Why consumer behaviour and an understanding of such processes is useful from the perspective of the marketer
Introduction Marketers in today's business environment are presented with the particular challenge of circumventing conflicted messaging, over-saturation of marketing initiatives, and consumer hesitation and guarded behaviour in order to achieve their objectives of enhancing long term brand loyalty and encouraging product purchases. While there are various environmental stimuli which may influence consumer behaviour, the most significant affectation comes from psychological influences associated with marketing communication and personal interpretation of brand and product value. By expanding this value beyond base level interpretation, marketers are able to influence consumer behaviour and redirect purchases over extended periods of time. In order to achieve such standards, however, it is essential that marketers understand what behaviour may be influenced and in what ways this influence may be affected. Undeniably, the product itself has particular importance in this process; however, the result of a product-based marketing campaign may not demonstrate the value desired by a diverse consumer population. Therefore, the achievement of key consumer development and loyalty objectives is based on investigation and analysis of past, present, and future consumer behaviour. This investigation seeks to expand upon the relationship between consumer behaviour and marketing, highlighting those mechanisms that can contribute to more effective marketing practices. A variety of academic theories and empirical studies have been compiled and analysed over the following section and models of consumer behaviour analysis and marketing programme development will be highlighted. Ultimately, conclusions will be drawn in which effective marketing is directly affected by consumer behaviour, and more effective means of communication and consumer encouragement are the direct result of cognitive stimuli. From both scientific and market perspectives, the ability to influence consumer behaviour is directly reliant upon an understanding of the intrinsic and extrinsic motivation which the majority of consumers within a given market or business sector exhibit. By modelling such motivations and establishing value associated with a particular brand or product, marketers will be able to sustain consumer loyalty over the lifecycle of a product and compete more effectively within marketplaces that are highly saturated.
Consumer Behaviour A milestone definition of marketing by Peter Drucker (1999) would firmly establish the relative value and importance of consumer behaviour in effective marketing, arguing that marketing is ‘the whole business seen from the point of view of its final product, that is, from the customer's point of view' (58). Marketing, therefore, becomes a composite of both pre-purchase consumer behaviour interpretation and forecasting and post-purchase behavioural analysis. In this way, a rapid increase in consumption over a short period of time may be viewed as an opportunity to develop a broader, loyal consumer base and marketing tactics must change to accommodate such an opportunity. While early marketing efforts were based on communicating new and diverse products with a growing class of discerning consumers, Raaij et al. (2001:60) argue that marketing communication has since been repurposed in order to establish brand loyalty and reinforce consumer perceptions of value. In effect, marketers attempt to influence consumer behaviour through their presentation of a strategic, targeted marketing message, establishing the unique value of a given product or brand that will ensure future purchasing loyalty. In his empirical analysis of consumer behaviour and its affectation by marketing initiatives, Foxall (1992:397-98) argues that marketing interventions provide reinforcement of the anticipated result or features of a given product while simultaneously modifying the scope of consumer settings (i.e. purchase intent, brand loyalty, etc.). Such reinforcement is affected through a variety of channels including product features, strategic delays in provision, and modulation of information exchange and messaging (Foxall, 1992:398). Ultimately, the marketer assumes responsibility for a psychological connection between a particular brand or product and the consumer, strategically directing communications in order to improve a cognitive connection that can potentially influence consumer behaviour. Foxall (1992:398) addresses key concerns surrounding the effectiveness of such communication, but indicates that consumer behaviour has a direct impact on marketing strategies, the result of a measurable need for reinforcement and connection. As the internet age continues to challenge marketers to consider more diverse relationship formats in the online environment, behavioural analysis has quickly become an effective means of programme development and modulation. From trust to satisfaction to site navigability, Taylor and Strutton (2010:954) have compiled widespread academic evidence that investigates various behavioural features that are frequently evaluated by marketers seeking to enhance their online presence and consumer loyalty. Consumer satisfaction, for example, was found to have a direct impact on trust and brand loyalty in addition to the perceived value of a given product, potentially influencing future purchasing decisions or commitments (Taylor and Strutton, 2010:954). While such concerns are more traditional in nature, their applicability within an online purchasing environment is undeniable, and without marketer intervention and a strategic reinforcement of value, there is a potential that future purchases will be impacted. Yet such interventions require a concise and accurate understanding of consumer behaviour in order to effectively provide value-oriented reinforcement and messaging that is directly related to consumer value systems. Aside from the electronic nature of online consumption, the diversification of communication channels and its impact on consumer behaviour in the past decade has had direct and remarkable influences purchasing decisions, brand loyalty, and consumer commitment. Anton et al. (2007:515) argue that as consumer access to information, feedback, and peer reviews has increased, consumers have increasingly become intolerant to inconsistency and mediocrity, the result of exposure to choice. Essentially the consumer right to choose continues to impact behaviour and future purchasing considerations, as substitute products and competitive messaging have a direct impact on interpretation and loyalty. By communicating added value and fostering a stable and sustainable relationship, Anton et al. (2007:516) suggest that marketers are able to influence consumer switching behaviour and restrict the influence of competitive initiatives. The affectation provided by strategic marketing communication is essentially a direct link to consumer preferences and purchasing models, as psychological affectation becomes a means of sustaining a particular, idealised behaviour. The role between consumer behaviour and marketing is based on adaptation, a concept that is oftentimes difficult to implement within a diverse, competitive environment as firms attempt to strategically manage resources and reduce corporate excess. Thrassou and Vrontis (2009:499) argue that the consumer behaviour is the most valuable information conduit for marketers as they attempt to navigate market changes, competitive influences, and the consumer buying cycle. From channel preferences (i.e. television, magazine, etc.) to message content, the consumer response to various initiatives should be predictable, a function of extensive market research and behavioural analysis (2009:510). Marketing communications, as a strategic, value-added enterprise for modern organisations has shifted in its purpose, embracing the demonstration and modelling of product value within the context of consumer preferences, as opposed to past models of feature presentation, differentiation, etc (2009:516). Essentially, the role of the consumer has become one of exchange and communication, providing marketers with information necessary to evolve their messaging, models, and marketing channels. While there is inherent value in strategic messaging, the targeted nature of such communication must be linked to key stimuli which inspire consumer behaviour. Chiu et al. (2005:1682) evaluate such phenomena from a more scientific perspective, suggest that the stimulus-organism-response (SOR) paradigm provides evidence the underlying psychological response that can be expected from consumers. Essentially, the relational bonding activities by a firm (stimulus) can have a measurable impact on consumers' value perceptions (organism), whereby their purchase behaviours may be influenced (response) (Chiu et al., 2005:1682). Within such a model, it is evident that the consumer perception of value has a direct influence on their subjective response to stimuli from marketers, but in order to ensure that such responses are consistent with what the marketing initiative had intended, marketers must understand consumer perceptions and their impact on behaviour. Chiu et al. (2005:1687) used empirical data to model the influence which value perceptions can have on switching behaviour amongst consumers, suggesting that dissatisfaction in general cannot be overcome through messaging or branding alone. Instead, there is a measurable link between the depth of the relationship between a given brand and its consumers which can allow marketers to overcome dissatisfaction and achieve a renewed state of trust. Such relational bonding focuses on the inherent value of a given product to the consumer in relation to their wants and needs, establishing a connection between fulfilment and the particular product in which there is an inherent purchasing response when considering that particular need. When considering the decision making process of consumers, there tangible rewards which must be considered for picking a particular brand or product. De Wulf and Okerken-Schroder (2003:97), for example, have suggested that at the first level of relationship marketing, basic, tangible rewards are identified including cost savings and pricing incentives which provide consumers with a more general value based on financial concerns. More dynamic rewards also focus on intrinsic value in which rewards systems connect consumers and products according to an extended, implied position of loyalty. From rewards coupons to frequent flyer programmes to loyalty bonuses, the long term achievement of reward for consumers can lead them to remain loyal to a particular brand, as switching behaviour would ultimately have a measurable consequence for their rewards earnings (De Wulf and Okerken-Schroder, 2003:97). Such second tier rewards systems establish a long term relationship between the consumer and the brand, ultimately defining consumer participation within the programme in spite of other value challenges or product inconsistencies. Oftentimes the value of understanding consumer behaviour can provide marketers with the information necessary to repurpose their products, meeting consumer needs without directly impacting the product or brand itself. Fine (2010) presents evidence of the information value associated with purchase behaviour, as consumers self-actualise particular objectives and needs through consumptive actions. From luxury items to particular brands, the decision to purchase a particular product is frequently based on deeper psychological influences, oftentimes influencing brand loyalty according to psycho-social interpretation of product value (Fine, 2010:244). While such peer-based acknowledgement of value can be identified through survey and research, information surrounding consumer behaviour and brand preferences is much more valuable when considering rebranding efforts and consumer communication. Ultimately, Fine (2010:245) argues that it is the achievement of status through the purchase of a luxury or personally valuable brand that can provide consumers with a level of satisfaction that is linked to their future purchase intentions. As previously discussed, dissatisfaction or product failure can ultimately lead to reduced value within this relationship and dissolve the psychological connection. Consumer behaviour is both time sensitive and immediate, experiencing influences according to various stimuli over time. Kowatsch and Maas (2010:702) have modelled the impact which direct communication can have on consumer behaviour during their purchasing process, using an in-store, mobile recommendation agent (MRA) to provide information and feedback for consumers as they shop. The inherent value of such decision assistance systems was demonstrated from a practical perspective, allowing consumers to access additional product data that might have otherwise remained unavailable. The authors also determined that the effectiveness of the system (MRA) had a measurable impact on consumer purchasing behaviour, suggesting that the personal value of the information and the means in which it was communicated could determine whether or not the consumer would engage in the purchase (Kowatsch and Maass, 2010:702). These findings also have implications for more practical marketing applications, as information exchange during the consumption process can have different influences on consumer behaviour than information exchanged over a more extended period of time. Whether communicated at the point of purchase or over other channels, the marketing message can have a direct impact on consumer behaviour. Research on exploratory buying behaviour has been conducted by Baumgartner and Steenkamp (1996:132), demonstrating how psychological affectation can ultimately lead to consumers decision to purchase, even without original experience with a particular product. The authors argue that there are a host of unique, individual-specific traits which can lead to differences in product purchasing behaviour, the result of interpretation of stimuli and risk taking proclivity (Baumgartner and Steenkamp (1996:131). In order to chase consumers motivated by curiosity or by particular incentives, the authors suggest that marketers must explore the psychological implications of their particular messaging, potentially resulting in a greater sales opportunity. Taking advantage of promotional campaigns and marketing to specific niche consumers are some methods in which consumer behaviour can be influenced by particular psychological undercurrents within a singular marketing mix. The authors also suggested that there may not be a large difference in consumption behaviour amongst individuals with similar cultural ties, as the influence of marketing campaigns may resonate universally amongst these individuals (Baumgartner and Steenkamp, 1996:134). Regardless of affectation, such findings do have important implications when considering the inherent value of marketing campaigns in affecting consumer purchasing behaviour. While marketing initiatives are frequently associated with consumer purchasing behaviour, there are underlying variables related to such consumption that must also be addressed in order to encapsulate the value of a particular product or brand for consumers. Demirdijian and Senguder (2004), for example, have investigated products from a psychological perspective, highlighting key genetic characteristics that influence behaviour and programme future purchasing behaviour. Whether linked to an individual's personal preferences or actually a function of internal chemical stimuli, the researchers suggest that there are more scientific reasons for consumer behaviour that can ultimately be determined, modelled, and used in product marketing (Demirdijian and Senguder , 2004:351). From the interpretation of a particular taste to the analysis of various sensations associated with fabric, analysts are able to determine and synthesise a future intent to purchase. While such product development can be used for consumer influence, it can also be used to generate data relevant to the development of those products and services that have greater value to consumers over the long term. While value-added positioning can be achieved through market research, scientific analysis of consumer behaviour will also produce a means of defining those more subversive value components that might otherwise not be identified, from product packaging to secondary uses to the inherent status perceptions held by consumers during use.
Conclusions This analysis began with a simple question of why consumer behaviour and an understanding of such processes is useful from the perspective of the marketer. There were a variety of findings uncovered over the course of this research, the majority of which establish some form of affectation according to psychological influences and messaging stimuli. Inherently linked to brand loyalty and the consumer commitment to the product or brand over time, the means of reducing switching behaviours within extremely saturated marketplaces are directly afforded by marketing communication. The effectiveness of such communication, however, can have the desired (or opposite) result on sustaining consumer loyalty over an extended period of time. While more traditional marketing models focused on product features and competitive positioning of particular brands or products, modern marketing emphasises the relationship between consumer behaviour and value. By enhancing a product's value, consumers are encouraged to engage in the buying process and are more likely to maintain personal investment in a product over an extended period of time. There are several implications associated with this research and this analysis of various academic perspectives within this field. First, there is a psychological link between purchase and loyalty. Where cognitive interpretation of marketing messages may have influence on purchasing behaviour over the long term, exploratory consumption may result from proper stimulation and more dynamic brand messaging early in the buying cycle. It is this internalisation of intent which ultimately allows marketers to attract a larger base of consumers, even in a marketplace where there are various substitute products. In order to identify the best fit communication strategy, marketers are oftentimes forced to rely on trial and error or unsupported market research. By modelling particular behaviour patterns, however, associated with exploratory buying, these firms and individuals may be able to predict consumer responses to more dynamic marketing campaigns. From rewards programmes to creative branding to niche marketing, the ability to communicate with consumers according to their personal preferences and their understanding of intrinsic an extrinsic product value is invaluable and can sustain a product's market expansion over the long term. This research has demonstrated that consumer behaviour and marketing are undeniably linked, and through the understanding of the former, the latter may be more appropriately defined.
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