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 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.
- 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 Fishbein, 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.