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Consumer Behavior: A Scientific Approach Published: Sunday, May 3, 1998 By: Ramón L. Rivera

The Marketing Strategies launched by many companies lack a conceptual framework, a theory that can substantiate the fundamental premises behind the actions. It explains why most of the time the results obtained are much less than desired, and campaigns come and go on a "trial and error" basis.

Applied behavioral science concepts are the foundation to any intelligent, well designed marketing strategy. This distinct body of knowledge studies the processes that drive the behavior of consumption. The evidence supports the co-existence of three paradigms of Purchase: "Cognitive", "Reinforcement" and "Habit", each one representing a model of the mental and behavioral processes undertaken by the consumer.

The Cognitive approach defines Consumer Behavior as a sequence of problem solving and decision making. According to this interpretation, under free market conditions the consumer receives stimuli from the environment, processes information, compares a large quantity of underlying premise behind this paradigm is that the consumer is knowledgeable about a vast amount of options and the potential outcomes associated with each option. Most marketing approaches are founded on this paradigm.

Our own research reveals that consumers act at different levels of consciousness, depending on variables like relevance of purchase, past experience, group pressure, and habits. Four types of purchase relate to different patterns of behavior. "Important/discrete", "Repetitive", "Involuntary" and "Group Influenced"

The complete decision making process is more relevant in the cases of the fist purchase or important ones. Subsequent purchases seem to follow simple decision making models. Typically the consumer considers only few alternatives and little information at the moment of purchase. The evidence supports the fact that, generally speaking, he has limited knowledge about alternatives, his decisions are influenced by others, and his freedom and power to exercise upon preferences is also limited.

Problem Solving, in the case of consumers, seems to follow the pattern of "the satisficing option". This means that the alternatives are explored in series and the first one that is satisfactory in meeting expectations is adopted. The solution is not necessarily type of decisions to concentrate on the vital ones.

In the case of repetitive purchase this pattern of behavior is even more evident. The majority of the consumers resist changing brands or suppliers. Changes are typically preceded by unexpected experiences, positive or negative. Therefore, attitudes to the product follow experience with the products. Brand loyalty should be defined as a function of Preference, and Strength, not just attitude.

The issue is that most consumers do not know what they want. By mean of the experience with the product, they better understand and define their own expectations. Arousal is related to the disconfimation of such expectations. Either negative or positive experiences of disconfirmation will stimulate interest in exploring other option; to be more open to changes. A behaviorist model seems to better describe consumers in the case of repetitive purchase.

Consumer Behavior theory reveals that the process of purchase is psychological as well as rational. Our beliefs about how others value our actions is a factor that affects behavior. Brands are associated with ideas and feelings. They acquire an "image". Loyalty is also related to Brand recognition and Brand Image. Habits of purchase are developed through these psychological attachments.

A fundamental role of marketing is to capture the attention of consumers and make them recognize a differentiated brand. Human beings have the need of solving conceptual conflicts between our "schemas" and ambiguous or incongruent stimuli, so that we make our environment more predictable and manageable. Those stimuli that do not match our shcemas capture our attention but are recognized more slowly.

 


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