Consumer Buying Behavior

By Mullins, J.W., Walker, O.C.

Edited by Paul Ducham


When purchasing high-involvement products or services, consumers go through a problem-solving process involving five mental steps: (1) problem identification, (2) infor- mation search, (3) evaluation of alternatives, (4) purchase, and (5) postpurchase evaluation. These five steps are diagrammed in Exhibit 4.3 and discussed in the context of buying a Caribbean cruise by a hypothetical person—Paul MacDonald, who is 33 years old and single.

Problem Identification  Consumers’ purchase-decision processes are triggered by unsatisfied needs or wants. Individuals perceive differences between ideal and actual states on some physical or sociopsychological dimension. This motivates them to seek products or services to help bring their current state more into balance with the ideal.

Given that most of us have limited time and financial resources, it is impossible for us to satisfy all our needs at once. Instead, we tend to focus on those that are strongest. The size of the gap between our current and our desired state largely determines the strength of a particular need. A need can become stronger and be brought to our attention by a deterio- ration of our actual state or an upward revision of our ideal state.

A change in a consumer’s actual state can occur for several reasons:

● For physical needs, a natural deterioration of the actual state occurs all the time. A person’s body burns energy and nutrients. Thus, periodically we get hungry and tired and are motivated to find something to eat and some place to go to sleep.

● A person’s actual state may change as the result of the depletion of the current solution to a need. Our hypothetical consumer might be motivated to buy a cruise package because the condo in Florida he usually rents for his winter vacation is not available this year.

● In some cases consumers can anticipate a decline in their actual state. If Paul MacDonald knew that the condo owner was trying to find someone to lease the condo for the entire sea- son, he might decide to investigate alternatives for his winter vacation. Similarly, a change in a consumer’s desired state may occur for several reasons:

● The desired state may be revised upward because of new information or the development of an old need. Thus, MacDonald may have seen an ad showing how much fun a person can have on a cruise for a small amount of money or received such information from a friend.

● As one need is satisfied, the desired state on other need dimensions increases and becomes more demanding.

Information Search  Having recognized that a problem exists and might be satisfied by the purchase and consumption of a product or service, the consumer’s next step is to refer to information gained from past experience and stored in memory for possible later use. To continue with our example, MacDonald’s knowledge about cruises derives primarily from advertising, his mother and father who recently took a cruise, and friends—most of whom are married. Since he has no firsthand knowledge of cruises, he will need to seek additional information, especially regarding accommodations, schedules, and fares. For a listing of the factors that are likely to increase information search, see Exhibit 4.4 .

Because services are intangible, difficult to standardize, and their production and consumption inseparable, they are more difficult to evaluate than products. Thus, most ser- vices are hard to assess until they are being consumed after purchase (cruises and restaurant meals). Some services are difficult to assess even after they have been consumed (legal ser- vices, medical diagnosis, etc.). These assessment difficulties can force consumers to rely on different cues, such as the provider’s credentials or reputation, when evaluating services.

How Much Information Will a Consumer Seek?  People seek additional information about alternative brands until they perceive that the costs of obtaining more information are equal to the additional value or benefit derived from the information. Information is valuable to consumers to the extent that it helps make a more satisfying purchase and avoids the negative consequences associated with a poor choice. Thus, consumers are likely to place a higher value on—and seek more—information when the purchase is important. This importance derives from ( a) the strength of a person’s need for the product; ( b) the person’s ego-involvement with the product; and ( c) the severity of the social and financial consequences of making a poor choice. This is why people tend to seek more information about high-priced, socially visible products that reflect their self-image (cars, home, clothing, and, for some, cruises) than for lower-priced products that other people seldom notice, such as furnace filters or paper towels.

Even when products are very expensive and ego-involving, some consumers are unlikely to conduct an exhaustive search for information before making a decision because of the costs involved. Perhaps the biggest cost for most people is the opportunity cost of the time involved in seeking information. They give up the opportunity to use that time for other, more important or interesting activities, such as working or taking trips. For some people, however, the opportunity costs of shopping are low because they enjoy wandering through stores or scanning newspaper ads or Web sites for bargains. Also, as we’ll see later, the Internet is reducing the opportunity costs of obtaining at least some kinds of product information.

There are also psychological costs involved in searching for information. Collecting information can be a frustrating task, often involving crowded stores, rude salespeople, or slow Web sites. Also, some consumers become frustrated and confused when they have a lot of complex information to evaluate before making a choice. Consequently they cut their information search short.

Because services, more than products, are associated with greater perceived risk, the individual involved is likely to use more information sources in the attempt to better cope with the risk. This often leads to an extended information-acquisition process, which may include purchase postponement. It also means that consumers are less likely to make a trial purchase than with some products.

Sources of Information  Assume that switching from renting a condo to a cruise is important and costly enough for Paul MacDonald to seek additional information before doing so. Which sources can he use? The three broad categories of information sources are personal, commercial, and public. Personal sources include family members, friends, and members of the consumer’s reference group.

Commercial sources refer to various information disseminated by service providers, marketers, and manufacturers and their dealers. They include media advertising, promotional brochures, package and label information, salespersons, and various in-store information, such as price markings and displays. Public sources include noncommercial and professional organizations and individuals who provide advice for consumers, such as doctors, lawyers, governmental agencies, travel agencies, consumer-interest groups and Web journals (or blogs).

Consumers are usually exposed to more information from commercial sources than from personal or public sources. However, many consumers are influenced more by per- sonal sources when deciding which service, product, or brand to buy. Consumers use information from different sources for different purposes and at different stages within the decision process. In general, commercial sources perform an informing function for consumers. Personal and public sources serve an evaluating and legitimizing function. Thus, MacDonald might rely on advertising and discussions with his travel agent to learn what cruises are available, what the schedules are for each, the kind and size ship used, how much each cruise costs, and the details concerning the various types of entertainment offered. It is highly likely that MacDonald would also seek the opinions of friends in deciding whether to take a cruise and in selecting a particular one. In doing so, he is consistent with the general proposition that consumers choose more personal sources for services than for goods because service consumption is highly personal and must be experienced to be understood.

How Is the Web Affecting Consumers’ Search for Information?  The Internet is reducing the opportunity costs of information gathering, thus making it easier for people to make informed decisions. More than two-thirds of American consumers report searching for product information online, and a recent survey by the Consumer Electronics Association found that three-quarters of electronics purchases are researched online, even though most people still go to conventional stores to buy the product. And while the Internet may reduce the opportunity costs of information search, most consumers still spend a great deal of time researching their electronics purchases: 15 hours for televisions, 12 for digital cameras, and so on. Many manufacturers and service providers have established their own sites. Some of these sites not only provide information about product options and characteristics, but also offer tutorials about how to use the product, help lines, and other information geared to helping customers obtain full value from their purchases. For instance, the outdoor gear retailer REI provides 45,000 pages of product use information and tips, such as a clinic on backpacking, on its site,

More important, many new sites have taken over much of the search for information about alternative offerings in a product category in exchange for a small fee from the consumer or advertising from manufacturers or dealers in the category. For example,  www.cruisecompany .net  provides detailed information on cruises organized by type of cruise, itinerary, or cruise line, in exchange for a commission on any cruise a consumer books through the site.

While such sites facilitate the consumer’s search for information about high- involvement products and services, they do not solve all the consumer’s problems. Most of the information provided by such sites is obtained from commercial and public, rather than personal, sources. Therefore, some consumers may not consider it very useful for evaluating alternative choices, particularly when it comes to choosing intangible services. Also, sensory information such as touch and smell, which can be important for evaluating foods, fashion items, and similar products, cannot be displayed on the Web. These shortcomings help explain why some sites, such as iTunes and, publish product reviews and evaluations submitted by individual customers.

A more recent development has blurred the distinction between public and personal information sources. Personal Web logs—or blogs—provide a way for individuals to share their own experiences and opinions with a large public audience, and for potential customers to obtain personal insights from a vast number of product users.

The potential impact of blogs on buyer behavior is illustrated by the experience of the Kryptonite division of Ingersoll-Rand. On September 12, 2004, someone with the moniker “unaesthetic” posted in a group discussion site for bicycle enthusiasts the observation that the ubiquitous, U-shaped Kryptonite bike lock could be easily picked with a ball- point pen. Within days, a number of blogs posted a video demonstrating the problem. Kryptonite responded with a bland statement arguing that the locks remained a “deterrent to theft,” but more and more bloggers began writing about the issue and their experiences. By September 19, according to one Internet measurement firm, about 1.8 million people saw postings about the lock’s shortcomings in a single day. Finally, on September 22, Kryptonite was forced to announce it would exchange a new, redesigned product for any affected lock for free, a move that was estimated to cost the firm 100,000 new locks and more than $10 million (about 40 percent of the division’s annual revenue).

The impact of blogs on buyer behavior and firms’ marketing programs is growing rapidly since an estimated 23,000 new Web logs are started around the world every day. And other disgruntled consumers are posting videos to YouTube and similar sites illustrating their problems and frustrations with products or service providers. For instance, more than 340,000 people have watched Michael Whitford smash his nonfunctioning Apple Mac- book with a sledgehammer. It is important to note, though, that even very dissatisfied customers can be salvaged if the company takes quick and positive action. After Apple replaced his laptop, for example, Mr.Whitford wrote on his blog “I’m very happy now. Apple has regained my loyalty.”

Consequently, one authority advises that “there should be somebody at every company whose job is to put into Google and blog search engines the name of the company [or one of its brands], followed by the word ‘sucks,’ just to see what customers are saying.” Of course, firms might also try to take advantage of the growing influence of blogs by creating one of their own, but this can raise some ethical issues, as discussed in Ethical Perspective 4.1.

Evaluation of Alternatives  Consumers find it difficult to make overall comparisons of many alternative brands because each brand might be better in some ways but worse in others. Instead, consumers simplify their evaluation in several ways. First, they seldom consider all possible brands; rather, they focus on their evoked set—a limited number they are familiar with that are likely to satisfy their needs.

Second, consumers evaluate each of the brands in the evoked set on a limited number of product dimensions or attributes. They also judge the relative importance of these attributes, or the minimum acceptable performance of each. The set of attributes used by a particular consumer and the relative importance of each represent the consumer’s choice criteria. In the case of our cruise example, the dates of the cruise, the ports of call, the entertainment offered, and the costs are examples of MacDonald’s choice criteria for selecting a specific cruise.

Third, consumers combine evaluations of each brand across attributes, taking into account the relative importance of those attributes. This multiattribute assessment of a brand results in an overall attitude toward that brand. The brand toward which consumers have the most favorable attitude is the one they are most likely to buy.

Product Attributes and Their Relative Importance  Consumers use many dimensions or attributes when evaluating alternative products and services. Thus, in addi- tion to the above service attributes, MacDonald might also use the newness and size of ship, types of food served, availability of an exercise room, and kinds of gambling as additional ways of comparing his options. Usually, however, consumers base their evaluations on half a dozen dimensions or less. Exhibit 4.5 contains a general list of product attributes consumers might use to evaluate alternatives.

Different consumers may use different sets of attributes to evaluate brands within the same product category. But even when two people use the same set of attributes, they may arrive at different decisions because they attach varying degrees of importance to the attributes. Paul MacDonald is primarily interested in entertainment, demographics of those taking the cruise, and cost, whereas another traveler might attach greater importance to gambling, ports of call, and food.

A consumer’s personal characteristics and social influences—needs, values, personality, social class, and reference groups, among other things—help determine which attributes are considered and their relative importance. Environmental factors and the usage situation can also affect the perceived importance of various product benefits. For instance, some people buy more prestigious and expensive brands of beer or wine for their party guests than for their own everyday consumption.

Forming Attitudes toward Alternative Brands  Even if two consumers use the same attributes and attach the same relative importance to them when evaluating prod- uct offerings, they may not necessarily prefer the same brand. They might rate the various brands differently on specific attributes. Differences in brand perceptions are based on past experience, the information collected, and how that information is perceived and processed. And as we shall see later, technology is making it increasingly possible for consumers to interact with manufacturers and suppliers during the production process so that product and service offerings can be customized to meet a customer’s preferences on important attributes. Consequently, Brand attitude may also depend on which manufacturer can be most flexible in customizing its product.

Purchase  Even after a consumer has collected information about alternative brands, evaluated them, and decided which is the most desirable, the decision process still is not complete. The consumer must now decide where to buy the product. Choosing a source from which to buy the product involves essentially the same Mental processes as does a product-purchase decision. The source is usually a retail store but may also be a mail- order catalog such as L. L. Bean or a Web site like Consumers obtain information about alternative sources from personal experience, advertising, comments of friends, and the like. Then they use this information to evaluate sources on such attributes as lines of merchandise carried, services rendered, price, convenience, personnel, and physical characteristics. Consumers usually select the source they perceive to be best on those attributes most important to them. If their experiences with a source are positive over time, they may develop patronage loyalty and routinely shop that source—similar to the way consumers develop brand loyalties.

Consumers shopping in a retail store intent on purchasing one brand sometimes end up buying something different. MacDonald, for example, could be switched from one cruise to another by the travel agent. This happens because the consumer’s ultimate purchase can be influenced by such factors as out-of-stocks (no outside cabins on a particular cruise), a special display, or a message from a salesperson (“I can get you a better deal on a similar cruise if you can go two weeks later”).

Postpurchase Evaluation  Whether a particular consumer feels adequately rewarded following a purchase depends on two things: (1) the person’s aspiration or expectation level—how well the product was expected to perform (delivery of a quality pizza while it is hot)—and (2) the consumer’s evaluation of how well the product actually did perform (the pizza arrived cold).

Consumers’ expectations about a product’s performance are influenced by several factors. These include the strength and importance of each person’s need and the information collected during the decision-making process. In the case of MacDonald, a persuasive ad or an enthusiastic endorsement of a given cruise by a friend who is a frequent cruise-goer may have caused him to expect more from his cruise than he would have otherwise. He may, however, attribute part of any dissatisfaction to his own actions—an unwillingness to participate in some of the entertainment. The fact that consumers are part of the service production process makes self-blame a real possibility. Nevertheless, even with services there is a danger for marketers in using exaggerated claims in product advertising. Such claims can produce inflated expectations the product cannot live up to—resulting in dissatisfied customers.

It is important to note that, as the diagram in Exhibit 4.3 indicates, the consumer’s evaluation of a purchase feeds back into memory where the information can be recalled for a similar purchase decision. Stored information about one or more negative past experiences with a brand or supplier will reduce the odds that the consumer will make the same purchase again. Consistent positive experiences can ultimately lead to Brand loyaltythe routine repurchase of the same brand with little consideration of any alternatives.

Some experts argue that consumers more often develop loyalty to service providers than to physical products because of the difficulty of evaluating alternatives before actu- ally experiencing the service. Also, repeated patronage can bring additional benefits, such as discounts, or more customized service as the provider gains more insights into the customer’s preferences. This helps explain why about 25 percent of all cruise passengers are repeat customers.

Ethical Perspective 4.1 Company Blogs—Honesty

Is the Best Policy

Given the growing popularity and influence of consumer blogs in many industries, firms are trying to get in on the act by sponsoring company blogs or encouraging employees to start their own. Most companies that want to blog try to walk a fine line: telling employee bloggers to be honest but also encouraging evangelism for the firm’s products or services. Unvarnished corporate propaganda almost always drives readers away, but honest people with real opinions keep them coming back.

One ethical no-no that can have severe economic consequences is trying to hide the identity of the company behind the blog. For instance, Mazda— hoping to reach young potential car buyers—crafted a blog supposedly run by a 22-year-old hipster named Kid Halloween. He posted links to three videos he said a friend had recorded off public- access TV. One showed a Mazda 3 attempting to break dance, and another had it driving off a ramp like a skateboard. Inevitably, the cars were totaled. Other bloggers quickly sensed a phony in their midst—the expensive videos were a tip-off—and began criticizing Mazda on a number of widely read blogs addressed to auto enthusiasts. Consequently, the firm was forced to pull the site after only three days. The lesson, according to Steve Hayden, who helps create blogs for clients of advertising giant Ogilvy & Mather, is that “if you fudge or lie on a blog you are biting the karmic weenie. The negative reaction will be so great that, whatever your intention was, it will be overwhelmed . . . You’re fighting with very powerful forces because it’s real people’s opinions.”

Source: David Kirkpatrick and Daniel Roth, “Why There’s No Escaping the Blog,” Fortune, January 10, 2005, pp. 44–50.

Exhibit 4.2

Exhibit 4.3

Exhibit 4.4

Exhibit 4.5


Because low-involvement products are not very important to consumers, the search for information to evaluate alternative brands is likely to be minimal. As a result, decisions to buy products such as cookies or cereals often are made within the store, either impulsively on the basis of brand familiarity, or as a result of comparisons of the brands on the shelf. The consumers’ involvement and their risks associated with making poor decisions are low for such products. Therefore, consumers are less likely to stay with the same brand over time. They have little to lose by switching brands in a search for variety. Even so, many consumers develop loyalty to a given brand, as in the continued popularity of such low-involvement products as Wrigley Doublemint chewing gum and Gold Medal flour, which have been around for years.

Most purchase decisions are low in consumer Involvement—the consumer thinks the product or service is insufficiently important to identify with it. Thus, the consumer does not engage in an extensive search for information for such a purchase. Information involving such products is received passively as in, for example, seeing an ad for Green Giant frozen vegetables, which is neither interpreted nor evaluated, but simply noticed and filed away in memory.

Later, the consumer identifies a need to buy some frozen vegetables. On the next trip to the supermarket, the consumer sees the Green Giant brand in the frozen-foods section and buys several packages. The familiarity generated by exposure to earlier advertising (and/ or word-of-mouth information) was sufficient to stimulate the purchase of Green Giant though the consumer does not have a strong, positive brand association.

After buying and using the product, the consumer may decide Green Giant vegetables are either good or bad. This attitude will be likely to affect future purchases of frozen vegetables. However, such brand evaluations occur only after an initial purchase has been made. This is the opposite of complex decision making.

Inertia  As Exhibit 4.2 indicated, there are two low-involvement buying decisions. When there are few differences between brands and little risk associated with making a poor choice, consumers either buy brands at random or buy the same brand repetitively to avoid making a choice. Marketers must be careful not to confuse such repeat inertial purchasing with brand loyalty because it is relatively easy for competitors to entice such customers to switch brands by offering cents-off coupons, special promotions, or in-store displays. Highly brand-loyal customers, on the other hand, resist such efforts on account of their strong brand preference.

Impulse Purchasing and Variety Seeking  The second low-involvement purchase process is impulse buying, when consumers impulsively decide to buy a different brand from their customary choice or some new variety of a product. The new brand is probably one they are familiar with through passive exposure to advertising or other informa- tion, however. Their motivation for switching usually is not dissatisfaction but a desire for change and variety.


The preceding discussion clearly indicates that consumers employ different decision- making processes and may be influenced by different psychological, social, and situ- ational factors, depending on their level of involvement with the product or service they are buying. These differences between high- and low-involvement consumer behavior are summarized in Exhibit 4.6 .

Such behavioral differences have a major implication for marketers. A given marketing strategy, or decisions concerning any of the 4 Ps in a marketing plan, will not be equally effective for both high- and low-involvement products. Even though consumers may have differing degrees of psychological involvement with a given product category, the marketer needs to determine whether the majority of potential customers in his or her target segment are likely to be highly involved with the purchase decision or not. The various elements of the strategic marketing plan can then be tailored to the overall level of involvement of people in the target market. Exhibit 4.7 summarizes some major differences in marketing actions appropriate for high- versus low- involvement product or service offerings. These differences are briefly discussed in the following sections.

Product Design and Positioning Decisions  Consumers evaluate both high- and low-involvement products on criteria that reflect the benefits they seek. Both types of products and services must offer at least one compelling and valued benefit to continue to win acceptance in the market. Because consumers tend to evaluate high-involvement products and services before purchasing, however, it is particularly important that such offerings be designed to provide at least some benefits that are demonstrably superior to those offered by major competitors, and that marketing communications are effective in making potential customers aware of those benefits.

For low-involvement goods and services, on the other hand, much brand evaluation occurs after the purchase is made. Consumers tend to be most positive about—and more likely to repurchase—brands that don’t disappoint them or cause unexpected problems. Consequently, firms that market low-involvement products or services need to pay particular attention to basic use-related attributes, such as consistent product quality, reliability, convenient packaging, and user-friendliness.

Pricing Decisions Highly involved consumers generally buy the brand they believe will deliver the greatest value. They are willing to pay a higher price for a brand if they believe it will deliver enough superior benefits relative to cheaper competitors to justify the difference. They may even use high price as an indicator of a brand’s superior quality or prestige, particularly in categories where quality is hard to evaluate objectively before purchase, such as professional services.

Many consumers buy low-involvement products largely or solely on the basis of low price. Therefore, special sales or coupon offers can be effective in gaining trial of such goods and services. If no problems are experienced during consumption, consumers may continue to buy the brand out of inertia, at least until a competitor offers an attractive price promotion.

Advertising and Promotion Decisions  Highly involved consumers typically seek at least some information about alternative brands, retail outlets, and so on, before making a purchase decision. Therefore, promotional vehicles that communicate in greater detail—such as print advertising, company Web sites, infomercials, or a salesperson—are more likely to be attended to and be effective in marketing high-involvement goods and services.

On the other hand, because low-involvement customers are usually passive information gatherers, advertising needs to focus on only a few main points and to deliver the message frequently in order to make it easy for consumers to gain familiarity and positive associations with a brand. Television is often the primary medium for low-involvement products because it facilitates passive learning. Distinctive package design is also important for such products since it helps consumers recognize brands they’ve seen advertised.

Distribution Decisions  Extensive retail distribution is particularly important for low- involvement products because most consumers are unwilling to search for, or expend extra effort to obtain, a particular brand. Thus, the larger the proportion of available retail outlets, including Web sites, vending machines, and the like, a marketer can induce to carry a brand, the larger that brand’s market share is likely to be.

Because consumers are more willing to spend some time and effort to acquire their favorite brand in a high-involvement category, extensive retail coverage is less critical for such products. The marketer may be better off being relatively choosy in selecting retailers to carry a brand, particularly if those retailers will play an important role in promoting the product or servicing it after the sale. The value of some exclusive, prestigious brands is clearly enhanced by the fact they are not available from every mass merchandiser in town.

Strategies to Increase Consumer Involvement  In some cases, a firm may try to increase consumers’ involvement with its brand as a way to increase revenues. Increased customer involvement can be attempted in several ways. The product might be linked to some involving issue, as when makers of bran cereals associate their products with a high- fiber diet that may reduce the incidence of colon cancer. Of course, the involving issue might be social rather than personal. Thus, cause-related marketing is the practice of designating a portion of a brand’s sales or profits to a nonprofit cause—such as the Special Olympics or breast cancer research—and aggressively publicizing it. 14 However, as cause- related marketing has become more popular, its effectiveness as a tool for increasing consumer involvement and brand preference may be declining, as discussed in Exhibit 4.8 . Or the product can be tied to a personally involving situation, such as advertising a sleeping aid late in the evening when insomniacs are interested in finding something to help them sleep. Finally, an important new feature might be added to an unimportant product as when Revlon introduced its ColorStay Lipcolor, which promised a miracle for women—unsmeared lipstick all day long. Despite being double the price of other lipsticks, women responded to the claim that it “won’t smear off on your teeth, your glass, or him” so well that ColorStay became the number-one-selling brand in drugstores and other mass merchandisers.

Why People Buy Different Things: Part 1—The Marketing Implications of Psychological and Personal Influences

Even when two consumers have equal involvement with a product, they often purchase different brands for varying reasons. The information they collect, the way they process and interpret it, and their evaluation of alternative brands are all influenced by psychological and personal characteristics. Some of the important psychological, or thought, variables that affect a consumer’s decision-making process include perception, memory, needs, and attitudes. The consumer’s personal characteristics, such as demographic and lifestyle variables, influence these psychological factors.

Exhibit 4.8  Is Cause-Related Marketing Losing its Impact?

In recent years, many consumer products manufacturers and retail chains have sponsored marketing campaigns linking their brands or stores to a social issue. These caused-related campaigns include multicompany programs—such as (product) Red for the benefit of African AIDS Victims—as well as efforts by individual firms, like Avon’s breast cancer crusade. The popularity of such programs has grown partly because they often fit well with the social objectives detailed in corporate mission statements, but mostly because they are effective at increasing consumers’ involvement with and preference for the sponsoring brand or retail chain. Unfortunately, the popularity of cause-related marketing may be eroding its effectiveness, at least within the U.S. market. In a survey of 1,066 adults polled by a commercial research firm in 2007, 36 percent said they had bought a product in the previous 12 months after learning of its maker’s commitment to some social issue, but that figure was down from 43 percent in a similar survey in 2004. Only 14 percent said they paid more for a product because of its support for a cause, down from 28 percent. And just 30 percent told a family member or friend about a brand’s commitment to a cause, compared to 43 percent three years earlier. Carol Cone, whose brand strategy firm conducted the survey, speculates that so many brands are now linked to worthy causes the American consumers may be suffering from “cause fatigue.”

Source:  Conrad Wilson, “Shoppers without a Cause,” Business- Week, July 9, 2007, p. 14.

Exhibit 4.6

Exhibit 4.7


Perception is the process by which a person selects, organizes, and interprets information. When consumers collect information about a high-involvement service such as a cruise, they follow a series of steps, or a hierarchy of effects. Exposure to a piece of information, such as a new product, an ad, or a friend’s recommendation, leads to attention, then to comprehension, and finally to retention in memory. Once consumers have fully perceived the information, they use it to evaluate alternative brands and to decide which to purchase.

The perception process is different for low-involvement products. Here, consumers have information in their memories without going through the sequence of attention and comprehension. Exposure may cause consumers to retain enough information so that they are familiar with a brand when they see it in a store.

Two basic factors— selectivity and organization—guide consumers’ perceptual processes and help explain why different consumers perceive product information differently. Selectivity means that even though the environment is full of product information, consumers pick and choose only selected pieces of information and ignore the rest. For high- involvement purchases, consumers pay particular attention to information related to the needs they want to satisfy and the particular brands they are considering for purchase. This perceptual vigilance helps guarantee that consumers have the information needed to make a good choice. For low-involvement products, consumers tend to selectively screen out much information to avoid wasting mental effort. The average consumer is exposed to over 1,000 ads every day plus information from other sources such as catalogs, Web sites, and friends. Consumers must be selective in perceiving this information to cope with the clutter of messages.

Consumers also tend to avoid information that contradicts their current beliefs and attitudes. This perceptual defense helps them avoid the psychological discomfort of reassessing or changing attitudes, beliefs, or behaviors central to their self-images. For example, many smokers avoid antismoking messages, or play down their importance, rather than admit that smoking may be damaging to their health.

Memory Limitations  Even though consumers are selective in perceiving product information, they remember only a small portion of it. This limitation of the human mem- ory concerns marketers since much marketing activity deals with communicating information to potential consumers to improve their attitudes toward a given brand. What can marketers do—if anything—to improve the memorability of their messages?

There are different theories of how the human memory operates, but most agree that it works in two stages. Information from the environment is first processed by the short-term memory, which forgets most of it within 30 seconds or less because of inattention or displacement of new incoming information. Some information, however, is transferred to long-term memory, from which it can be retrieved later. Long-term memory has a nearly infinite storage capacity, but the amount of product information actually stored there is quite limited. For information to be transferred to long-term memory for later recall, it must be actively rehearsed and internalized. It takes from 5 to 10 seconds of rehearsal to place a chunk of information in long-term memory. This is a long time relative to the fraction of a second necessary to perceive that piece of information. Therefore, new pieces of information swamp the old one before it can be transferred unless consumers find it sufficiently relevant to warrant focusing their attention.

This is why print media and interactive electronic media, such as Web sites, are good for communicating complex or technical information about high-involvement products. Consumers can control the pace at which such information is received and can take the time necessary to comprehend, rehearse, and remember it. Similarly, this explains why television advertising for low-involvement products should focus on a few simple pieces of information, such as brand name, symbol, or key product attributes, and be repeated frequently. Otherwise, the information will never make it into the consumer’s long-term memory.

Perceptual Organization Another mental factor determining how much product information consumers remember and use is the way they organize the information. People do not view and remember each piece of information they receive in isolation. Instead, they organize information through the processes of categorization and integration. Categorization helps consumers process known information quickly and efficiently: “I’ve seen this ad before so I don’t have to pay much attention.” It also helps people classify new information by generalizing from past experience. An ad for a new cereal with a high vitamin and mineral content, for instance, is interpreted in light of consumers’ experience with other nutritional cereals. This can cause a problem if consumers’ experiences have not been very favorable.

Integration means that consumers perceive separate pieces of related information as an organized whole. For example, the picture, headline, copy, and location of a magazine ad interact to produce a single overall reaction to the ad and the brand advertised. Similarly, consumers integrate information about various characteristics of a brand, such as its price and the retail stores that carry it, to form an overall image of the brand.

Effects of Stimulus Characteristics on Perception  Consumers’ personal characteristics—such as their particular needs, attitudes, beliefs, and past experiences with a product category—influence the information they pay attention to, comprehend, and remember. The characteristics of the message itself and the way it is communicated also influence consumers’ perceptions. The ad’s color, size, and position within a magazine or a TV program influence consumers’ attention to the message and the brand image the ad produces in consumers’ minds.


An attitude is a positive or negative feeling about an object (say, a brand) that predis- poses a person to behave in a particular way toward that object. Attitudes derive from a consumer’s evaluation that a given brand provides the benefits necessary to help satisfy a particular need. These evaluations are multidimensional; consumers judge each brand on a set of dimensions or attributes weighted by their relative importance.

Fishbein Model Martin Fishbein pioneered a model that specified how consumers combine evaluations of a brand across multiple attributes to arrive at a single overall atti- tude toward that brand. His model is expressed as follows:



AttitudeA  = Consumer ’ s overall attitude toward Brand A

Bi - Consumer ’ s belief concerning the extent to which attribute i is associated with Brand A

Ii = The importance of attribute i to the consumer when choosing a brand to buy

k = The total attributes considered by the consumer when evaluating alternative brands in the product category

i = Any specific product attribute

Exhibit 4.9 applies the Fishbein model to Paul MacDonald’s evaluation of alternative cruises. This application is compensatory because it assumes that MacDonald’s overall attitude toward a given cruise is determined by the weighted sum of the ratings for that cruise on all relevant attributes. Thus, a poor evaluation on one attribute is compensated for by a strong evaluation of another attribute. It also assumes that the cruise with the high- est total score is the one MacDonald is predisposed to buy.

Noncompensatory Attitude Models As suggested by Exhibit 4.9 , the mental pro- cesses involved in forming an attitude are quite complex because consumers must evaluate each alternative brand on every attribute. In some purchase situations, particularly with low-involvement products, consumers may adopt a simpler approach and evaluate alterna- tive brands on only one attribute at a time. Such an approach is noncompensatory because a poor evaluation of a brand on one attribute cannot be offset by a strong evaluation on another. For instance, one noncompensatory model, the lexicographic model, suggests that consumers evaluate brands on the most important attribute first. If one brand appears clearly superior on that dimension, the consumer selects it as the best possible choice. If no brand stands out on the most important attribute, the consumer evaluates the alternative brands on the second most important attribute, and so forth.

Marketing Implications of Attitude Models Although the different attitude mod- els provide insights into the ways consumers evaluate competitive product offerings, their implications for marketers are similar. The models suggest that to design appealing product offerings and structure effective marketing programs, marketers must have infor- mation about (1) the attributes or decision criteria consumers use to evaluate a particular product category, (2) the relative importance of those attributes to different consumers, and (3) how consumers rate their brand relative to competitors’ offerings on important attributes. Multiattribute models are especially helpful in formulating marketing strategies. They do so by showing the consumer’s ideal combination of product/service attributes, each of which is weighted as to its relative importance. Clustering those respondents with similar “ideals” enables the marketer to better understand not only what different sets of consumers want, but also how they perceive the various brands relative to the ideal brand. The firm can then decide which segments to target and how best to position its product-market entries.

Attitude Change The multiattribute attitude models of consumer choice suggest vari- ous ways marketers might change consumer attitudes favorably for their brands versus competing brands. These are discussed briefly below.

  1. Changing attitudes toward the product class or type to increase the total market—thereby increasing sales for a particular brand. For example, a frozen-orange-juice seller once attempted to make its product acceptable as a refreshing drink throughout the day. This type of attitude change involves primary demand and is difficult to accomplish.
  2. Changing the importance consumers attach to one or more attributes. For instance, a number of food manufacturers have spent large sums warning about the dangers of high cholesterol. After increasing the importance consumers attach to lowering their cholesterol, manufacturers can then promote their brands as an appropriate part of a low-cholesterol diet.
  3. Adding a salient attribute to the existing set. For instance, Colgate-Palmolive added triclosan, an antibiotic that fights gingivitis, to its Total brand of toothpaste and promoted it heavily. Similarly, a brand might be linked to a social cause, as discussed in Exhibit 4.8 . 
  4. Improving consumers’ ratings of the brand on one or more salient attributes via more extensive or effective advertising and promotion. This is the most common attempt, par- ticularly during a brand’s introduction to the market or after product improvements have been made. 
  5. Lowering the ratings of the salient product characteristics of competing brands. This can be attempted via comparative advertising, which has increased in recent years. For example, one nutritional cereal regularly compares the amount of vitamins and minerals its brand provides in an average serving with those provided by specific other brands.
Exhibit 4.9

Demographics Demographics influence (1) the nature of consumers’ needs and wants, (2) their ability to buy products or services to satisfy those needs, (3) the perceived importance of various attributes or choice criteria used to evaluate alternative brands, and (4) consumers’ attitudes toward and preferences for different products and brands. For example, older consumers spend more on medical care and travel and less on home furnishings and clothing than do younger groups; the presence of young children obviously affects the purchasing of a variety of goods and services; and better-educated people spend more on reading materials and foreign travel than do those with less education.

Personality and Self-Concept  A consumer’s buying behavior is also influenced by his or her personality—the set of enduring psychological traits that lead a person to make distinctive and consistent responses to factors in his or her environment. An individual’s personality is usually described in terms of traits such as sociability, self-confidence, dominance, adaptability, introversion, and the like.

Personality can be useful for explaining why different people buy different things because brands are also perceived to have personalities, and consumers are likely to choose brands whose personalities match their own. In a classic study, the following traits were commonly used to define brand personalities in the United States:

● Sincerity (honest, wholesome, down-to-earth, cheerful)

● Excitement (imaginative, spirited, daring, up-to-date)

● Competence (reliable, successful, intelligent)

● Sophistication (upper-class, charming)

● Ruggedness (tough, outdoorsy)

Brand personalities in other countries are defined with some of these same traits, but other traits are unique to specific cultures. For instance, a “peacefulness” dimension replaces “ruggedness” in both Japan and Spain, and “competence” is overshadowed by “passionate” in Spain. 

Many well-known brands are perceived to be strong on one dimension, though some are seen as having multidimensional personalities. For instance, MTV is associated with excitement and Campbell soup with sincerity, while Levi’s jeans are seen as rugged, youthful, and authentic. Consumers tend to choose brands with personalities that match either their own self-concept (the way they actually see themselves) or their ideal self- concept (the kind of person they would like to be), but this tendency is probably stronger for high-involvement, publicly consumed goods and services than for low-involvement items. 

Lifestyles  Two people of similar age, income, education, and even occupations do not necessarily live their lives in the same way. They may have different opinions, inter- ests, and activities. As a result, they are likely to exhibit different patterns of behavior— including buying different products and brands and using them in different ways and for different purposes. These broad patterns of activities, interests, and opinions—and the behaviors that result—are referred to as lifestyles. To obtain lifestyle data, consumers are asked to indicate the extent to which they agree/disagree with a series of statements having to do with such things as price consciousness, family activities, spectator sports, traditional values, adverturesomeness, and fashion.

Lifestyle typologies or psychographic profiles have been developed by several advertising agencies and market research firms. Global Scan, developed by Backer Spielvogel & Bates ad agency, measures a variety of consumer attitudes, activities, and values among a sample of 3,500 consumers in the United States and 1,000 respondents from other countries. 21 These measures are then matched against respondents’ media viewing habits, product use, and purchase patterns. With this survey data, Global Scan has identified five lifestyle segments, summarized in Exhibit 4.10 . The exhibit also shows the proportion of consumers that fall into each segment in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Japan. The size of the various segments varies across countries. For instance, Japan’s more traditional and stable culture includes a larger proportion of “Traditionals” and “Adapters” than the United States.

An alternative lifestyle typology, called VALS 2, has been developed by the research firm SRI International.

Why People Buy Different Things: Part 2—The Marketing Implications of Social Influences

Information and social pressures received from other people influence a consumer’s needs, wants, evaluations, and product or brand preferences. Social influences are particularly apparent when consumers purchase high-involvement, socially visible goods or services. The social influences affecting consumers’ purchase decisions include culture, subculture, social class, reference groups, and family. These five categories represent a hierarchy of social influences, ranging from broad, general effects on consumption behavior—such as those imposed by the culture we live in—to more specific influences that directly affect a consumer’s choice of a particular product or brand. For a simplified view of this hierarchy of social influences, see Exhibit 4.11 .

Exhibit 4.10

Exhibit 4.11


Culture is the set of beliefs, attitudes, and behavior patterns (customs and folkways) shared by members of a society and transmitted from one generation to the next through socialization. Cultural values and beliefs tend to be relatively stable over time, but they can change from one generation to the next in response to changing conditions in society. For example, the baby boomers born in the United States between 1946 and 1960 have some- what different values and behavior patterns from those of their parents. They tend to live a more health-conscious lifestyle (e.g., to eat less red meat) and to concern themselves more with personal grooming than did their parents at the same age. And as the boomers approach retirement age, they appear even more committed to maintaining healthy, active lifestyles—and less likely to fully retire at an early age—than previous generations of senior citizens. Cultural differences across countries create both problems and opportunities for international marketers. For example, Pillsbury wanted to take advantage of the cultural evolution concerning working women in Japan. About 50 percent of married women in Japan now work outside the home. Consequently, they represent an attractive market for convenience foods, such as Green Giant frozen vegetables. The problem is that many feel guilty about using such products because they seem inconsistent with traditional cultural values. Therefore, in addition to touting the convenience of Green Giant vegetables, Pillsbury’s advertising also stressed the nutrition and flavor benefits of freezing vegetables at the peak of ripeness. As a result, Green Giant’s Japanese sales increased 50 percent in the first year of the ad campaign.

Subculture  There are many groups of people in nearly every country who share common geographic, ethnic, racial, or religious backgrounds. They continue to hold some values, attitudes, and behavior patterns that are uniquely their own. Such groups are referred to as subcultures. For example, the average American family now has two wage earners who probably share decisions relating to vacations, car, financial instruments, and major furniture items. In contrast, Korean-Americans as a subculture in America are much more inclined to favor the male in almost all decisions, including food.


Every society has its status groupings largely based on similarities in income, education, and occupation. Because researchers have long documented the values of the various classes (typically thought of as five—upper, upper-middle, middle, working, and lower), it is possible to infer certain behavior concerning some products and services, including class members’ reactions to advertising. For example, higher-status people are more critical of advertising, react better to more individualized messages, appreciate humor and sophistication, and look down a bit on ads that stress economy. Lower-status people respond to ads that are strongly visual and show practical solutions to their everyday problems.


These include a variety of groups that affect consumer behavior through normative compliance, value-expressed influence, and informational influence. The first is most effective when there are strong normative pressures (for instance, from a college fraternity or exclusive club); when social acceptance is important (serving of certain foods to guests); and when the use of a product is conspicuous (women’s fashion clothing). Value-expressive influence involves conforming to gain status within one’s group.

Informational influence involves the use of certain influentials to help assess the merits of a given product/service. The opinions of such individuals often legitimize the purchase of a certain product or service. Over 40 percent of Americans seek the advice of family and friends when shopping for doctors, lawyers, and auto mechanics. Word of mouth is also important with respect to restaurants, entertainment, banking, and personal services. Young adults are more willing to seek referrals than are older people, and as we have seen, the Internet and mobile networks have greatly increased access to such personal opinions via blogs, chat rooms, and the like.