Nowadays, it is essential to understand how people interact with the marketing system if the company wants to work with successful brands. Recognizing how the products and services purchased and used by the consumers fit with their lives have kept some companies ahead of their competitors. However, it is imperative to keep in mind that the motivations to consume are complex and varied. This is because our choices as consumers relate in powerful ways to the rest of our lives. Also, the environment that we live in, where we work, our age, our gender, our income, our race, our lifestyles, and our occupation have influenced our choices. Culture and new technologies, such as social media and apps, create a new consumer who is always on, connected. The consumer is unique and has different needs. But we can classify a consumer into a set, then having multiple sets of consumers, splitting them into diverse segments. The use of market segmentation strategies means that an organization targets its product, service, or idea only to specific groups of consumers rather than to everybody – even if it means that other consumers who do not belong to this target market are not attracted to it. Nonetheless, consumer behavior is a process and not the end.
Therefore, does marketing imitate life or vice versa? The final decision is always of the consumer, but currently, we are living in a world where the actions of marketers significantly influence decision-making. Through advertisements, marketing competes for our attention. Ads show us how consumers should act regarding their lives. What kind of car they should buy, how they should plan the wedding, which beer they should buy to enjoy the weekend, where they might spend their vacations, or which pizza brand they should eat. Marketing influences the decisions with the advertisements on magazines with celebrities or a recording on social media including an industry expert explaining about a product. On the other hand, advertisement is a way how consumers can find products that are safe and that deliver the performance that was promised. It is a way to tell consumers the truth about what the company sells, and to price and distribute these products fairly.
If segmentation strategies help marketing divide their clients by who they are, the Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is an outstanding tool to understand why consumer buys. Also, Maslow’s Hierarchy shows how consumers seek to fulfill their needs. As a pyramid, the most common needs for everyone are at the bottom, such as physiological and safety needs. In the middle are the belonging and ego needs, and at the top the self-actualization needs. Diverse products can fulfill those needs on multiple levels. For instance, frozen pizza can satisfy the physiological and ego needs. Consumers feel safe by eating a pizza without preservatives or they feel with prestige for eating a vegan pizza. Also, they can share their experiences on social media with the goal to receive recognition for their feeding habits.
Diverse literature and articles affirm that every consumer decision we make is a response to a problem. Perhaps, the hard task is understanding how a product can solve a problem of the consumer. In other words, which type of problem a frozen pizza can solve? Perhaps, a frozen pizza can help hungry consumers whom have no time to stop for a lunch. Maybe a frozen pizza without preservatives can solve a problem of a consumer who desires to eat a yummy slice but with less sodium.
However, it is important for Marketing to know that in this case there are three “buckets” of consumer decision-making. And the decision-making to choose one frozen pizza brand instead of another might go through one of those three buckets: cognitive, habitual, and affective. The cognitive approach model explains how certain variables can affect the purchasing decision. Habitual decision-making is sometimes referred to as “routine” decision-making. This is because consumers do not seek information at all when a problem is recognized. Choice is often based on habit. Consumers usually have a specific brand in mind when they want to solve a problem because they believe that brand/product will deliver value. Affective decision-making is emotional and instantaneous. A consumer could pass in front of a pizza place and associate pepperoni pizza with happiness and purchase a slice to fulfill that emotion.
As the cognitive decision-making process is the most rational among of the three, the decision becomes a few more complex than the others. There are 5 steps in the cognitive decision-making process: problem recognition, information search, evaluation of alternatives, product choice, and outcomes. Pay attention that the steps start with recognition of a problem, for example, desire to eat a pizza. To solve this problem, the consumer starts a search for a pizza place closer her/his. When the consumer finds products that can solve her/his problem, he/she evaluate the possibilities. They compare brands, price, benefits, features, and functionalities before making a choice, then finally choose just one product that solves her/his problem. The true test of the decision-making process is whether the consumer is happy with her/his choice made. Postpurchase evaluation closes the loop; it occurs when consumers experience the product/service they selected and decide if it meets their expectations.
Many factors at the time of purchase dramatically influence the consumer decision-making process. From the store’s layout to other people and groups, there are several factors that strongly influence the purchase decision. Salesperson, people – especially those that possess social power – influence our decisions. The desire to be consistent with other people motivates consumers to mimic what those people buy and use. Consumers seek out others who share our interests in products or services with the goal to share opinion and experience. Also, members of a family unit have different amounts of influence when the family makes purchase decisions. Some examples about this are when a mother decides which type of pizza the family is going to eat with only health in mind. Or when the father chooses a frozen pizza brand thinking just on the economic aspect. In terms of family, companies need to rethink their concepts of traditional families. Nowadays, a family can be formed just by a couple, without kids. Because of this, frozen pizza companies need to rethink the size of their products as well, to attend to this customer segment.
As social animals that we are, we live in groups and desire to fit in a social group. To achieve this, we try to please others. We look to others’ behavior for clues about what we should do in public. The desire to be part of the group is the primary motivation for many of our consumption behaviors. That can explain why it is so important for a group of people to share a shot of their pizza on Instagram before eating. Or even tag the brand of the pizza on the post without being paid for it. Also, that justifies companies to contract a public person to be the face of the company during a campaign.
One of the ways to share information about a product is the word-of-mouth (WOM). Maybe that is the older way to promote or harm a brand. The WOM is product information that individuals transmit to other individuals. This marketing is so useful because it can be more trustworthy than more formal marketing channels. Also, the WOM has a great social pressure to confirm these recommendations. One effective way to work the WOM is to build buzz around a product or service. Customers are more able to promote brands that create a story in an atmosphere of excitement and activities. Famous brands use the power of buzz on social media aligned with the WMO before launching a new brand on the market. If this buzz is associated to opinion leaders’ recommendations, the chance of a brand influencing consumer decision increases dramatically.
As mentioned early, the consumer behavior is a process. Probably, what was not mentioned is that this process is complex and, several times, more emotional than rational. For this reason, some large companies around the world put the customers at the center of decisions. It is what modern Marketing has called of the Customer-Centric Culture. By analyzing consumer data and including the customer at the center, companies can develop products that fit the customers’ needs and solve their problems. Also, Marketing can predict which kind of product their customer will need in the future, and when. If your company wants to know the consumer preferences to develop a more assertive marketing, there is no other way than analyzing consumer behavior.
Belch, G. E., & Belch, M. A. (2012). Advertising and Promotion – an Integrated Marketing Communications Perspective. McGraw-Hill/Irwin.
Del Hawkins, D., Kleiser, S. B., & Mothersbaugh, D. L. (2020). Consumer Behavior – Building Marketing Strategy. New York: Mc Graw Hill.