the same time. In the case of items that are purchased frequently, the consumer has the opportunity to buy a product, buy a competing product, or buy nothing at all depending on the status of the brand of interest and competing brands. In the case of the purchase of an MP3 player, in contrast, there may be promotions associated with several brands going on at the same time, and each may advertise. It may also be that the purchase was motivated by the breakdown of an existing product or dissatisfaction or a desire to add more capabilities.
Physiological measures are occasionally used to examine consumer response. For example, advertisers may want to measure a consumer’s level of arousal during various parts of an advertisement. This can be used to assess possible discomfort on the negative side and level of attention on the positive side.
By attaching a tiny camera to plain eye glasses worn by the subject while watching an advertisement, it is possible to determine where on screen or other ad display the subject focuses at any one time. If the focus remains fixed throughout an ad sequence where the interesting and active part area changes, we can track whether the respondent is following the sequence intended. If he or she is not, he or she is likely either not to be paying as much attention as desired or to be confused by an overly complex sequence. In situations where the subject’s eyes do move, we can assess whether this movement is going in the intended direction.
Mind-reading would clearly not be ethical and is, at the present time, not possible in any event. However, it is possible to measure brain waves by attaching electrodes. These readings will not reveal what the subject actually thinks, but it is possible to distinguish between beta waves—indicating active thought and analysis—and alpha waves, indicating lower levels of attention.
An important feature of physiological measures is that we can often track performance over time. A subject may, for example, be demonstrating good characteristics—such as appropriate level of arousal and eye movement—during some of the ad sequence and not during other parts. This, then, gives some guidance as to which parts of the ad are effective and which ones need to be reworked.
In a variation of direct physiological measures, a subject may be asked, at various points during an advertisement, to indicate his or her level of interest, liking, comfort, and approval by moving a lever or some instrument (much like one would adjust the volume on a radio or MP3 player). Republican strategist used this technique during the impeachment and trial of Bill Clinton in the late 1990s. By watching approval during various phases of a speech by the former President, it was found that viewers tended to respond negatively when he referred to “speaking truthfully” but favorably when the President referred to the issues in controversy as part of his “private life.” The Republican researchers were able to separate average results from Democrats, Independents, and Republicans, effectively looking at different segments to make sure that differences between each did not cancel out effects of the different segments. (For example, if at one point Democrats reacted positively and Republicans responded negatively with the same intensity, the average result of apparent indifference would have been very misleading).
Research sequence. In general, if more than one type of research is to be used, the more flexible and less precise method—such as focus groups and/or individual interviews—should generally be used before the less flexible but more precise methods (e.g., surveys and scanner data) are used. Focus groups and interviews are flexible and allow the researcher to follow up on interesting issues raised by participants who can be probed. However, because the sample sizes are small and because participants in a focus group are influenced by each other, few data points are collected. If we run five focus groups with eight people each, for example, we would have a total of forty responses. Even if we assume that these are independent, a sample size of forty would give very imprecise results. We might conclude, for example, that somewhere between 5% and 40% of the target market would be interested in the product we have to offer. This is usually no more precise than what we already reasonably new. Questionnaires, in contrast, are highly inflexible. It is not possible to ask follow-up questions. Therefore, we can use our insights from focus groups and interviews to develop questionnaires that contain specific questions that can be asked to a larger number of people. There will still be some sampling error, but with a sample size of 1,000+ responses, we may be able to narrow the 95% confidence interval for the percentage of the target market that is seriously interested in our product to, say, 17-21%, a range that is much more meaningful.
Cautions. Some cautions should be heeded in marketing research. First, in general, research should only be commissioned when it is worth the cost. Thus, research should normally be useful in making specific decisions (what size should the product be? Should the product be launched? Should we charge $1.75 or $2.25?)
Secondly, marketing research can be, and often is, abused. Managers frequently have their own “agendas” (e.g., they either would like a product to be launched or would prefer that it not be launched so that the firm will have more resources left over to tackle their favorite products). Often, a way to get your way is to demonstrate through “objective” research that your opinions make economic sense. One example of misleading research, which was reported nationwide in the media, involved the case of “The Pentagon Declares War on Rush Limbaugh.” The Pentagon, within a year of the election of Democrat Bill Clinton, reported that only 4.2% of soldiers listening to the Armed Forces Network wanted to hear Rush Limbaugh. However, although this finding was reported without question in the media, it was later found that the conclusion was based on the question “What single thing can we do to improve programming?” If you did not write in something like “Carry Rush Limbaugh,” you were counted as not wanting to hear him.
Culture and Subculture
NOTE: This topic is also discussed in the International Marketing section of this site.
Culture is part of the external influences that impact the consumer. That is, culture represents influences that are imposed on the consumer by other individuals.
The definition of culture offered in one textbook is “That complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man person as a member of society.” From this definition, we make the following observations:
Culture, as a “complex whole,” is a system of interdependent components.
Knowledge and beliefs are important parts. In the U.S., we know and believe that a person who is skilled and works hard will get ahead. In other countries, it may be believed that differences in outcome result more from luck. “Chunking,” the name for China in Chinese, literally means “The Middle Kingdom.” The belief among ancient Chinese that they were in the center of the universe greatly influenced their thinking.
Other issues are relevant. Art, for example, may be reflected in the rather arbitrary practice of wearing ties in some countries and wearing turbans in others. Morality may be exhibited in the view in the United States that one should not be naked in public. In Japan, on the other hand, groups of men and women may take steam baths together without perceived as improper. On the other extreme, women in some Arab countries are not even allowed to reveal their faces. Notice, by the way, that what at least some countries view as moral may in fact be highly immoral by the standards of another country. For example, the law that once banned interracial marriages in South Africa was named the “Immorality Act,” even though in most civilized countries this law, and any degree of explicit racial prejudice, would itself be considered highly immoral.
Culture has several important characteristics: (1) Culture is comprehensive. This means that all parts must fit together in some logical fashion. For example, bowing and a strong desire to avoid the loss of face are unified in their manifestation of the importance of respect. (2) Culture is learned rather than being something we are born with. We will consider the mechanics of learning later in the course. (3) Culture is manifested within boundaries of acceptable behavior. For example, in American society, one cannot show up to class naked, but wearing anything from a suit and tie to shorts and a T-shirt would usually be acceptable. Failure to behave within the prescribed norms may lead to sanctions, ranging from being hauled off by the police for indecent exposure to being laughed at by others for wearing a suit at the beach. (4) Conscious awareness of cultural standards is limited. One American spy was intercepted by the Germans during World War II simply because of the way he held his knife and fork while eating. (5) Cultures fall somewhere on a continuum between static and dynamic depending on how quickly they accept change. For example, American culture has changed a great deal since the 1950s, while the culture of Saudi Arabia has changed much less.
Dealing with culture. Culture is a problematic issue for many marketers since it is inherently nebulous and often difficult to understand. One may violate the cultural norms of another country without being informed of this, and people from different cultures may feel uncomfortable in each other’s presence without knowing exactly why (for example, two speakers may unconsciously continue to attempt to adjust to reach an incompatible preferred interpersonal distance).
Warning about stereotyping. When observing a culture, one must be careful not to over-generalize about traits that one sees. Research in social psychology has suggested a strong tendency for people to perceive an “outgroup” as more homogenous than an “ingroup,” even when they knew what members had been assigned to each group purely by chance. When there is often a “grain of truth” to some of the perceived differences, the temptation to over-generalize is often strong. Note that there are often significant individual differences within cultures.
Cultural lessons. We considered several cultural lessons in class; the important thing here is the big picture. For example, within the Muslim tradition, the dog is considered a “dirty” animal, so portraying it as “man’s best friend” in an advertisement is counter-productive. Packaging, seen as a reflection of the quality of the “real” product, is considerably more important in Asia than in the U.S., where there is a tendency to focus on the contents which “really count.” Many cultures observe significantly greater levels of formality than that typical in the U.S., and Japanese negotiator tend to observe long silent pauses as a speaker’s point is considered.
Cultural characteristics as a continuum. There is a tendency to stereotype cultures as being one way or another (e.g., individualistic rather than collectivistic). Note, however, countries fall on a continuum of cultural traits. Hofstede’s research demonstrates a wide range between the most individualistic and collectivistic countries, for example—some fall in the middle.
Hofstede’s Dimensions. Gert Hofstede, a Dutch researcher, was able to interview a large number of IBM executives in various countries, and found that cultural differences tended to center around four key dimensions:
Individualism vs. collectivism: To what extent do people believe in individual responsibility and reward rather than having these measures aimed at the larger group? Contrary to the stereotype, Japan actually ranks in the middle of this dimension, while Indonesia and West Africa rank toward the collectivistic side. The U.S., Britain, and the Netherlands rate toward individualism.
Power distance: To what extent is there a strong separation of individuals based on rank? Power distance tends to be particularly high in Arab countries and some Latin American ones, while it is more modest in Northern Europe and the U.S.
Masculinity vs. femininity involves a somewhat more nebulous concept. “Masculine” values involve competition and “conquering” nature by means such as large construction projects, while “feminine” values involve harmony and environmental protection. Japan is one of the more masculine countries, while the Netherlands rank relatively low. The U.S. is close to the middle, slightly toward the masculine side. (The fact that these values are thought of as “masculine” or “feminine” does not mean that they are consistently held by members of each respective gender—there are very large “within-group” differences. There is, however, often a large correlation of these cultural values with the status of women.)
Uncertainty avoidance involves the extent to which a “structured” situation with clear rules is preferred to a more ambiguous one; in general, countries with lower uncertainty avoidance tend to be more tolerant of risk. Japan ranks very high. Few countries are very low in any absolute sense, but relatively speaking, Britain and Hong Kong are lower, and the U.S. is in the lower range of the distribution.
Although Hofstede’s original work did not address this, a fifth dimension of long term vs. short term orientation has been proposed. In the U.S., managers like to see quick results, while Japanese managers are known for take a long term view, often accepting long periods before profitability is obtained.
High vs. low context cultures: In some cultures, “what you see is what you get”—the speaker is expected to make his or her points clear and limit ambiguity. This is the case in the U.S.—if you have something on your mind, you are expected to say it directly, subject to some reasonable standards of diplomacy. In Japan, in contrast, facial expressions and what is not said may be an important clue to understanding a speaker’s meaning. Thus, it may be very difficult for Japanese speakers to understand another’s written communication. The nature of languages may exacerbate this phenomenon—while the German language is very precise, Chinese lacks many grammatical features, and the meaning of words may be somewhat less precise. English ranks somewhere in the middle of this continuum.
Ethnocentrism and the self-reference criterion. The self-reference criterion refers to the tendency of individuals, often unconsciously, to use the standards of one’s own culture to evaluate others. For example, Americans may perceive more traditional societies to be “backward” and “unmotivated” because they fail to adopt new technologies or social customs, seeking instead to preserve traditional values. In the 1960s, a supposedly well read American psychology professor referred to India’s culture of “sick” because, despite severe food shortages, the Hindu religion did not allow the eating of cows. The psychologist expressed disgust that the cows were allowed to roam free in villages, although it turns out that they provided valuable functions by offering milk and fertilizing fields. Ethnocentrism is the tendency to view one’s culture to be superior to others. The important thing here is to consider how these biases may come in the way in dealing with members of other cultures.
It should be noted that there is a tendency of outsiders to a culture to overstate the similarity of members of that culture to each other. In the United States, we are well aware that there is a great deal of heterogeneity within our culture; however, we often underestimate the diversity within other cultures. For example, in Latin America, there are great differences between people who live in coastal and mountainous areas; there are also great differences between social classes.
Language issues. Language is an important element of culture. It should be realized that regional differences may be subtle. For example, one word may mean one thing in one Latin American country, but something off-color in another. It should also be kept in mind that much information is carried in non-verbal communication. In some cultures, we nod to signify “yes” and shake our heads to signify “no;” in other cultures, the practice is reversed. Within the context of language:
There are often large variations in regional dialects of a given language. The differences between U.S., Australian, and British English are actually modest compared to differences between dialects of Spanish and German.
Idioms involve “figures of speech” that may not be used, literally translated, in other languages. For example, baseball is a predominantly North and South American sport, so the notion of “in the ball park” makes sense here, but the term does not carry the same meaning in cultures where the sport is less popular.
Neologisms involve terms that have come into language relatively recently as technology or society involved. With the proliferation of computer technology, for example, the idea of an “add-on” became widely known. It may take longer for such terms to “diffuse” into other regions of the world. In parts of the World where English is heavily studied in schools, the emphasis is often on grammar and traditional language rather than on current terminology, so neologisms have a wide potential not to be understood.
Slang exists within most languages. Again, regional variations are common and not all people in a region where slang is used will necessarily understand this. There are often significant generation gaps in the use of slang.
Writing patterns, or the socially accepted ways of writing, will differs significantly between cultures.
In English and Northern European languages, there is an emphasis on organization and conciseness. Here, a point is made by building up to it through background. An introduction will often foreshadow what is to be said. In Romance languages such as Spanish, French, and Portuguese, this style is often considered “boring” and “inelegant.” Detours are expected and are considered a sign of class, not of poor organization. In Asian languages, there is often a great deal of circularity. Because of concerns about potential loss of face, opinions may not be expressed directly. Instead, speakers may hint at ideas or indicate what others have said, waiting for feedback from the other speaker before committing to a point of view.
Because of differences in values, assumptions, and language structure, it is not possible to meaningfully translate “word-for-word” from one language to another. A translator must keep “unspoken understandings” and assumptions in mind in translating. The intended meaning of a word may also differ from its literal translation. For example, the Japanese word hai is literally translated as “yes.” To Americans, that would imply “Yes, I agree.” To the Japanese speaker, however, the word may mean “Yes, I hear what you are saying” (without any agreement expressed) or even “Yes, I hear you are saying something even though I am not sure exactly what you are saying.”
Differences in cultural values result in different preferred methods of speech. In American English, where the individual is assumed to be more in control of his or her destiny than is the case in many other cultures, there is a preference for the “active” tense (e.g., “I wrote the marketing plan”) as opposed to the passive (e.g., “The marketing plan was written by me.”)
Because of the potential for misunderstandings in translations, it is dangerous to rely on a translation from one language to another made by one person. In the “decentering” method, multiple translators are used.
The text is first translated by one translator—say, from German to Mandarin Chinese. A second translator, who does not know what the original German text said, will then translate back to German from Mandarin Chinese translation. The text is then compared. If the meaning is not similar, a third translator, keeping in mind this feedback, will then translate from German to Mandarin. The process is continued until the translated meaning appears to be satisfactory.
Different perspectives exist in different cultures on several issues; e.g.:
Monochronic cultures tend to value precise scheduling and doing one thing at a time; in polychronic cultures, in contrast, promptness is valued less, and multiple tasks may be performed simultaneously. (See text for more detail).
Space is perceived differently. Americans will feel crowded where people from more densely populated countries will be comfortable.
Symbols differ in meaning. For example, while white symbols purity in the U.S., it is a symbol of death in China. Colors that are considered masculine and feminine also differ by culture.
Americans have a lot of quite shallow friends toward whom little obligation is felt; people in European and some Asian cultures have fewer, but more significant friends. For example, one Ph.D. student from India, with limited income, felt obligated to try buy an airline ticket for a friend to go back to India when a relative had died.
In the U.S. and much of Europe, agreements are typically rather precise and contractual in nature; in Asia, there is a greater tendency to settle issues as they come up. As a result, building a relationship of trust is more important in Asia, since you must be able to count on your partner being reasonable.
In terms of etiquette, some cultures have more rigid procedures than others. In some countries, for example, there are explicit standards as to how a gift should be presented. In some cultures, gifts should be presented in private to avoid embarrassing the recipient; in others, the gift should be made publicly to ensure that no perception of secret bribery could be made.
Demographics are clearly tied to subculture and segmentation. Here, however, we shift our focus from analyzing specific subcultures to trying to understand the implications for an entire population of its makeup.
Some articles of possible interest:
Several issues are useful in the structure of a population. For example, in some rapidly growing countries, a large percentage of the population is concentrated among younger generations. In countries such as Korea, China, and Taiwan, this has helped stimulate economic growth, while in certain poorer countries, it puts pressures on society to accommodate an increasing number of people on a fixed amount of land. Other countries such as Japan and Germany, in contrast, experience problems with a “graying” society, where fewer non-retired people are around to support an increasing number of aging seniors. Because Germany actually hovers around negative population growth, the German government has issued large financial incentives, in the forms of subsidies, for women who have children. In the United States, population growth occurs both through births and immigration. Since the number of births is not growing, problems occur for firms that are dependent on population growth (e.g., Gerber, a manufacturer of baby food).
Social class is a somewhat nebulous subject that involves stratifying people into groups with various amounts of prestige, power, and privilege. In part because of the pioneering influence in American history, status differentiations here are quite vague. We cannot, for example, associate social class with income, because a traditionally low status job as a plumber may today come with as much income as a traditionally more prestigious job as a school teacher. In certain other cultures, however, stratification is more clear-cut. Although the caste system in India is now illegal, it still maintains a tremendous influence on that society. While some mobility exists today, social class awareness is also somewhat greater in Britain, where social status is in part reinforced by the class connotations of the accent with which one speaks.
Textbooks speak of several indices that have been used to “compute” social class in the United States, weighing factors such as income, the nature of one’s employment, and level of education. Taken too literally, these indices are not very meaningful; more broadly speaking, they illustrate the reality that social status is a complex variable that is determined, not always with consensus among observers, by several different variables.
Segmentation, Targeting, and Positioning
Segmentation, targeting, and positioning together comprise a three stage process. We first (1) determine which kinds of customers exist, then (2) select which ones we are best off trying to serve and, finally, (3) implement our segmentation by optimizing our products/services for that segment and communicating that we have made the choice to distinguish ourselves that way.
Segmentation involves finding out what kinds of consumers with different needs exist. In the auto market, for example, some consumers demand speed and performance, while others are much more concerned about roominess and safety. In general, it holds true that “You can’t be all things to all people,” and experience has demonstrated that firms that specialize in meeting the needs of one group of consumers over another tend to be more profitable.
Generically, there are three approaches to marketing. In the undifferentiated strategy, all consumers are treated as the same, with firms not making any specific efforts to satisfy particular groups. This may work when the product is a standard one where one competitor really can’t offer much that another one can’t. Usually, this is the case only for commodities. In the concentrated strategy, one firm chooses to focus on one of several segments that exist while leaving other segments to competitors. For example, Southwest Airlines focuses on price sensitive consumers who will forego meals and assigned seating for low prices. In contrast, most airlines follow the differentiated strategy: They offer high priced tickets to those who are inflexible in that they cannot tell in advance when they need to fly and find it impractical to stay over a Saturday. These travelers—usually business travelers—pay high fares but can only fill the planes up partially. The same airlines then sell some of the remaining seats to more price sensitive customers who can buy two weeks in advance and stay over.
Note that segmentation calls for some tough choices. There may be a large number of variables that can be used to differentiate consumers of a given product category; yet, in practice, it becomes impossibly cumbersome to work with more than a few at a time. Thus, we need to determine which variables will be most useful in distinguishing different groups of consumers. We might thus decide, for example, that the variables that are most relevant in separating different kinds of soft drink consumers are (1) preference for taste vs. low calories, (2) preference for Cola vs. non-cola taste, (3) price sensitivity—willingness to pay for brand names; and (4) heavy vs. light consumers. We now put these variables together to arrive at various combinations.
Several different kinds of variables can be used for segmentation.
Demographic variables essentially refer to personal statistics such as income, gender, education, location (rural vs. urban, East vs. West), ethnicity, and family size. Campbell’s soup, for instance, has found that Western U.S. consumers on the average prefer spicier soups—thus, you get a different product in the same cans at the East and West coasts. Facing flat sales of guns in the traditional male dominated market, a manufacturer came out with the Lady Remmington, a more compact, handier gun more attractive to women. Taking this a step farther, it is also possible to segment on lifestyle and values.”
Some consumers want to be seen as similar to others, while a different segment wants to stand apart from the crowd.
Another basis for segmentation is behavior. Some consumers are “brand loyal”—i.e., they tend to stick with their preferred brands even when a competing one is on sale. Some consumers are “heavy” users while others are “light” users. For example, research conducted by the wine industry shows that some 80% of the product is consumed by 20% of the consumers—presumably a rather intoxicated group.
One can also segment on benefits sought, essentially bypassing demographic explanatory variables. Some consumers, for example, like scented soap (a segment likely to be attracted to brands such as Irish Spring), while others prefer the “clean” feeling of unscented soap (the “Ivory” segment). Some consumers use toothpaste primarily to promote oral health, while another segment is more interested in breath freshening.
In the next step, we decide to target one or more segments. Our choice should generally depend on several factors. First, how well are existing segments served by other manufacturers? It will be more difficult to appeal to a segment that is already well served than to one whose needs are not currently being served well. Secondly, how large is the segment, and how can we expect it to grow? (Note that a downside to a large, rapidly growing segment is that it tends to attract competition). Thirdly, do we have strengths as a company that will help us appeal particularly to one group of consumers? Firms may already have an established reputation. While McDonald’s has a great reputation for fast, consistent quality, family friendly food, it would be difficult to convince consumers that McDonald’s now offers gourmet food. Thus, McD’s would probably be better off targeting families in search of consistent quality food in nice, clean restaurants.
Positioning involves implementing our targeting. For example, Apple Computer has chosen to position itself as a maker of user-friendly computers. Thus, Apple has done a lot through its advertising to promote itself, through its unintimidating icons, as a computer for “non-geeks.” The Visual C software programming language, in contrast, is aimed a “techies.”
Michael Treacy and Fred Wiersema suggested in their 1993 book The Discipline of Market Leaders that most successful firms fall into one of three categories:
Operationally excellent firms, which maintain a strong competitive advantage by maintaining exceptional efficiency, thus enabling the firm to provide reliable service to the customer at a significantly lower cost than those of less well organized and well run competitors. The emphasis here is mostly on low cost, subject to reliable performance, and less value is put on customizing the offering for the specific customer. Wal-Mart is an example of this discipline. Elaborate logistical designs allow goods to be moved at the lowest cost, with extensive systems predicting when specific quantities of supplies will be needed.
Customer intimate firms, which excel in serving the specific needs of the individual customer well. There is less emphasis on efficiency, which is sacrificed for providing more precisely what is wanted by the customer. Reliability is also stressed. Nordstrom’s and IBM are examples of this discipline.
Technologically excellent firms, which produce the most advanced products currently available with the latest technology, constantly maintaining leadership in innovation. These firms, because they work with costly technology that need constant refinement, cannot be as efficient as the operationally excellent firms and often cannot adapt their products as well to the needs of the individual customer. Intel is an example of this discipline.
Treacy and Wiersema suggest that in addition to excelling on one of the three value dimensions, firms must meet acceptable levels on the other two. Wal-Mart, for example, does maintain some level of customer service. Nordstrom’s and Intel both must meet some standards of cost effectiveness. The emphasis, beyond meeting the minimum required level in the two other dimensions, is on the dimension of strength.
Repositioning involves an attempt to change consumer perceptions of a brand, usually because the existing position that the brand holds has become less attractive. Sears, for example, attempted to reposition itself from a place that offered great sales but unattractive prices the rest of the time to a store that consistently offered “everyday low prices.” Repositioning in practice is very difficult to accomplish. A great deal of money is often needed for advertising and other promotional efforts, and in many cases, the repositioning fails.
To effectively attempt repositioning, it is important to understand how one’s brand and those of competitors are perceived. One approach to identifying consumer product perceptions is multidimensional scaling. Here, we identify how products are perceived on two or more “dimensions,” allowing us to plot brands against each other. It may then be possible to attempt to “move” one’s brand in a more desirable direction by selectively promoting certain points. There are two main approaches to multi-dimensional scaling. In the a priori approach, market researchers identify dimensions of interest and then ask consumers about their perceptions on each dimension for each brand. This is useful when (1) the market researcher knows which dimensions are of interest and (2) the customer’s perception on each dimension is relatively clear (as opposed to being “made up” on the spot to be able to give the researcher a desired answer). In the similarity rating approach, respondents are not asked about their perceptions of brands on any specific dimensions. Instead, subjects are asked to rate the extent of similarity of
ducts (e.g., How similar, on a scale of 1-7, is Snicker’s to Kitkat, and how similar is Toblerone to Three Musketeers?) Using a computer algorithms, the computer then identifies positions of each brand on a map of a given number of dimensions. The computer does not reveal what each dimension means—that must be left to human interpretation based on what the variations in each dimension appears to reveal. This second method is more useful when no specific product dimensions have been identified as being of particular interest or when it is not clear what the variables of difference are for the product category.
Information Search and Decision Making
Problem Recognition. One model of consumer decision making involves several steps. The first one is problem recognition—you realize that something is not as it should be. Perhaps, for example, your car is getting more difficult to start and is not accelerating well. The second step is information search—what are some alternative ways of solving the problem? You might buy a new car, buy a used car, take your car in for repair, ride the bus, ride a taxi, or ride a skateboard to work. The third step involves evaluation of alternatives. A skateboard is inexpensive, but may be ill-suited for long distances and for rainy days. Finally, we have the purchase stage, and sometimes a post-purchase stage (e.g., you return a product to the store because you did not find it satisfactory). In reality, people may go back and forth between the stages. For example, a person may resume alternative identification during while evaluating already known alternatives.
Consumer involvement will tend to vary dramatically depending on the type of product. In general, consumer involvement will be higher for products that are very expensive (e.g., a home, a car) or are highly significant in the consumer’s life in some other way (e.g., a word processing program or acne medication).
It is important to consider the consumer’s motivation for buying products. To achieve this goal, we can use the Means-End chain, wherein we consider a logical progression of consequences of product use that eventually lead to desired end benefit. Thus, for example, a consumer may see that a car has a large engine, leading to fast acceleration, leading to a feeling of performance, leading to a feeling of power, which ultimately improves the consumer’s self-esteem. A handgun may aim bullets with precision, which enables the user to kill an intruder, which means that the intruder will not be able to harm the consumer’s family, which achieves the desired end-state of security. In advertising, it is important to portray the desired end-states. Focusing on the large motor will do less good than portraying a successful person driving the car.
Information search and decision making. Consumers engage in both internal and external information search.
Internal search involves the consumer identifying alternatives from his or her memory. For certain low involvement products, it is very important that marketing programs achieve “top of mind” awareness. For example, few people will search the Yellow Pages for fast food restaurants; thus, the consumer must be able to retrieve one’s restaurant from memory before it will be considered. For high involvement products, consumers are more likely to use an external search. Before buying a car, for example, the consumer may ask friends’ opinions, read reviews in Consumer Reports, consult several web sites, and visit several dealerships. Thus, firms that make products that are selected predominantly through external search must invest in having information available to the consumer in need—e.g., through brochures, web sites, or news coverage.
A compensatory decision involves the consumer “trading off” good and bad attributes of a product. For example, a car may have a low price and good gas mileage but slow acceleration. If the price is sufficiently inexpensive and gas efficient, the consumer may then select it over a car with better acceleration that costs more and uses more gas. Occasionally, a decision will involve a non-compensatory strategy. For example, a parent may reject all soft drinks that contain artificial sweeteners. Here, other good features such as taste and low calories cannot overcome this one “non-negotiable” attribute.
The amount of effort a consumer puts into searching depends on a number of factors such as the market (how many competitors are there, and how great are differences between brands expected to be?), product characteristics (how important is this product? How complex is the product? How obvious are indications of quality?), consumer characteristics (how interested is a consumer, generally, in analyzing product characteristics and making the best possible deal?), and situational characteristics (as previously discussed).
Two interesting issues in decisions are:
Variety seeking (where consumers seek to try new brands not because these brands are expected to be “better” in any way, but rather because the consumer wants a “change of pace,” and
“Impulse” purchases—unplanned buys. This represents a somewhat “fuzzy” group. For example, a shopper may plan to buy vegetables but only decide in the store to actually buy broccoli and corn. Alternatively, a person may buy an item which is currently on sale, or one that he or she remembers that is needed only once inside the store.
A number of factors involve consumer choices. In some cases, consumers will be more motivated. For example, one may be more careful choosing a gift for an in-law than when buying the same thing for one self. Some consumers are also more motivated to comparison shop for the best prices, while others are more convenience oriented. Personality impacts decisions. Some like variety more than others, and some are more receptive to stimulation and excitement in trying new stores. Perception influences decisions. Some people, for example, can taste the difference between generic and name brand foods while many cannot. Selective perception occurs when a person is paying attention only to information of interest. For example, when looking for a new car, the consumer may pay more attention to car ads than when this is not in the horizon. Some consumers are put off by perceived risk. Thus, many marketers offer a money back guarantee. Consumers will tend to change their behavior through learning—e.g., they will avoid restaurants they have found to be crowded and will settle on brands that best meet their tastes. Consumers differ in the values they hold (e.g., some people are more committed to recycling than others who will not want to go through the hassle). We will consider the issue of lifestyle under segmentation.
Families and Family Decision Making
The Family Life Cycle. Individuals and families tend to go through a “life cycle:” The simple life cycle goes from
For purposes of this discussion, a “couple” may either be married or merely involve living together. The breakup of a non-marital relationship involving cohabitation is similarly considered equivalent to a divorce.
In real life, this situation is, of course, a bit more complicated. For example, many couples undergo divorce. Then we have one of the scenarios:
Single parenthood can result either from divorce or from the death of one parent. Divorce usually entails a significant change in the relative wealth of spouses. In some cases, the non-custodial parent (usually the father) will not pay the required child support, and even if he or she does, that still may not leave the custodial parent and children as well off as they were during the marriage. On the other hand, in some cases, some non-custodial parents will be called on to pay a large part of their income in child support. This is particularly a problem when the non-custodial parent remarries and has additional children in the second (or subsequent marriages). In any event, divorce often results in a large demand for:
Low cost furniture and household items
Time-saving goods and services
Divorced parents frequently remarry, or become involved in other non-marital relationships; thus, we may see
Here, the single parent who assumes responsibility for one or more children may not form a relationship with the other parent of the child.
Integrating all the possibilities discussed, we get the following depiction of the Family Life Cycle:
Generally, there are two main themes in the Family Life Cycle, subject to significant exceptions:
As a person gets older, he or she tends to advance in his or her career and tends to get greater income (exceptions: maternity leave, divorce, retirement).
Unfortunately, obligations also tend to increase with time (at least until one’s mortgage has been paid off). Children and paying for one’s house are two of the greatest expenses.
Note that although a single person may have a lower income than a married couple, the single may be able to buy more discretionary items.
Family Decision Making. Individual members of families often serve different roles in decisions that ultimately draw on shared family resources. Some individuals are information gatherers/holders, who seek out information about products of relevance. These individuals often have a great deal of power because they may selectively pass on information that favors their chosen alternatives. Influencers do not ultimately have the power decide between alternatives, but they may make their wishes known by asking for specific products or causing embarrassing situations if their demands are not met. The decision maker(s) have the power to determine issues such as:
Whether to buy;
Which product to buy (pick-up or passenger car?);
Which brand to buy;
Where to buy it; and
When to buy.
Note, however, that the role of the decision maker is separate from that of the purchaser. From the point of view of the marketer, this introduces some problems since the purchaser can be targeted by point-of-purchase (POP) marketing efforts that cannot be aimed at the decision maker. Also note that the distinction between the purchaser and decision maker may be somewhat blurred:
The decision maker may specify what kind of product to buy, but not which brand;
The purchaser may have to make a substitution if the desired brand is not in stock;
The purchaser may disregard instructions (by error or deliberately).
It should be noted that family decisions are often subject to a great deal of conflict. The reality is that few families are wealthy enough to avoid a strong tension between demands on the family’s resources. Conflicting pressures are especially likely in families with children and/or when only one spouse works outside the home. Note that many decisions inherently come down to values, and that there is frequently no “objective” way to arbitrate differences. One spouse may believe that it is important to save for the children’s future; the other may value spending now (on private schools and computer equipment) to help prepare the children for the future. Who is right? There is no clear answer here. The situation becomes even more complex when more parties—such as children or other relatives—are involved.
Some family members may resort to various strategies to get their way. One is bargaining—one member will give up something in return for someone else. For example, the wife says that her husband can take an expensive course in gourmet cooking if she can buy a new pickup truck. Alternatively, a child may promise to walk it every day if he or she can have a hippopotamus. Another strategy is reasoning—trying to get the other person(s) to accept one’s view through logical argumentation. Note that even when this is done with a sincere intent, its potential is limited by legitimate differences in values illustrated above. Also note that individuals may simply try to “wear down” the other party by endless talking in the guise of reasoning (this is a case of negative reinforcement as we will see subsequently). Various manipulative strategies may also be used. One is impression management, where one tries to make one’s side look good (e.g., argue that a new TV will help the children see educational TV when it is really mostly wanted to see sports programming, or argue that all “decent families make a contribution to the church”). Authority involves asserting one’s “right” to make a decision (as the “man of the house,” the mother of the children, or the one who makes the most money). Emotion involves making an emotional display to get one’s way (e.g., a man cries if his wife will not let him buy a new rap album).
Humans are inherently social animals, and individuals greatly influence each other.
A useful framework of analysis of group influence on the individual is the so called reference group—the term comes about because an individual uses a relevant group as a standard of reference against which oneself is compared. Reference groups come in several different forms.
The aspirational reference group refers to those others against whom one would like to compare oneself. For example, many firms use athletes as spokespeople, and these represent what many people would ideally like to be.
Associative reference groups include people who more realistically represent the individuals’ current equals or near-equals—e.g., coworkers, neighbors, or members of churches, clubs, and organizations. Paco Underhill, a former anthropologist turned retail consultant and author of the book Why We Buy has performed research suggesting that among many teenagers, the process of clothes buying is a two stage process. In the first stage, the teenagers go on a “reconnaissance” mission with their friends to find out what is available and what is “cool.” This is often a lengthy process. In the later phase, parents—who will need to pay for the purchases—are brought. This stage is typically much briefer.
Finally, the dissociative reference group includes people that the individual would not like to be like. For example, the store literally named The Gap came about because many younger people wanted to actively dissociate from parents and other older and “uncool” people. The Quality Paperback Book Club specifically suggests in its advertising that its members are “a breed apart” from conventional readers of popular books.
Reference groups come with various degrees of influence. Primary reference groups come with a great deal of influence—e.g., members of a fraternity/sorority. Secondary reference groups tend to have somewhat less influence—e.g., members of a boating club that one encounters only during week-ends are likely to have their influence limited to consumption during that time period.
Another typology divides reference groups into the informational kind (influence is based almost entirely on members’ knowledge), normative (members influence what is perceived to be “right,” “proper,” “responsible,” or “cool”), or identification. The difference between the latter two categories involves the individual’s motivation for compliance. In case of the normative reference group, the individual tends to comply largely for utilitarian reasons—dressing according to company standards is likely to help your career, but there is no real motivation to dress that way outside the job. In contrast, people comply with identification groups’ standards for the sake of belonging—for example, a member of a religious group may wear a symbol even outside the house of worship because the religion is a part of the person’s identity.
Background. Our perception is an approximation of reality. Our brain attempts to make sense out of the stimuli to which we are exposed. This works well, for example, when we “see” a friend three hundred feet away at his or her correct height; however, our perception is sometimes “off”—for example, certain shapes of ice cream containers look like they contain more than rectangular ones with the same volume.
Factors in percpetion. Several sequential factors influence our perception. Exposure involves the extent to which we encounter a stimulus. For example, we are exposed to numerous commercial messages while driving on the freeway: bill boards, radio advertisements, bumper-stickers on cars, and signs and banners placed at shopping malls that we pass. Most of this exposure is random—we don’t plan to seek it out. However, if we are shopping for a car, we may deliberately seek out advertisements and “tune in” when dealer advertisements come on the radio.
Exposure is not enough to significantly impact the individual—at least not based on a single trial (certain advertisements, or commercial exposures such as the “Swoosh” logo, are based on extensive repetition rather than much conscious attention). In order for stimuli to be consciously processed, attention is needed. Attention is actually a matter of degree—our attention may be quite high when we read directions for getting an income tax refund, but low when commercials come on during a television program. Note, however, that even when attention is low, it may be instantly escalated—for example, if an advertisement for a product in which we are interested comes on.
Interpretation involves making sense out of the stimulus. For example, when we see a red can, we may categorize it as a CokeÒ.
Weber’s Law suggests that consumers’ ability to detect changes in stimulus intensity appear to be strongly related to the intensity of that stimulus to begin with. That is, if you hold an object weighing one pound in your hand, you are likely to notice it when that weight is doubled to two pounds. However, if you are holding twenty pounds, you are unlikely to detect the addition of one pound—a change that you easily detected when the initial weight was one pound. You may be able to eliminate one ounce from a ten ounce container, but you cannot as easily get away with reducing a three ounce container to two (instead, you must accomplish that gradually—e.g., 3.0 –> 2.7 –> 2.5 –> 2.3 –> 2.15 –> 2.00).
Several factors influence the extent to which stimuli will be noticed. One obvious issue is relevance. Consumers, when they have a choice, are also more likely to attend to pleasant stimuli (but when the consumer can’t escape, very unpleasant stimuli are also likely to get attention—thus, many very irritating advertisements are remarkably effective). One of the most important factors, however, is repetition. Consumers often do not give much attention to a stimuli—particularly a low priority one such as an advertisement—at any one time, but if it is seen over and over again, the cumulative impact will be greater.
Surprising stimuli are likely to get more attention—survival instinct requires us to give more attention to something unknown that may require action. A greater contrast (difference between the stimulus and its surroundings) as well as greater prominence (e.g., greater size, center placement) also tend to increase likelihood of processing.
Subliminal stimuli. Back in the 1960s, it was reported that on selected evenings, movie goers in a theater had been exposed to isolated frames with the words “Drink Coca Cola” and “Eat Popcorn” imbedded into the movie. These frames went by so fast that people did not consciously notice them, but it was reported that on nights with frames present, Coke and popcorn sales were significantly higher than on days they were left off. This led Congress to ban the use of subliminal advertising. First of all, there is a question as to whether this experiment ever took place or whether this information was simply made up. Secondly, no one has been able to replicate these findings. There is research to show that people will start to giggle with embarrassment when they are briefly exposed to “dirty” words in an experimental machine. Here, again, the exposure is so brief that the subjects are not aware of the actual words they saw, but it is evident that something has been recognized by the embarrassment displayed.
Learning and Memory
Background. Learning involves “a change in the content or organization of long term memory and/or behavior.” The first part of the definition focuses on what we know (and can thus put to use) while the second focuses on concrete behavior. For example, many people will avoid foods that they consumed shortly before becoming ill. Learning is not all knowledge based. For example, we may experience the sales people in one store being nicer to us than those in the other. We thus may develop a preference for the one store over the other; however, if pressed, we may not be able to give a conscious explanation as to the reason for our preference.
Much early work on learning was actually done on rats and other animals (and much of this research was unjustifiably cruel, but that is another matter).
Classical conditioning. Pavlov’s early work on dogs was known as classical conditioning. Pavlov discovered that when dogs were fed meat powder they salivated. Pavlov then discovered that if a bell were rung before the dogs were fed, the dogs would begin salivating in anticipation of being fed (this was efficient, since they could then begin digesting the meat powder immediately). Pavlov then found that after the meat had been “paired” with the meat powder enough times, Pavlov could ring the bell without feeding the dogs and they would still salivate.
In the jargon of classical conditioning, the meat powder was an unconditioned stimulus (US) and the salivation was, when preceded by the meat powder, an unconditioned response (UR). That is, it is a biologically “hard-wired” response to salivate when you are fed. By pairing the bell with the unconditioned stimulus, the bell became a conditioned stimulus (CS) and salivation in response to the bell (with no meat powder) became a conditioned response (CR).
Many modern day advertisers use classical conditioning in some way. Consider this sequence:
Operant conditioning. Instrumental, or operant, conditioning, involves a different series of events, and this what we usually think of as learning. The general pattern is:
There are three major forms of operant learning. In positive reinforcement, an individual does something and is rewarded. He or she is then more likely to repeat the behavior. For example, you eat a candy bar (behavior), it tastes good (consequence), and you are thus more likely to eat a similar candy bar in the future (behavioral change).
Punishment is the opposite. You eat what looks like a piece of candy (behavior), only to discover that it is a piece of soap with a foul taste (consequences), and subsequently you are less likely to eat anything that looks remotely like that thing ever again (changed behavior).
It should be noted that negative reinforcement is very different from punishment. An example of negative reinforcement is an obnoxious sales person who calls you up on the phone, pressuring you into buying something you don’t want to do (aversive stimulus). You eventually agree to buy it (changed behavior), and the sales person leaves you alone (the aversive stimulus is terminated as a result of consequences of your behavior).
In general, marketers usually have relatively little power to use punishment or negative reinforcement. However, parking meters are often used to discourage consumers from taking up valuable parking space, and manufacturers may void warranties if the consumers take their product to non-authorized repair facilities.
Several factors influence the effectiveness of operant learning. In general, the closer in time the consequences are to the behavior, the more effective the learning. That is, electric utilities would be more likely to influence consumers to use less electricity at peak hours if the consumers actually had to pay when they used electricity (e.g., through a coin-slot) rather than at the end of the month. Learning is also more likely to occur when the individual can understand a relationship between behavior and consequences (but learning may occur even if this relationship is not understood consciously).
Another issue is schedules of reinforcement and extinction. Extinction occurs when behavior stops having consequences and the behavior then eventually stops occurring. For example, if a passenger learns that yelling at check-in personnel no longer gets her upgraded to first class, she will probably stop that behavior. Sometimes, an individual is rewarded every time a behavior is performed (e.g., a consumer gets a soft drink every time coins are put into a vending machine). However, it is not necessary to reward a behavior every time for learning to occur. Even if a behavior is only rewarded some of the time, the behavior may be learned. Several different schedules of reinforcement are possible:
Fixed interval: The consumer is given a free dessert on every Tuesday when he or she eats in a particular restaurant.
Fixed ratio: Behavior is rewarded (or punished) on every nth occasion that it is performed. (E.g., every tenth time a frequent shopper card is presented, a free product is provided).
Variable ratio: Every time an action is performed, there is a certain percentage chance that a reward will be given. For example, every time the consumer enters the store, he or she is given a lottery ticket. With each ticket, there is a 20% chance of getting a free hamburger. The consumer may get a free hamburger twice in a row, or he or she may go ten times without getting a hamburger even once.
Variable ratio reinforcement is least vulnerable to extinction.
Sometimes, shaping may be necessary to teach the consumer the desired behavior. That is, it may be impossible to teach the consumer to directly perform the desired behavior. For example, a consumer may first get a good product for free (the product itself, if good, is a reward), then buy it with a large cents off coupon, and finally buy it at full price. Thus, we reinforce approximations of the desired behavior. Rather than introducing Coca Cola directly in Indonesia, fruit flavored soft drinks were first introduced, since these were more similar to beverages already consumed.
Vicarious learning. The consumer does not always need to go through the learning process himself or herself—sometimes it is possible to learn from observing the consequences of others. For example, stores may make a big deal out of prosecuting shop lifters not so much because they want to stop that behavior in the those caught, but rather to deter the behavior in others. Similarly, viewers may empathize with characters in advertisements who experience (usually positive) results from using a product. The Head ‘n’ Shoulders advertisement, where a poor man is rejected by women until he treats his dandruff with an effective cure, is a good example of vicarious learning.
Memory ranges in duration on a continuum from extremely short to very long term. Sensory memory includes storage of stimuli that one might not actually notice (e.g., the color of an advertisement some distance away). For slightly longer duration, when you see an ad on TV for a mail order product you might like to buy, you only keep the phone number in memory until you have dialed it. This is known as short term memory. In order for something to enter into long term memory, which is more permanent, you must usually “rehearse” it several times. For example, when you move and get a new phone number, you will probably repeat it to yourself many times. Alternatively, you get to learn your driver’s license or social security numbers with time, not because you deliberately memorize them, but instead because you encounter them numerous times as you look them up.
Several techniques can be used to enhance the memorability of information. “Chunking” involves rearranging information so that fewer parts need to be remembered. For example, consider the phone number (800) 444-1000. The eight digits can be more economically remembered as an 800 number (1 piece), four repeated 3 times (2 pieces), and 1000 (1-2 pieces). “Rehearsal” involves the consumer repeating the information over and over so that it can be remembered; this is often done so that a phone number can be remembered while the “memoree” moves to the phone to dial it. “Recirculation” involves repeated exposure to the same information; the information is not learned deliberately, but is gradually absorbed through repetition. Thus, it is to the advantage to a marketer to have an advertisement repeated extensively—especially the brand name. “Elaboration” involves the consumer thinking about the object—e.g., the product in an advertisement—and thinking about as many related issues as possible. For example, when seeing an ad for Dole bananas, the person may think of the color yellow, going to the zoo seeing a monkey eating a banana, and her grandmother’s banana-but bread. The Dole brand name may then be activated when any of those stimuli are encountered.
Memories are not always easily retrievable. This could be because the information was given lower priority than something else—e.g., we have done a lot of things since last buying a replacement furnace filter and cannot remember where this was bought last. Other times, the information can be retrieved but is not readily “available”—e.g., we will be able to remember the location of a restaurant we tried last time we were in Paris, but it may take some thinking before the information emerges.
“Spreading activation” involves the idea of one memory “triggering” another one. For example, one might think of Coke every time one remembers a favorite (and very wise) professor who frequently brought one to class. Coke might also be tied a particular supermarket that always stacked a lot of these beverages by the entrance, and to baseball where this beverage was consumed after the game. It is useful for firms to have their product be activated by as many other stimuli as possible.
There are numerous reasons why retrieval can fail or, in less fancy terms, how we come to forget. One is decay. Here, information that is not accessed frequently essentially “rusts” away. For example, we may not remember the phone number of a friend to whom we have not spoken for several months and may forget what brand of bullets an aunt prefers if we have not gone ammunition shopping with her lately. Other times, the problem may rest in interference. Proactive interference involves something we have learned interfering with what we will late later. Thus, if we remember that everyone in our family always used Tide, we may have more difficulty later remembering what other brands are available. You may be unable to remember what a new, and less important, friend’s last name is if that person shares a first name with an old friend. For example, if your best friend for many years has been Jennifer Smith, you may have difficulty remembering that your new friend Jennifer’s last name is Silverman. In retroactive interference, the problem is the reverse—learning something new blocks out something old. For example, if you once used WordPerfect than then switched to Microsoft Word, you may have trouble remembering how to use WordPerfect at a friend’s house—more so than if you had merely not used any word processing program for some time.
Memorability can be enhanced under certain conditions. One is more likely to remember favorable—or likable stimuli (all other things being equal). Salience—or the extent to which something is highly emphasized or very clearly evident—facilitates memory. Thus, a product which is very visible in an ad, and handled and given attention by the actors, will more likely be remembered. Prototypicality involves the extent to which a stimulus is a “perfect” example of a category. Therefore, people will more likely remember Coke or Kleenex than competing brands. Congruence involves the “fit” with a situation. Since memory is often reconstructed based on what seems plausible, something featured in an appropriate setting—e.g., charcoal on a porch next to a grill rather than in a garage or kitchen—is more likely to be remembered (unless the incongruence triggers an elaboration—life is complicated!) Redundancies involve showing the stimulus several times. Thus, if a given product is shown several places in a house—and if the brand name is repeated—it is more likely to be remembered.
Priming involves tying a stimulus with something so that if “that something” is encountered, the stimulus is more likely to be retrieved. Thus, for example, when one thinks of anniversaries, the Hallmark brand name is more likely to be activated. (This is a special case of spreading activation discussed earlier).
A special issue in memory are so called “scripts,” or procedures we remember for doing things. Scripts involve a series of steps for doing various things (e.g., how to send a package). In general, it is useful for firms to have their brand names incorporated into scripts (e.g., to have the consumer reflexively ask the pharmacist for Bayer rather than an unspecified brand of aspirin).
Positioning involves implementing our targeting. For example, Apple Computer has chosen to position itself as a maker of user-friendly computers. Thus, Apple has done a lot through its advertising to promote itself, through its unintimidating icons, as a computer for “non-geeks.” The Visual C software programming language, in contrast, is aimed a “techies.”
Repositioning involves an attempt to change consumer perceptions of a brand, usually because the existing position that the brand holds has become less attractive. Sears, for example, attempted to reposition itself from a place that offered great sales but unattractive prices the rest of the time to a store that consistently offered “everyday low prices.” Repositioning in practice is very difficult to accomplish. A great deal of money is often needed for advertising and other promotional efforts, and in many cases, the repositioning fails.
Diffusion of Innovation
Products tend to go through a life cycle. Initially, a product is introduced. Since the product is not well known and is usually expensive (e.g., as microwave ovens were in the late 1970s), sales are usually limited. Eventually, however, many products reach a growth phase—sales increase dramatically. More firms enter with their models of the product. Frequently, unfortunately, the product will reach a maturity stage where little growth will be seen. For example, in the United States, almost every household has at least one color TV set. Some products may also reach a decline stage, usually because the product category is being replaced by something better. For example, typewriters experienced declining sales as more consumers switched to computers or other word processing equipment. The product life cycle is tied to the phenomenon of diffusion of innovation. When a new product comes out, it is likely to first be adopted by consumers who are more innovative than others—they are willing to pay a premium price for the new product and take a risk on unproven technology. It is important to be on the good side of innovators since many other later adopters will tend to rely for advice on the innovators who are thought to be more knowledgeable about new products for advice.
At later phases of the PLC, the firm may need to modify its market strategy. For example, facing a saturated market for baking soda in its traditional use, Arm ü Hammer launched a major campaign to get consumers to use the product to deodorize refrigerators. Deodorizing powders to be used before vacuuming were also created.
It is sometimes useful to think of products as being either new or existing.
Many firms today rely increasingly on new products for a large part of their sales. New products can be new in several ways. They can be new to the market—noone else ever made a product like this before. For example, Chrysler invented the minivan. Products can also be new to the firm—another firm invented the product, but the firm is now making its own version. For example, IBM did not invent the personal computer, but entered after other firms showed the market to have a high potential. Products can be new to the segment—e.g., cellular phones and pagers were first aimed at physicians and other price-insensitive segments. Later, firms decided to target the more price-sensitive mass market. A product can be new for legal purposes. Because consumers tend to be attracted to “new and improved” products, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) only allows firms to put that label on reformulated products for six months after a significant change has been made.
The diffusion of innovation refers to the tendency of new products, practices, or ideas to spread among people. Usually, when new products or ideas come about, they are only adopted by a small group of people initially; later, many innovations spread to other people.
The bell shaped curve frequently illustrates the rate of adoption of a new product. Cumulative adoptions are reflected by the S-shaped curve. The saturation point is the maximum proportion of consumers likely to adopt a product.
In the case of refrigerators in the U.S., the saturation level is nearly one hundred percent of households; it well below that for video games that, even when spread out to a large part of the population, will be of interest to far from everyone.
Several specific product categories have case histories that illustrate important issues in adoption. Until some time in the 1800s, few physicians bothered to scrub prior to surgery, even though new scientific theories predicted that small microbes not visible to the naked eye could cause infection. Younger and more progressive physicians began scrubbing early on, but they lacked the stature to make their older colleagues follow.
ATM cards spread relatively quickly. Since the cards were used in public, others who did not yet hold the cards could see how convenient they were. Although some people were concerned about security, the convenience factors seemed to be a decisive factor in the “tug-of-war” for and against adoption.
The case of credit cards was a bit more complicated and involved a “chicken-and-egg” paradox. Accepting credit cards was not a particularly attractive option for retailers until they were carried by a large enough number of consumers. Consumers, in contrast, were not particularly interested in cards that were not accepted by a large number of retailers. Thus, it was necessary to “jump start” the process, signing up large corporate accounts, under favorable terms, early in the cycle, after which the cards became worthwhile for retailers to accept.
Rap music initially spread quickly among urban youths in large part because of the low costs of recording. Later, rap music became popular among a very different segment, suburban youths, because of its apparently authentic depiction of an exotic urban lifestyle.
Hybrid corn was adopted only slowly among many farmers. Although hybrid corn provided yields of about 20% more than traditional corn, many farmers had difficulty believing that this smaller seed could provide a superior harvest. They were usually reluctant to try it because a failed harvest could have serious economic consequences, including a possible loss of the farm. Agricultural extension agents then sought out the most progressive farmers to try hybrid corn, also aiming for farmers who were most respected and most likely to be imitated by others. Few farmers switched to hybrid corn outright from year to year. Instead, many started out with a fraction of their land, and gradually switched to 100% hybrid corn when this innovation had proven itself useful.
Several forces often work against innovation. One is risk, which can be either social or financial. For example, early buyers of the CD player risked that few CDs would be recorded before the CD player went the way of the 8 track player. Another risk is being perceived by others as being weird for trying a “fringe” product or idea. For example, Barbara Mandrell sings the song “I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool.” Other sources of resistance include the initial effort needed to learn to use new products (e.g., it takes time to learn to meditate or to learn how to use a computer) and concerns about compatibility with the existing culture or technology. For example, birth control is incompatible with strong religious influences in countries heavily influenced by Islam or Catholicism, and a computer database is incompatible with a large, established card file.
Innovations come in different degrees. A continuous innovation includes slight improvements over time. Very little usually changes from year to year in automobiles, and even automobiles of the 1990s are driven much the same way that automobiles of the 1950 were driven. A dynamically continuous innovation involves some change in technology, although the product is used much the same way that its predecessors were used—e.g., jet vs. propeller aircraft. A discontinous innovation involves a product that fundamentally changes the way that things are done—e.g., the fax and photocopiers. In general, discontinuous innovations are more difficult to market since greater changes are required in the way things are done, but the rewards are also often significant.
Several factors influence the speed with which an innovation spreads. One issue is relative advantage (i.e., the ratio of risk or cost to benefits). Some products, such as cellular phones, fax machines, and ATM cards, have a strong relative advantage. Other products, such as automobile satellite navigation systems, entail some advantages, but the cost ratio is high. Lower priced products often spread more quickly, and the extent to which the product is trialable (farmers did not have to plant all their land with hybrid corn at once, while one usually has to buy a cellular phone to try it out) influence the speed of diffusion. Finally, the extent of switching difficulties influences speed—many offices were slow to adopt computers because users had to learn how to use them.
Some cultures tend to adopt new products more quickly than others, based on several factors:
Modernity: The extent to which the culture is receptive to new things. In some countries, such as Britain and Saudi Arabia, tradition is greatly valued—thus, new products often don’t fare too well. The United States, in contrast, tends to value progress.
Homophily: The more similar to each other that members of a culture are, the more likely an innovation is to spread—people are more likely to imitate similar than different models. The two most rapidly adopting countries in the World are the U.S. and Japan. While the U.S. interestingly scores very low, Japan scores high.
Physical distance: The greater the distance between people, the less likely innovation is to spread.
Opinion leadership: The more opinion leaders are valued and respected, the more likely an innovation is to spread. The style of opinion leaders moderates this influence, however. In less innovative countries, opinion leaders tend to be more conservative, i.e., to reflect the local norms of resistance.
It should be noted that innovation is not always an unqualifiedly good thing. Some innovations, such as infant formula adopted in developing countries, may do more harm than good. Individuals may also become dependent on the innovations. For example, travel agents who get used to booking online may be unable to process manual reservations.
Sometimes innovations are disadopted. For example, many individuals disadopt cellular phones if they find out that they don’t end up using them much.
Introduction. Consumer attitudes are a composite of a consumer’s (1) beliefs about, (2) feelings about, (3) and behavioral intentions toward some object–within the context of marketing, usually a brand or retail store. These components are viewed together since they are highly interdependent and together represent forces that influence how the consumer will react to the object.
Beliefs. The first component is beliefs. A consumer may hold both positive beliefs toward an object (e.g., coffee tastes good) as well as negative beliefs (e.g., coffee is easily spilled and stains papers). In addition, some beliefs may be neutral (coffee is black), and some may be differ in valance depending on the person or the situation (e.g., coffee is hot and stimulates–good on a cold morning, but not good on a hot summer evening when one wants to sleep). Note also that the beliefs that consumers hold need not be accurate (e.g., that pork contains little fat), and some beliefs may, upon closer examination, be contradictory (e.g., that a historical figure was a good person but also owned slaves).
Since a consumer holds many beliefs, it may often be difficult to get down to a “bottom line” overall belief about whether an object such as McDonald’s is overall good or bad. The Multiattribute (also sometimes known as the Fishbein) Model attempts to summarize overall attitudes into one score using the equation:
That is, for each belief, we take the weight or importance (Wi) of that belief and multiply it with its evaluation (Xib). For example, a consumer believes that the taste of a beverage is moderately important, or a 4 on a scale from 1 to 7. He or she believes that coffee tastes very good, or a 6 on a scale from 1 to 7. Thus, the product here is 4(6)=24. On the other hand, he or she believes that the potential of a drink to stain is extremely important (7), and coffee fares moderately badly, at a score -4, on this attribute (since this is a negative belief, we now take negative numbers from -1 to -7, with -7 being worst). Thus, we now have 7(-4)=-28. Had these two beliefs been the only beliefs the consumer held, his or her total, or aggregated, attitude would have been 24+(-28)=-4. In practice, of course, consumers tend to have many more beliefs that must each be added to obtain an accurate measurement.
Affect. Consumers also hold certain feelings toward brands or other objects. Sometimes these feelings are based on the beliefs (e.g., a person feels nauseated when thinking about a hamburger because of the tremendous amount of fat it contains), but there may also be feelings which are relatively independent of beliefs. For example, an extreme environmentalist may believe that cutting down trees is morally wrong, but may have positive affect toward Christmas trees because he or she unconsciously associates these trees with the experience that he or she had at Christmas as a child.
Behavioral Intention. The behavioral intention is what the consumer plans to do with respect to the object (e.g., buy or not buy the brand). As with affect, this is sometimes a logical consequence of beliefs (or affect), but may sometimes reflect other circumstances–e.g., although a consumer does not really like a restaurant, he or she will go there because it is a hangout for his or her friends.
Attitude-Behavior Consistency. Consumers often do not behave consistently with their attitudes for several reasons:
Ability. He or she may be unable to do so. Although junior high school student likes pick-up trucks and would like to buy one, she may lack a driver’s license.
Competing demands for resources. Although the above student would like to buy a pickup truck on her sixteenth birthday, she would rather have a computer, and has money for only one of the two.
Social influence. A student thinks that smoking is really cool, but since his friends think it’s disgusting, he does not smoke.
Measurement problems. Measuring attitudes is difficult. In many situations, consumers do not consciously set out to enumerate how positively or negatively they feel about mopeds, and when a market researcher asks them about their beliefs about mopeds, how important these beliefs are, and their evaluation of the performance of mopeds with respect to these beliefs, consumers often do not give very reliable answers. Thus, the consumers may act consistently with their true attitudes, which were never uncovered because an erroneous measurement was made.
Attitude Change Strategies. Changing attitudes is generally very difficult, particularly when consumers suspect that the marketer has a self-serving agenda in bringing about this change (e.g., to get the consumer to buy more or to switch brands).
Changing affect. One approach is to try to change affect, which may or may not involve getting consumers to change their beliefs. One strategy uses the approach of classical conditioning try to “pair” the product with a liked stimulus. For example, we “pair” a car with a beautiful woman. Alternatively, we can try to get people to like the advertisement and hope that this liking will “spill over” into the purchase of a product. For example, the Pillsbury Doughboy does not really emphasize the conveyance of much information to the consumer; instead, it attempts to create a warm, fuzzy image. Although Energizer Bunny ads try to get people to believe that their batteries last longer, the main emphasis is on the likeable bunny. Finally, products which are better known, through the mere exposure effect, tend to be better liked–that is, the more a product is advertised and seen in stores, the more it will generally be liked, even if consumers to do not develop any specific beliefs about the product.
Changing behavior. People like to believe that their behavior is rational; thus, once they use our products, chances are that they will continue unless someone is able to get them to switch. One way to get people to switch to our brand is to use temporary price discounts and coupons; however, when consumers buy a product on deal, they may justify the purchase based on that deal (i.e., the low price) and may then switch to other brands on deal later. A better way to get people to switch to our brand is to at least temporarily obtain better shelf space so that the product is more convenient. Consumers are less likely to use this availability as a rationale for their purchase and may continue to buy the product even when the product is less conveniently located. (Notice, by the way, that this represents a case of shaping).
Changing beliefs. Although attempting to change beliefs is the obvious way to attempt attitude change, particularly when consumers hold unfavorable or inaccurate ones, this is often difficult to achieve because consumers tend to resist. Several approaches to belief change exist:
Change currently held beliefs. It is generally very difficult to attempt to change beliefs that people hold, particularly those that are strongly held, even if they are inaccurate. For example, the petroleum industry advertised for a long time that its profits were lower than were commonly believed, and provided extensive factual evidence in its advertising to support this reality. Consumers were suspicious and rejected this information, however.
Change the importance of beliefs. Although the sugar manufacturers would undoubtedly like to decrease the importance of healthy teeth, it is usually not feasible to make beliefs less important–consumers are likely to reason, why, then, would you bother bringing them up in the first place? However, it may be possible to strengthen beliefs that favor us–e.g., a vitamin supplement manufacturer may advertise that it is extremely important for women to replace iron lost through menstruation. Most consumers already agree with this, but the belief can be made stronger.
Add beliefs. Consumers are less likely to resist the addition of beliefs so long as they do not conflict with existing beliefs. Thus, the beef industry has added beliefs that beef (1) is convenient and (2) can be used to make a number of creative dishes. Vitamin manufacturers attempt to add the belief that stress causes vitamin depletion, which sounds quite plausible to most people.
Change ideal. It usually difficult, and very risky, to attempt to change ideals, and only few firms succeed. For example, Hard Candy may have attempted to change the ideal away from traditional beauty toward more unique self expression.
One-sided vs. two-sided appeals. Attitude research has shown that consumers often tend to react more favorably to advertisements which either (1) admit something negative about the sponsoring brand (e.g., the Volvo is a clumsy car, but very safe) or (2) admits something positive about a competing brand (e.g., a competing supermarket has slightly lower prices, but offers less service and selection). Two-sided appeals must, contain overriding arguments why the sponsoring brand is ultimately superior–that is, in the above examples, the “but” part must be emphasized.
The Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM) and Celebrity Endorsements. The ELM suggests that consumers will scrutinize claims more in important situations than in unimportant ones. For example, we found that in the study of people trying to get ahead of others in a line to use photo copiers, the compliance rate was about fifty percent when people just asked to get ahead. However, when the justification “… because I have to make copies” was added, compliance increased to 80%. Since the reason offered really did not add substantive information, we conclude that it was not extensively analyzed–in the jargon of the theory, “elaboration” was low.
The ELM suggests that for “unimportant” products, elaboration will be low, and thus Bill Cosby is able to endorse Coke and Jell-O without having any special credentials to do so. However, for products which are either expensive or important for some other reason (e.g., a pain reliever given to a child that could be harmed by using dangerous substances), elaboration is likely to be more extensive, and the endorser is expected to be “congruent,” or compatible, with the product. For example, a basket ball player is likely to be effective in endorsing athletic shoes, but not in endorsing automobiles. On the other hand, a nationally syndicated auto columnist would be successful in endorsing cars, but not athletic shoes. All of them, however, could endorse fast food restaurants effectively.
Appeal Approaches. Several approaches to appeal may be used. The use of affect to induce empathy with advertising characters may increase attraction to a product, but may backfire if consumers believe that people’s feelings are being exploited. Fear appeals appear to work only if (1) an optimal level of fear is evoked–not so much that people tune it out, but enough to scare people into action and (2) a way to avoid the feared stimulus is explicitly indicated–e.g., gingivitis and tooth loss can be avoided by using this mouth wash. Humor appears to be effective in gaining attention, but does not appear to increase persuasion in practice. In addition, a more favorable attitude toward the advertisement may be created by humorous advertising, which may in turn result in increased sales. Comparative advertising, which is illegal in many countries, often increases sales for the sponsoring brand, but may backfire in certain cultures.