Consumer behaviour is a fascinating subject that all marketers need to understand in order to sell their products/services efficiently.
This topic incorporates many other subsets such as psychology, neuroscience and economics.
Simply because consumer behaviour is universal, it impacts many aspects and the external environment provides many factors that generate motivators for our subsequent behaviours.
Understanding consumer behaviour will be sure to aid your digital marketing & social media marketing strategies.
From utilise marketing techniques that aims to boost your target market through utilising market segmentation tactics. You will reap the rewards as an end result.
What is consumer behaviour?
Consumers can exert behaviours in many forms such as: a 4 year child nagging their mother for a certain brand of candy ranging all the way to a billionaire who is deciding on which yacht to purchase.
Nevermind what the circumstances are, as consumers we are forever looking to satisfy our needs and desires.
These can vary from hunger, love, social status and occasionally spiritual fulfilment.
These consumers are ‘brand-obsessed’. Meaning even though they may have the latest product that their favoured brand has released to the market but as soon as a new one is released then they swiftly scoop the new product (I refer to this behaviour as ‘Vulture-like').
Therefore, the study of consumer behaviour is concerned with how consumers act and behave during each stage of the consumer decision making process (DMP).
This model consists of: Problem recognition, information search, evaluation of alternatives, purchase, and post-purchase assessment.
Consumer behaviour is also concerned with understanding the personality, perceptions, needs and wants of the consumer, as these make up the individual characteristics of the consumer.
On the other hand, environmental factors such as culture and subculture can influence the decisions into why we buy.
In previous blogs & research, I derived my definition of consumer behaviour to be:
Consumer Behaviour Definition
“Consumer behaviour, as a concept, occurs subconsciously amongst consumers. The feelings are processed cognitively thus meaning we are not aware of such changes. We, as consumers, embark on the DMP with little to no knowledge.”
Antecedents of Consumer Behaviour Discipline
In order to truly understand consumer behaviour, we have to understand that this isn't a sole discipline.
Consumer behaviour derives from many other disciplines.
As a theoretical discipline that aids marketers and academics to understands consumer purchasing. It relies on the research and concepts from neuroscience, economics, anthropology, psychology and sociology.
As such, this article will probe further in depth into these subsets and antecedents of consumer behaviour in order for you to fully understand consumer behaviour.
A brief overlay of each antecedent will follow just to give you a flavour of each subset.
Psychology is the concentration of social sciences that endeavours to study mental processes of humans.
Psychology experts are tasked with studying and understanding how humans cognitive thoughts and subsequent actions.
As well as humans, consumer psychologists aim to unearth how attractive products are to the consumer, as each product and brand sustains a stigma or a perception about them.
Below is an outline of what study contributions of psychology can be related to the field of consumer behaviour studies:
- Goals and incentive
- Attitudes formation and change
Being a human, many of us can be easily influenced from group behaviour. Thus, it is crucial to understand the sociology of humans in order to gather a true comprehension of consumer behaviour.
Reflect on your teenage years for a moment, I am sure you felt that your behaviours and needs were a representation of your efforts to fit in amongst your peers.
From having the trendy clothing, to listening to the popular genre of music, to having the latest mobile device.
We are all guilty of such behaviour, it is human nature to seek approval from our peers.
Below indicates how studies within sociology can aid consumer behaviour studies:
- Self-image and role
- Class and culture
- Peer and reference groups
The economy is crucial when studying consumer behaviour.
Many macro-environmental factors have a say on a consumer’s subsequent shopping patterns and behaviours.
In academia terminology, economics is the level of study that focuses on demand.
Whether the transactions are based upon business to consumer (microeconomics) or the economy of the state in general (macroeconomics).
Microeconomics aids consumer behaviour as it can indicate rational aspects of consumer behaviour.
This field of study, is to gain a comprehension of what makes us human.
This discipline covers a depth of different elements from evolutions to homogenous communities and networks.
With the human race expanding for many years, there is a lot to study which is extremely complex to understand.
Neuroscience is a fascinating subject that concentrates on studying the human brain.
Within neuroscience entails to comprehend the relationships between the different functions of the brain and how they relate to our behaviours.
A focus on how consumer’s brains operate has opened a new sub-branch of this discipline known as 'Consumer Neuroscience’
How do we study consumers?
I talk a lot about how the contemporary consumer is fickle and their behaviours are changing due to macroenvironmental factors.
With this, the demand accumulates for valid, reliable, accessible, and practical data about the changing consumer motivations and behaviours.
However, this is not by all means an easy task to conduct.
You cannot simply ask a consumer how do their behaviours change, you wouldn’t get an honest and a true reflection of the changes that occur.
In order to aid this research, marketers and researchers turn to social and behavioural sciences.
Qualitative research is most popular for these tasks.
Whatever the research methodology, the main purpose of collecting such data is to understand how to study the behaviours of consumers. Thus leading to the implementation of a marketing strategy.
One method that marketers can gain an understanding of consumers is by using an observational approach.
Utilising an ethnography methodology within consumer research mainly involves observing evident consumer behaviours that are exerted in different scenarios.
This is often conducted in the consumer’s natural setting, by doing this the researcher can obtain more reflective results and are not influenced by paranoia that they are being watched.
Ethnography research allows the marketer to learn features of the consumer’s apparent lifestyle through the evidence that is exerted from the participants.
Another way that a marketer can employ an empirical research methodology is via in-home observations.
This is basically what it says on the tin, the researcher gains access in a participant’s home in order to research how a consumer exactly utilises products within their ‘safe-space’.
This methodology can subsequently be accompanied by other means of research including structured interviews, surveys or video cameras.
This can be conducted indirectly by a company who seeks a voluntary family whom are willing to have motion-detected cameras set up in their kitchen so they can assess how the participants behave without the burden of a researcher present.
Shadowing is an alternative methodology where researchers can ‘follow’ willing customers around whilst within a shopping environment. All the way through to consumption through to the divestment stages, with questions being asked to the participant throughout.
This research methodology is useful for marketers and researchers as can start to build an understanding and to identify problems that consumers witness throughout their shopping experience.
By doing this, retailers can then implement methods to improve the experience thus continuing to satisfy the decision making process.
Psychological research methodologies can provide researchers and marketers with scientific conclusions into how the consumers’ behaviours are forever changing.
This is the primary research method that I utilised for my MSc dissertation with the aid of Professor Timothy Hodgson, School of Social Sciences, University of Lincoln.
Within, this eye-tracking research we assessed how consumer attention and behaviours altered once presented with visual presentation of reduced products within the UK food retailing industry.
By doing this research it helped to reinforce existing contributions amongst the study of consumer behaviour, consumer psychology and consumer neuroscience.
Total dwell times and total fixation data were taken and assessed amongst products that were reduced versus those that were not reduced. An example of these can be seen below.
Other ways that we can implement psychological research methodologies to assess consumer behaviour is via functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and electroencephalogram (EEG) scans.
fMRI is used in consumer research as it measures brain activity through detecting fluctuations which is associated with blood flow however it does come with the perception that is solely used for medicine and neuroscience.
This is correct because it possesses the ability analyse a vast range of neural activity across the brain.
fMRI is less popular amongst neuromarketers as it can be stressing for consumer’s and the results will reflect this.
In addition to this, fMRI is far more dear than EEG and eye-tracking research. EEG research is more of a noninvasive test than fMRI which produces results from electrical patterns in the participant’s brain.
EEG is a more preferred methodology than fMRI as it is one of the most accurate form of consumer research when attempting to understanding the subconscious behaviours of consumers when exposed to different stimuli.
We can see the fixation map of the coleslaw with a reduced sticker vs. coleslaw without a reduced sticker above.
It can be seen that the price of the reduction sticker attracted a higher dwell time and fixation time showing that this is a main driver for the participant. Therefore, this can produce yet answer a lot more questions.
Interviews and Surveys
These quantitative research methodologies are the most common amongst researchers and marketers.
This is due to them being an efficient method of conducting and collecting information from a large sample.
Surveys also possess the benefit of being universal as they can be undertaken in the following formats: in-person, web, telephone or mail.
However, many of these methods still obtain one true burden!
Getting people willing to participant in them is a the hardest task within the research set.
You can more than likely relate to this, how often have you noticed researchers in shopping centres and on the street? Then completely avoided them?
I have to admit I have been on both sides of this, when I have utilised this research methodology you notice people avoiding you whereas I have personally ignored others that are researching.
Interviews whether these are structured or semi-structured can be a more insightful methodology in contrast to surveys.
This is because that more open-ended questions can be asked in an attempt to probe deeper into a certain matter.
However, these can be deemed as time-consuming in comparison to surveys. Structured interviews is a method that is commonly employed in consumer research.
The logic behind the differentiation of structured interviews compared to semi-structured interviews is that it possesses the ability of presenting interviews in the same fashion for each participants with the same questions asked in the same order.
This is performed in this manner as the results of the research can then be reliably aggregated and compared with ease.
Semi-structured interviews is another method that can be used to achieve similar objectives. This interview type in commonly popular within the social sciences.
Similarly to structured interviews, semi-structured ones have set questions that serve a purpose to the research nevertheless there is more flexibility with this variation of interviews.
Questions may be asked in a follow up to the participant’s response.
Focus groups, is another popular research method used by researchers and marketers.
The main goal of forming focus groups is to listen to a company’s customers.
To understand the changing behaviour of your consumers, what is more better than personally listening to them?
Within these focus groups feedback and opinions can be obtained as it is encouraged that each member of the focus group participates in an open discussion.
The topic is however pre-planned by the researchers. Researchers can select their sample size in order to give it breadth and depth and to ensure that a mixture of demographics are heard.
This research technique is employed to endeavour an understanding of cause-and-effect relationships through prudently manipulation of autonomous variables,
For example: advertisements, communication methods and product packaging design.
The autonomous variables are then used to determine how neural changes influences dependent variables, for instance: buying intent and behaviours.
Experiments can either be conducted in the field or in a laboratory.
Field experiments are organised to be held within the consumers’ natural setting whether that being instore or inhouse.
Field experiments can produce more valid results seeing as the researcher can gain a sense of how the participant acts naturally and without the influence of being in a laboratory environment.
Nevertheless, ethics come into the equation when undergoing field research.
Some researchers may wish to make their presence known to the consumers to act ethically however the rationale behind why some researchers opt against this is understandable.
When a researcher announces that they are observing their behaviours, then the data can be distorted as the consumer subconsciously does not exert their normal behaviours as they known they are being observed.
Laboratory experiments are undertaken in a physical environment where the variables of the experiments are controlled.
However, similarly to field experiments, the results are these tests can be distorted and not produced a true reflection as the consumer is aware that they are being watched.
In addition to this, laboratory experiments can be costly as you pay for the latest groundbreaking technology and the expertise of the operators.
Once a product has been purchased, the consumption stage is equally as important to understand.
Researchers can employ any of the aforementioned research methodologies to come to a conclusion however video cameras installed into homes is one that is favoured by marketers as lifestyles, values and societal trends can become apparent.
Spare a moment and have a thought for marketers who have been tasked with increasing unit sales for a Beko oven.
How can this conducted in a market like UK when most consumers already own a fully functional oven?
Implementing globalisation marketing strategies into less-developed markets is not viable seeing as labour costs are reduced here and people who can afford one would hire people to cook for them.
Price-slashing so households with less disposable income may be able to afford a new one, this could be one method to increase unit sales.
Through analysing consumption behaviour and patterns we can establish what pains consumers which their ovens and other consumable items.
Most consumers would say that their primary pain with their oven would be the lack of ability to self-cook or that there is little space inside the oven itself. In today’s modern society, consumers’ lifestyles can be considered immensely busy thus meaning they are “time-poor”.
If you are marketing these ovens for Beko, you may draw upon the consumption patterns analysis to conclude a way for you to increase unit sales.
This could be to design a modern oven and segment these to affluent and “time-poor” consumers who witness these pains.
How consumers have an impact on marketing
In an ever-changing marketplace, consumers are becoming even more fickle and less brand loyal.
For a marketer to be successful in their strategies to sell products then understanding the behaviours of their consumers is good practice.
The main purpose of a marketer is to satisfy the needs of the customer but they can only do so through understanding how the consumer can have an impact on their activities.
This trend has been paramount ever since Post-recession, consumers noticed their personal incomes decrease which evidently lead to less spending.
As can be seen below, the UK’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was witnessing continual growth pre-2008, peaking in excess of £445bn. However, in 2008 Q2 - 2009 Q2, the UK economy dropped -6.3% following six consecutive quarters of negative growth.
Since this period, marketers have had to develop new strategies to encourage more spending.
On the other hand, there is still a sense of uncertainty that remains.
Following the referendum on Brexit, if the UK were to leave to European Union (EU) with a no deal then there are fears that we will enter a modern recession due to loss of jobs.
Therefore, even though it may not be the fault of the consumer for the recessions and a no deal brexit.
It is these people that truly have an impact on the future of marketing.
By gaining a true understanding of how your consumer can impact your marketing strategies you can target them in the right place and in a more cost-effective manner.
Something that small-medium enterprises with smaller budgets struggle to compete.