NOTE ON CONSUMER BEHAVIOR
The analysis of consumer behavior is the most important that we do in marketing. The
reason is that every recommendation we make about the marketing plan must be consistent
with the consumer behavior of the buyers we decide to pursue. Without a solid understanding
of their behavior, the marketing plan is doomed to fail. As a result, the focus of marketing
research is usually to understand the consumer better.
One basic model of consumer behavior includes external stimuli that act on the consumer,
who follows a process to make a decision, based on certain psychological characteristics, which
result in responses. This stimulus-response model comes from the field of psychology.
The topic of consumer behavior is very rich. I use the following checklist to analyze
who is the consumer (which market segment)?
o is the consumer’s need?
o has he/she done recently to satisfy that need?
o is the level of involvement of the consumer?
o are the buying roles?
o is the degree of interaction desired by the consumer during the buying
o is the speed at which the consumer wants to take possession?
why does the consumer behave the way he/she does?
how does the consumer decide to purchase?
where does the consumer do each step of “how”?
when does the consumer do each step of “how”?
Most of this is self-explanatory, but here are a few comments.
What. Be sure to limit the consumer’s needs to one or a very few (see appendix for details).
The danger of having too many is losing out on the transaction by confusing the consumers.
Sometimes the answer to “What has the consumer done recently to satisfy the need?” is
nothing. For example, I went gray prematurely but have a need to look my age. I do not color
my hair, but I am sure the manufacturers of Grecian Formula and similar products would like
to know what they can do to persuade people like me to buy their products.
Level of involvement measures how much time and effort the consumer puts into this
decision. This provides clues for the buying steps. The highest level for most consumers is a
major purchase like a first house, while the lowest level is an inexpensive consumable like a
newspaper, which is bought by habit or on impulse. Several factors influence involvement.
The greater the amount of each factor, the higher will be the level of involvement:
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the perceived consequence of making a bad choice (see list of risks below)
the personal meaning or interest in the product category
how much pleasure is gained from the product category.
All these factors might affect someone buying a first house. A bad decision can lead to the loss
of a lot of money, the buyer might take a personal interest in houses, the buyer might see home
ownership as providing a lot of pleasure, and the buyer might express him/herself through the
style and location of the house. In contrast, these factors have no effect on most people buying
the morning newspaper.
Buying roles for consumers consist of the decider, purchaser, user and influencer.
Influencers are those people who can change the consumer’s responses but are outside the
control of the marketer. Some common categories are experts, opinion leaders, family and
friends, and the salesperson in the store, if any. For instance, if my dentist (an expert) were to
suggest a brand of toothbrush, then I would be much more likely to buy it.
For personal, low-involvement purchases, the consumer often plays all the buying roles
except influencer. This morning, when I bought a cup of coffee, I decided what to buy and
where to buy it, purchased it, and drank (used) it. Generally, the higher the level of
involvement, the more people play roles. Vacations, for example, are often family decisions
with more people involved than for my cup of coffee.
The reason we want to know about buying roles is to make sure that we address every
person in the marketing plan. For the toothbrush example above, we must communicate the
benefits of our product to dentists.
Why. The “why” includes psychological and other influences which shape a person’s
consumer behavior. Of all the examples in the long list which follows, only two items are
values (strongly held beliefs) such as
from Clow et al., Integrated Advertising, Promotion, and Marketing Communications 8e, Pearson, Fig. 3.3
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expectations (beyond satisfying all needs) such as
When expectations are high, such as pain-relief product working in 30 seconds, then it is
likely that we will disappoint the customer.
After identifying values and expectations, add a few important items from the following:
personal such as
psychological such as
amount of price sensitivity
degree of brand and outlet loyalty
attitudes and preferences for product categories, companies and brands
perception of risk
o personal harm
o social harm
o opportunity forgone
sociocultural such as
culture at all levels from the highest level (“Japanese”) to the lowest (“member of
the chess club”)
situational such as
task at hand
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Although this is a long list, it is far from complete. You may notice other items which
pertain to your situation. I suggest focusing on the few factors which are important to your
How. The “how” is the decision process such as this from a marketing textbook2 describing
one general model of the consumer purchase decision process:
This process is for a medium- or high-involvement purchase to be made by a knowledgeable
buyer. Within each stage will be at least one and sometimes several discrete steps – typically
the higher the level of involvement, the more total steps. Although we recognize that at each
step the consumer might decide not to pursue our offering, “how” describes a successful
process in which the consumer does buy from us.
Each step within the stages ought to be an action or an event which we can measure. Other
Problem recognition. Our text describes possible sources. Two examples are “I’m
hungry” and “The toothpaste is almost gone.”
Information search. Identify the specific pieces of information which your target market
will gather, such as brand, price and a measure of performance (such as the weight of a
laptop and the fuel efficiency of a car).
Alternative evaluation. How, exactly, will the target market use the information from
the previous stage to decide what to buy? For example, in an emergency, a step might
be “buy whatever tire the repair guy has on his truck which fits my car” regardless of
brand, price or any other factor. But for a planned purchase, the same person might
think: “buy the least expensive set of four tires which meet the load and speed ratings
recommended by my car’s manufacturer, and from Firestone, Goodyear, Michelin or
Uniroyal” but no other.
Sometimes the target market will try the product as a step of alternative evaluation, such
as test driving a car.
Purchase. This is typically one step, although students entering a college may have
three: sending a deposit, paying tuition, and registering.
Post-purchase. Examples are “tell your friends,” “adopt ours as your regular brand,”
and “call us if you’re in the least dissatisfied.”
2 Kerin, et al., Marketing 9e, ISBN 978-0-07-340472-1, Fig. 5-1
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Each situation may differ from this general model. Consumers will skip steps with a lowinvolvement purchase and may repeat steps with a high-involvement purchase. Also
remember that the consumer can stop at any point in the process and buy nothing, just as I did
with hair coloring.
Below is an example of a high-involvement purchase, a first-time home buyer:
Awareness of house builder
Awareness of builder’s types of houses
Recognize that the apartment is too small
Request information from house builder
Agree to meeting with house builder’s sales rep
Hold 1st meeting
Agree to 2nd meeting with house builder’s sales rep
Hold 2nd meeting
Sign purchase & sale agreement
Close the house purchase
Host a welcoming party
In contrast, with an impulse purchase the customer jumps from awareness to purchase, such
as with Tic-Tacs placed near the cash register at the drugstore:
Recognize that I want something sweet
Tell a friend how good it tastes
If we were to design a plan for an impulse purchase under the assumption that customers
follow the step-by-step, general-case decision process above, then we might have very
disappointing results because of the mismatch between our plan and actual consumer behavior.
Where. We need to know “where” the consumer performs each step of the process to make
sure we are there. For example, if the consumer of a PC is likely to gather information at PC
retailers and in computer magazines, then we must have literature at the retailers, and articles
and advertisements in those magazines.
When. The “when” is used mainly for the scheduling of promotion, which is beyond
introductory marketing courses. “When” includes what triggers the consumer to start the
buying process. For example, some people shop for clothes only when absolutely necessary,
while others look at clothes every time they are near a store. By understanding this behavior,
we can gain an advantage over our competitors.
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Appendix about needs
A need is something missing from the buyer’s life. It can also be considered the difference
between the buyer’s desired state and actual state: The larger the gap, the bigger the need.
We always define a need with a verb, because nouns can be less specific or have more than
one meaning. For example, if we were to select convenience as a need, it has at least three
meanings, easy to get access to, easy to use, and time-saving. Note that not all verbs qualify:
use, such as
Examples of needs which food can satisfy are:
to relieve hunger pain
to nourish the body
to gain pleasure
to socialize with friends
to counteract stress
Needs can be of two types, pragmatic and emotional. Since emotional needs are generally
stronger, we always try to identify an emotional need to satisfy best. The previous examples
fall into these categories:
o to relieve hunger pain
o to nourish the body
o to gain pleasure
o to socialize with friends
o to counteract stress
When we identify two or more needs, we identify which is primary, because if we cannot
satisfy all best, we focus on the primary.
Because needs are about the buyer, we never include the product or product category, and
we never describe how the buyer use the product:
no: brush teeth
yes: keep teeth healthy
Do not let an additional need slip in as an adverb: “To relieve pain quickly” is actually “to
relieve pain” and “to save time.”