The scope and complexity of buyer behaviour - Marketing Management

Before we proceed, first consider the following seemingly simple questions:

  • ‘What was the last product or service you purchased?’
  • ‘Why did you purchase the product or service?’
  • ‘How did you decide between competing brands and/or suppliers?’
  • ‘Who, if anybody, other than yourself, was involved in the purchasing decision?’

You will have little difficulty answering these questions. You, the consumer, know the answers. Now think of these questions from the point of view of the supplier of the product or service in question. These apparently simple questions about your purchasing behaviour then become much more complex. Without answers to these questions, it is difficult to make effective strategic marketing decisions.

Most companies are able to resolve these questions with straightforward ‘factual’ answers, but unless they have some knowledge of buyer behaviour, they are unaware of, and unfamiliar with, the complex range of behavioural factors that impinge upon purchasing behaviour. The truth is that like much of human behaviour, purchase behaviour is complex and multifaceted. Many years ago some of the earliest marketing thinkers recognized the potential contribution of the behavioural sciences such as sociology, psychology and anthropology to understanding buyer behaviour.

In doing so Tamilia1 suggests academics such as Wroe Alderson ‘revolutionised the way we now teach and do research in this area of marketing.’ We now know that even the simplest purchasing decision is an amalgam of behavioural forces and factors of which even the purchaser might not be aware. For instance, the purpose of a lipstick is not simply to colour the lips. The purchaser may feel more attractive wearing lipstick, the colour may be purchased to match certain clothing or it may contain sunscreen or moisturizers that protect the lips. Partly arising from this complexity, researching and understanding consumer behaviour is a specialist area within marketing.

In the context of this chapter, we cannot fully discuss all behavioural concepts and techniques relevant to understanding buyer behaviour. For a more detailed treatment of this area the reader is advised to consult one of the seminal texts, such as Blackwell, Engel and Miniard;2 East, Vanhuele and Wright3 or Schiffman, Kanuk and Hansen.4 Even though consumer behaviour is complex, marketing planners should at least have an understanding of their customers’ behaviour.

For our purposes we are seeking to develop an appreciation of buyer behaviour in both consumer and organizational markets. Marketers are specifically interested in the behaviour associated with groups, or segments, of consumers as it would be impractical to serve the exact needs and wants of every individual in a market and remain profitable.

What does the area of buyer behaviour cover? Kotler5 categorizes buyer behaviour into the ‘seven “Os” of the market place’, namely:

Occupants Who constitutes the market?
Objects What does the market buy?
Occasions When does the market buy?
Organization Who participates in the buying?
Objectives Why does the market buy?
Operations How does the market buy?
Outlets Where does the market buy?

Answers to these questions give a company an added advantage over less aware competitors and enable the company to fit their product offerings to customers more closely and satisfy customer needs better than competitors. Marketers need to know whether their controllable variables, e.g. marketing mix variables, will affect buying behaviour. There are many definitions of what constitutes consumer behaviour. One of the most popular is provided by Blackwell, Engel and Miniard:6 ‘Those acts of individuals directly involved in obtaining, using and disposing of economic goods, and services, including the decision processes that precede and determine these acts.’

This not only encompasses observable buying decisions, but also the underlying, less measurable reasons for purchase decisions. The definition can also be applied to organizational buyer behaviour (or buyer behaviour in commercial settings) although many decisions in this area are made by groups. The concepts and implications associated with buyer behaviour can be applied to not-for-profit organizations e.g. charities suffering from ‘donor fatigue’ need to look at the motivation people feel to donate time and money, and respond to this.In connection with the expenses scandal.

Keeping a Cutting Edge

Most men who shave use either an electric razor or a bladed safety razor. In the case of the safety razor, one might be tempted to think that choice and purchase processes might be relatively straight - forward. After all, for most men these are items that are used every day, are relatively inexpensive, and are purchased frequently, usually as part of a regular grocery shop at the supermarket. Unlike clothing or a car, the brand of razor and blades we buy does not say much about us to the outside world. Buyer behaviour in this case can hardly be complex! The American Gillette Company believe it is.

In marketing razors and razor blades the Gillette Company invest considerable time and effort in researching consumers’ needs and wants and how these are changing. They know from this research that the behavioural forces and factors that underpin purchase and brand choice of these seemingly mundane items can be complex.

For example, there is a considerable amount of reference group influence when it comes to how men shave and what products they choose. Many men are heavily influenced by what products and brands their fathers used to shave with and are often very brand loyal. Razors are a good example of where the user is different to the purchaser in that it is often women who purchase these products during the weekly shop. Fashions change in shaving inasmuch as it affects appearance.

Fifteen years ago, ‘clean shaven’ was the fashionable look, but this changed and ‘designer stubble’ became the look; then fashion changed again back towards a clean shaven look, including the shaving of heads. Price is an important factor in brand choice, but not an overriding one for many customers. Sporting celebrities are used heavily in this market.

Gillette knows that buyer behaviour is complex and spend large sums understanding these complexities in developing new cutting-edge products for this market. in UK politics, political parties and government organizations need to understand people who consume their services; location of parks and public transport services need to be researched for consumer wants, needs and usage rates.

The study of buyer behaviour has broad application and the term ‘buyer’ can be applied to numerous publics that organizations serve. Irrespective of the type of purchase or customer group, it is important to emphasize the potential complexity of buyer behaviour even for seemingly mundane items.

Before examining consumer and organizational buyer behaviour in more detail, it is worth reflecting on models of buyer behaviour.


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