Consumer behavior is an enigma for marketers all over the world. Countless number of strategies and approaches has been designed by marketers to understand the reasons behind why buyers choose a certain product over another similar product (Macroni). However, a concrete model or method describing consumer behavior which guarantees a positive response from the buyer in the form of purchases or repeated purchases is yet to be formed.
Even consumers themselves do not know what factors influence them towards making a certain buying decision. Broadly it can be said that consumer purchases are influenced strongly by cultural, social, personal and psychological characteristics.
BUYER DECISION PROCESS
Making an actual purchase is a small part of the whole buyer decision process which is divided into five stages:
This is the first stage of the buyer decision process in which the consumer recognizes a problem or need. The need for something is triggered by either internal stimuli such as the feelings of hunger, thirst or warmth, while external stimuli may set off a need through an advertisement or discussion.
At this stage the consumer becomes conscious of its need and searches for information regarding a product that would satisfy the need or problem. This information can be obtained from personal, commercial or public sources (Macroni). At this level, the person starts paying more attention to its surrounding depending on the urgency of the problem.
Evaluation of alternatives
This is the third stage of the buyer decision process in which the consumer considers the alternatives available to him in the form of different choices between similar products. Each consumer would have its own unique evaluation criteria according to which a particular brand would be chosen among the ones to available to him.
After the consumer has ranked the different available alternatives in order of preference he will choose the preferred brand and make the purchase. Two factors play an important role in this purchase: attitudes of others and the unexpected situational factors. If the price of the competitor’s brand has gone down so it is likely that the consumer would choose that product or, if a friend expresses his dislike over the use of certain good then the consumer may change his choice.
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This is the final stage of the buyer decision process in which the consumer expresses his satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the use of the product. If the marketer has successfully sold its product another bigger test awaits him (Kotler). After using the product if the consumer experiences any type of dissatisfaction, then the producer has been unsuccessful in meeting the consumer’s expectations. Hence the consumer will not make a repeated purchase and may even prevent his friends from purchasing the product.
FACTORS AFFECTING CONSUMER BEHAVIOR
Often consumers themselves do not know what influences their purchases but the marketers have established a number of factors that play a strong role in influencing the consumers while making purchase decisions. However, it must be noted that the marketer cannot have total control over these causes.
Every group has its own unique culture around which the member of that society learns to live and develop. It is the marketer’s job to study the culture and its shifts in order to discover new products that might become the need for people over a period of time. Subculture is a smaller group of people within a bigger culture who are united in their life experiences and situations. The marketer, when marketing the product, considers the qualities or traits that dominate the particular subculture and uses that to promote its product effectively.
It is a misconception that social class is characterized by income only, whereas this is not true. Apart from income, occupation and education are also important determinants. Social classes depict similar choices in clothing, automobiles, leisure activities, etc.
Groups and social networks have direct influence over the choices people make; therefore its power cannot be undermined by the marketers. People are often influenced by reference groups to which they do not belong which results in aspirations and hopes. Marketers expose the individuals to new lifestyles, behaviors and attitudes that in turn affect the consumer’s choice when making buying decisions.
Mostly marketers employ the use of opinion leaders who because of their charismatic personality, famous profile or special skills possess more power of influencing people. For this reason celebrities and other famous people are appointed brand ambassadors as marketers are aware of their mass appeal.
Buying roles change as consumers evolve over time. Where, before parents or siblings have been providing advices on what to buy and what not to, with time that role tends to be filled by a person’s spouse. If the buying decision of a particular product is influenced by the wife then the marketers will try to target the women in their advertisement.
People mostly choose products according to their roles and status. A working woman would buy the kind of clothing that reflects her role and status. Therefore it is these roles and status that the marketer should focus on.
Age and lifecycle stage play an important part in the changing patterns of consumer behavior over lifetime. Marketers often classify their target markets in terms of age and lifecycle stage and develop marketing strategies according to them. As a person grows in terms of age its lifecycle stage also progresses resulting in demand for different goods and services. However, marketers should not let this segmentation be interpreted as stereotyping as this might send a negative message and offend the consumers rather than catch their attention (Kurtz).
Occupation highly affects what goods or services are bought and what are not. As income is directly related to occupation so it widely categorizes what products are within the purchasing power of a consumer. Depending on the person’s occupation marketers market such products in which the potential consumer may show some or any interest at all.
In the times of economic prosperity, marketers can alter their marketing mix by incorporating a luxurious image for their products and charging high prices for it. It is during this time that most innovation takes place in the form of new goods and services as it is generally observed that people are better off and in search of wider variety of products to choose from.
Marketers promote their products in such a way that the consumers are led to believe that they are not just making a purchase but actually investing in a whole lifestyle and its values (Kurtz). Mostly such approach is taken for high end consumer brands which are targeted at affluent urbanities.
Motivation is a need or drive that compels the person to pursue his goal and thereby attain satisfaction. Many buying decisions undertaken by the consumers have a hidden motive behind their purchases.
Many companies for that reason employ teams of psychologists to try to unravel the workings of a consumer’s mind. The purpose of doing so is to develop better marketing strategies. Perception is the process through which people interpret and organize information to create sense out of it. For instance if they have a bad image associated with a product any new advertisements will reinforce that bad image.
In order to unravel the mysteries of consumer behavior companies have to undertake research to find out information about the prevailing conditions in the market. Another reason is to gauge the market’s response if an innovative product is brought in the market therefore mostly companies conduct research to gain a competitive edge.
It focuses on gaining information regarding market needs, size and the existing competition. This information is gathered through various sources which are based on analysis and statistical analysis. It may seem easy work to do but in reality there is a science behind it which is comprised of several techniques and methods designed to obtain the best possible results as crucial decisions are dependent on this data.
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To conduct market research they are two main types which are further sub divided. First we have primary research, this is also knows as field research. This is first hand information gathered specifically for the intended purpose. For instance if a company wants to explore market conditions they might have designed a questionnaire posing relevant questions to the survey to be conducted.
In order to assess the market conditions before launching a new product, the marketer should design such a questionnaire that explores market acceptability for the new commodity. For instance, if a new fragrance is to be introduced, ample research needs to be done that focuses on the existence of current competitors and the share of market that they command.
Another type is secondary research this is the data that has been collected previously such as government statistics, market surveys or trade publications. This information already exists and may not be relevant to the study at hand.
In order to make research easy, first the marketer must determine what needs to be researched. The most common form of research is market information; this encompasses a broad spectrum including prices of different products and the demand and supply of those commodities (Malcolm). Market trends are also gauged from these researches which the direction in which a particular product is moving. Whether the demand is increasing or decreasing and then propose recommendations based on that.
Next step is to segment the market; this is division of the whole market on the basis of certain characteristics as age, gender, income, religion and lifestyle. This is useful because different conditions exist in different markets so generalization cannot be made (Kotler). Differences exist on the basis of demographics, geographic locations, psychographic and gender differences.
Quantitative & Qualitative Market Research
Primary research is further categorized into quantitative and qualitative market research. Quantitative market research involves the use of questionnaires; interviews with scales attributed to responses and the analysis are based on the scores obtained. A marketer will then use this information to design strategies. Whereas, qualitative market research is a combination of multiple techniques through which data is collected from a chosen sample representing the whole population. This sample is selected on the basis of demographics and other similar factors. The difference between both the methods is the end result; quantitative research is statistical while qualitative is descriptive.
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