Consumer buyer behaviour - Marketing Strategy

Consumer buyer behavior relates to the end customer, the individuals who purchase products and services for personal consumption. This section of the chapter will summarize the main sources of influence on consumer buyer behavior (see Figure below), in order to illustrate the influences that affect consumers’ purchasing decisions. These influences can be broken down into four major categories: social, personal, psychological and situational.

Social influences

There is a range of social influences on consumer’s purchasing behavior, in particular culture and social class.

  1. Culture :Behavior is largely learned so the traditions,values and attitudes of the society an individual is brought up in will influence their behavior. Cultural norms form the codes that direct behavior. Therefore in an informal culture such as the USA or the UK the use of first names in a formal business meeting may be acceptable. In other cultures such as mainland China more formal behavior would be the norm. Within a larger culture there are obviously some subcultures; these may be based on religion,nationality, geographical areas or racial groups.
  2. Social class :An individual’s social class has been seen as an important influence on consumer behavior, with individuals in lower social groups generally being seen to be more culture-bound. Social class groupings are heavily dependent upon a society’s cultural background. Some societies are more hierarchical than others – many have a few people in the top and bottom classes with the majority in the middle. However,some societies, such as Scandinavia and Japan, have much flatter structures (see Figure below). Some societies are more open than others, that is, individual scan move from one class to another in an open society; in a closed society this is not possible.

Influences on consumer behavior

Influences on consumer behavior

In Western societies social classification has been criticized as a predictor of purchasing behavior. In the UK a household in the higher AB category, after paying for a mortgage and private school tuition for their children, may have less disposable income than a lower category C2 or D Household. There can also be wide discrepancies in purchasing patterns within social groups. Individuals are also influenced by smaller social groups, such as friends, co-workers and family. These can be categorized into reference groups and family:

  • Reference groups :Reference groups can be formal (members of a professional association or society) or informal groupings(social, friends, etc.). These reference groups influence an individual’attitude or behavior. Individuals will tend to exhibit purchasing behavior that is deemed to be acceptable by their reference group. Group norms and the role an individual plays within a group exert considerable influence on their behavior. Recent research into the behavior first-time mothers illustrated the power of reference groups in shaping their expectations of the quality of service they would experience during their staying the maternity ward. For individuals from residential areas of lower economic status, doctors, midwives and information from ante-natal classes were less influential than friends with young children – and, more importantly, the individual’s sisters and mother. These reference groups influenced their subsequent behavior in terms of length of stay and treatment (Tin son, 1998).This also underlines the power of one key reference group, the family.
  • Examples of social class profiles in different cultures

    Examples of social class profiles in different cultures

  • Family :The family is a key group not only because it is a primary reference group but also because it is the group within which individual purchasing behavior is socialized. Attitudes and beliefs in general and patterns of purchasing behavior in particular are all learnt initially from the family into which an individual is born and raised (the family of orientation). Once individuals start to have their own children they set up their own family unit (family of procreation). This developing family group also exerts an influence on the behavior of individuals. There are,moreover, purchasing decisions that are taken by the household as a unit which reinforce the family as a key primary reference group.

Personal influences

An individual’s personal attributes will have an influence on their purchasing behavior. Factors such as the individual’s age, occupation and financial situation, their personality, their family life cycle stage and their lifestyle in general will affect the pattern of their consumption decisions. These factors are commonly used as criteria to segment consumer markets and will be explored in greater detail later.

Psychological influences

Four key psychological factors – motivation,perception, learning, and beliefs and attitudes – are further influences on consumer behavior.


Individuals have a range of needs, from basic biological needs such as the need to satisfy hunger, thirst and physical distress to psychological needs like the need for social recognition, esteem or belonging. These needs may lie dormant at any particular time but once aroused to a high enough level of intensity they become a motivational force. A motive is a need that has reached a level that drives an individual to search for ways to alleviate its demands. There is a whole body of theory in this area that cannot be explored in this text; however, it is worthwhile summarizing two of the most influential theories to illustrate their effect on marketing practice:

  • Freud’s theory of motivation :Freud proposed that individuals are motivated by unconscious psychological factors. Moreover, as an individual grows up they conform to social norms which require them to repress range of desires and passions (urges). This theory would suggest that an individual’s consciously stated reason for buying a product may hide a more fundamental unconscious motive. An individual proposing to purchase an executive car may claim that this decision is based on the need for quality and reliability, whereas the unconscious desire may be for status.
  • Maslow’s theory of motivation :Maslow claimed that individuals have a hierarchy of needs. At the lowest level individuals are driven by basic physiological needs. When individuals are able to satisfy the need sat one level they will be motivated by the needs at the next level in the hierarchy (see Figure below). The implication of the theory for marketers is that individuals will seek different products and services as they move up this hierarchy.

Maslow’s theory of motivation

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

This theory is not universal and is biased towards Anglo-Saxon cultural values, in particular individualism and need for self development. These needs would not have the same prominence in Japan or Germany where, for example, the need for personal security and conformity take a higher priority. Motivation theories relate to consumer needs and satisfying consumers’ needs is a central tenet of marketing. These motivation theories therefore have influenced approaches to market segmentation. It should be noted that although Freud and Maslow’s theories have been very influential in management and marketing theory and practice, they have been challenged on the grounds that the research evidence to support their utility as a psychological theory of motivation is weak (Steers et al., 1996). However, they are useful for marketers as they help to categorize consumers into groups based on needs.


The way an individual perceives an external stimulus will influence their reaction. Individuals can have different perceptions of the same stimulus due to the process of selective attention,selective distortion and selective retention:

  • Selective attention :Individuals cannot observe all the potential stimuli in the external environment. Selective attention refers to the tendency of individuals to screen out the majority of stimulants to which they are exposed.
  • Selective distortion :Individuals process information within the confines of their current set of attitudes and beliefs. The tendency to adjust perceptions to conform to their current mind set is called selective distortion.
  • Selective retention :Individuals do not remember everything they perceive. Information that reinforces their attitudes and beliefs is more likely to be retained.

Perceptual behavior is relevant to the segmentation process because of its links with learning, attitudes and beliefs.

Learning, attitudes and beliefs

Learning relates to any change in the content of an individual’s long term memory and is associated with how information is processed (covered above under Perception). There are various ways in which learning can take place, including conditioning, social learning and cognitive learning:

  • Conditioning :This learning theory proposes that reinforcement is necessary for individuals to develop attitude sand beliefs. Therefore if an individual’s experience of a particular product is positive this will reinforce their positive attitudes and beliefs about the brand. If the experience is negative it is unlikely that the consumer will buy the product again. The negative attitude that has been formed towards the product could also affect the individual’s attitude to other products and services offered by the company or linked to the brand.
  • Social learning :This theory suggests that learning can take place without direct personal reinforcement. Individuals may remember the slogan associated with a brand name and form an attitude about its attributes without any direct reinforcement. An individual may learn from observing the behavior of others and the recognition or rewards they receive.
  • Cognitive learning :In high involvement purchases an individual may use their own powers of cognitive reasoning to develop their attitudes and beliefs about a product.

Forming attitudes and beliefs about products effectively creates a position for the product or brand relative to other products and brands in the mind of the consumer. This lies at the heart of product positioning which is central to the successful implementation of segmentation strategy.

The buying situation

The buying process (see Figure below) an individual goes through when making purchasing decisions is affected by the particular situational factors surrounding the activity.High involvement purchases refer to situations where both the information search and the use of referent group consultation and post purchase evaluation is extensive. It occurs when the following factors are involved:

  • Self–image :The purchase has a major effect on an individual’s self image, such as the purchase of a car.
  • strongPerceived risk :The impact of a mistaken purchase would have a dramatic effect on the consumer. Expensive purchases would fall into this category, where any mistake could have a major effect Conan individual’s financial position.
  • Social factors :An individual’s level of social acceptance may depend on the right purchasing decision.
  • Hedonistic factors :The purchase is concerned with products or services that are linked to providing personal pleasure.

Consumer theory is a complex area and only a brief overview has been provided here. Consumer behavior is central to the segmentation, targeting and positioning process, in particular in establishing useful segmentation criteria.

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