Restatement of Problem
The topic of consumer buying behavior has researched by a number of scholars, and each one of them has illustrated what are the possible factors that influence or guide consumer behavior. Therefore, when organizations plan their strategies to ‘guide’ consumers, they do so by studying these factors and using them to design and market their products or services. This involves the participation of all stakeholders in the planning and strategizing process. The stakeholders could include the design team, the production team, finance, marketing, purchase and stores to name a few, and it is the collective effort of these stakeholders that finally give the final product or service a shape that consumers seek. Each stakeholder has a different view of what they foresee as the requirement of the consumer, and by putting their thoughts across the board, they evaluate the various possible solutions that they can successfully address, and then, choose the best option acceptable to all and start the production process. This way, the change brought about by the brain-storming session brings out the best possible solution to their problem in addressing their consumer’s needs. As consumers have no fixed need, and their needs change with time, organizations are forced to make changes to meet the changing needs of consumers.
In business, strategy is based on consumers’ needs, and a product or service targeting that need is based on the product’s or service’s life-cycle. Any product or service follows a lifecycle, where an initial curve, growing slowly comes to signify the growing awareness and acceptance of the product or service. Gradually, the graph continues to climb as the product has now found acceptance and grown in popularity. The graph continues to climb till it finally settles down and begins a gradual fall. The fall is when either a new product or service is introduced into the market, or the product has reached a saturation point. The decline in the demand of the product or services influences the organizational stakeholders to plan their next step to understand what is available in the market and what consumers are now seeking. Almost all products or services follow a similar lifecycle, with a few having the ignominy of a shorter life cycle, and a handful being a monopoly. The early stage of the lifecycle of a product is the testing period. This is the period when stakeholders get together to brain-storm, and find a solution to a problem arising out of new consumer needs. A number of questions are raised and answered regarding new ideas and product designs. Once a mutually acceptable solution is found, the design takes over to design the product. The design is then tested to assess its acceptability. Once this is approved by the board, the design is then used to develop a prototype. The prototype is then put through field tests, which includes getting feedback from a handful of people who test it for its reliability. Next is the awareness drive, where the product is moved to the market to test it in real-time environment. Once the product receives a positive response, the product is mass produced and launched into the market. The goal of the product is to address the needs of consumers and the organization needs to create the awareness of the product by following certain steps.
The goal of this study is to understand consumer buying behaviour so that organizations can use this input to guide and compete at the highest level in the market. The process would involve the brain-storming sessions involving a project manager at the helm of the process and who would take the lead and facilitate the project from beginning to end. It would be the responsibility of the project manager to ensure that all others involved in the brain-storming process are responsible and attend the sessions from the beginning to the end. The implementation for this plan is expected to take roughly four months depending on the product.
- Evaluate current practices or market trend.
- Understand the requirements necessary to change the present difficulties
- Present proposal to management for approval
- Schedule meeting with management and other board members.
- Schedule first meeting with stakeholders which include the design team, the marketing team headed by the marketing manager, the publicity manager, and the finance manager
- The first and second brain-storming sessions will include the finance manager, the design team, the production manager, and the project manager
- The third round of brain-storming sessions culminate in the approval of the design and budget
- The production team and design team converge and begin work
- The first phase of the prototype development takes place
- The prototype is ready for test
- Modifications based on feedbacks
- Publicity manager is involved in market awareness drive
- Product is launched in the market
Success of this study is dependent on understanding what guides a consumer is obtained. The success of the project depends on the feedbacks and the final product approved by the stakeholders. The project manager will monitor the process from its inception to its launch, and ensure that the process moves forward without hiccups. This will be challenging as it is difficult to bring all the major stakeholders to the drawing board for brain-storming sessions periodically. Therefore, the project manager has to play a proactive role in scheduling and motivating the team to meet and discuss the needs in a predefined schedule. The success of the project is obtained when the product meets the desired results and consumers show their loyalty toward the product.
Communication forms a major link between marketers and consumers, and between consumers and their socio-cultural environments. Requesting consumers for a feedback on what they feel about their organization’s product or service will set in motion the process of understanding consumers’ needs. This can be done by either talking to them directly, or by communicating with them through email or mailers. As mentioned in the earlier paper, this research study is exploratory, and exploratory studies are used to find out “what is happening; to seek new insights; to ask questions and to assess phenomena in a new light,” says Robson (2002). It is particularly useful to those who want to clarify or understand a problem. There are three ways of conducting an exploratory research; quantitative research which includes the search for relevant literature; qualitative research, where interviews are conducted with ‘experts’ in the subject, and interviews are conducted with focus groups. A number of literatures have already been studied and these have been included in the reference list. As the socio-cultural environment influences consumer thoughts, the comments of friends, family members, and colleagues are valuable data that can be used to understand a consumer’s behavior. Consumers are easy influenced by their close associates; consumers would rather turn to their friends and family members for opinion on a product or service before they try it. Therefore, the person who offers the advice becomes influential. Researchers have found that word-of-mouth influence is not expressed in a hierarchical pattern and that, it is likely to occur when consumer have little knowledge about a particular product or service because of which they lack the ability to evaluate the product or service; there are strong social ties between the influential and consumer, and there is a need for social approval (Engel, Blackwell & Miniard, 1993). Personal influence often plays an important role in consumer decision making, especially when there are high levels of involvement and perceived risks, and the product or service has public visibility. The best way to address these concerns is through word-of-mouth communication.
A number of companies offer its PSP owners in the world access to video blogs as an incentive for purchase of their product or services, and these video blogs included blogs from advertised settings, podcasts of interviews and commentary, written blog entries, extensive behind-the-scenes footage and high-quality photography. In addition to these, the companies also provide a section where consumers can chat with their company officials. This is one novel way for organizations to understand consumer behaviour. This platform also allows organizations to guide consumers’ behaviour. Another extremely important method that can be used to guide consumers is the word-of-mouth marketing. WOM influences short-term and long-term judgments, and this influence is greater when a consumer faces a predicament or is faced with a communication from an expert (Bone, 1995). The following figure illustrates a comprehensive communications model that details the basic communication elements (Schifmann and Kanuk, 2000):
In order to capture the imagination of consumers, organizations, through their publicity managers, marketing managers, and customer service personnel, need to reach out to consumers. The process cannot be done in a week or two, but has to be over a period of time. No consumer will engage in personal discussions unless they are confident or well-known to the other, and so, the process of getting to one another should be given time to develop. In most cases, a relationship can be built after a consumer visits a showroom or office, and the process can be initiated from the second day of the visit itself, as consumers are likely to forget their visit to a place very shortly. The time to develop a personal rapport with consumers will take a month or two, and this period will be the most crucial period for organizations to develop their guidance strategy. During the two weeks, public relations, marketing, and customer service should interact with consumers at a personal level to draw their interest and confidence. Once they do so successfully, the organization can expect these consumers to be guided by them.
As mentioned earlier, once organizations are able to elicit response to their mailers or blogs, consumers are likely to remember them for a long time. The frequent blogs will keep consumers happy and this will develop into a confidence-building exercise. Once consumers respond to blogs, they are sure to get more and more involved with the organization and gradually ‘reveal’ the secrets of their decision making behavior. It would be prudent to try and elicit such information in one or two sessions, and should be done gradually; step-by-step, so that consumers don’t feel that they are being forced to reveal their buying behavior. Questions that ask consumers of their preferences, their likes and dislikes, what made them buy something from them, and would they choose to visit them soon, could be asked casually, so as not to put them on the defensive. Asking them about their children’s, parents, friends preferences will also help understand consumers. Blogs are extremely powerful, and this is why organizations should choose to have blogs put online for their consumers to respond to. The success of their initiative to interact and draw their consumer’s confidence can be gauged by the number and frequency of responses to blogs or mailers. The more frequent the blogs, the closer is the consumer to the organization. Similarly, talking to them and their friends and colleagues will only increase their acceptance, and this will help organizations understand and plan their strategy to guide consumers’ buying behavior.
As any business proposal requires a formal estimate, the budget allocation can be anywhere from $5000 to $20,000 for a year. In order to create the awareness and publicity, the organization can strategically use four distinct methods of marketing; word of mouth or personal selling, advertising in the local newspapers and magazines, and the internet. Advertisement costs money, and advertising costs can overrun business strategies, and so, efforts should be to target direct marketing initiatives to minimize costs and improve its effectiveness. To gain customers’ confidence, advertising through local newspapers, delivery of discount coupons and notices on new arrivals at stores can be posted through email. Regular advertisements in local newspapers will also ensure consumers remain in touch with the organization. Celebrating family events by sending greeting cards will also effectively create a personal bond. GCI’s Cable television has local commercials, and organizations could get a commercial done for $400 or less, and use it throughout the year. Similarly, local commercials on cable are cost effective and one may air 100 spots per month for about $500 as a special custom package. On a budget of $50.00 per month, or $600 a year, customer comment cards can be sent to them once or twice a month to collect feedbacks on various topics so that they can build a strong relationship with them. Having the customer feedback and interaction will help with various promotions. To save some money, the cards can be made on a personal computer with ink cartridges costing approximately $52.00 and a case of paper $28.00.
Long-Term Plan and Implementation
As discussed in the product life-cycle, the marketing, and the public relations teams need to constantly keep watch on market developments, while at the same time, keep track of their consumer’s reaction to market trends. By remaining in contact with consumers, organizations will be able to assess the behavior of consumers in the market, and develop their own strategy to counter any fluctuations happening in consumer visits to their showrooms. Talking to them, writing to them, and interacting with them will help organizations understand the mood and behavior of consumers and the feedback can be used by them to develop their strategy to guide consumers to them. This is more important in the long run, as most products or services become obsolete in 2-3 years from the time of launch, and so, they need to keep pace with change and that change can only be understood from consumers.
Contingency Planning & Decision-Points
While there are sure to be a number of issues among the stakeholders when it comes to designing and implementing strategies to guide consumers based on their preferences and needs, it is also advantageous to have brain-storming exercises among the group. Such exercises gives the group a list the possible alternatives that they can evaluate to find the best possible solution to their problem. The problem is to understand what guides consumers and by asking questions like, what is the most popular brand or product available in the market today? Why do consumers buy a particular product or service? How frequently do consumers buy a particular product or service, and on what basis do they buy a particular product or service, and so on, organizational stakeholders can refine their search for answers and then focus on those points to develop their own product or service.
The most important aspect of this research is the interview. An unbiased response to the dissertation can be formulated by asking respondents intelligent questions. List of issues to be addressed or questions to be asked in this research is devised using an interview guide. This can be generated from existing literature and discussions with colleagues. The formulations of the questions are specific and the emphasis is more on the view of the respondents. The questions will follow a logical sequence of ‘order-structure-value’, to extract important information. Before the interview, each respondent is provided with a written declaration on why this interview is being conducted and given the liberty to sign and participate in the interview or leave without signing it.
Respondents: Focus Group: 6 Respondents, Age: 19-34 years, Occupation: entrepreneur-John, employee-Williams, housewife-Susan, undergraduate student-Sally, university lecturer-Philip, manager-Marcus.
Q. What in your opinion is the role of mobile phones today?
John: For me, my mobile phone is a convenient tool to communicate and keep in touch with business associates.
Williams: For me, my mobile phone helps me stay connected with friends and family.
Sally: For me, staying in touch with friends has never been easier. I dread to think what life would be without a mobile phone.
Q. What influences your buying behaviour? I meando you have any specific reason for buying a particular brand?
John: I buy a phone based on my needs, and consult my friends before making a choice.
Williams: I just need a phone to communicate. Nothing in particular, but yes, price matters.
Susan: I just need a phone to communicate. I am not very particular about brands.
Sally: I keep abreast of what my friends have and so, am definitely influenced by what kind of phone they have.
Philip: I find it user-friendly.
Marcus: My loyalty to the brand.
Q. How would you compare it to other brands?
John: I have no idea, but I do know what I want and have it in my phone.
Williams: No idea.
Susan: No idea.
Sally: My Apple iPhone 6 Plus smartphone has a 5.50-inch 1080x1920 display alongside 1GB RAM and 8-megapixel rear camera. Its features are definitely better than that of Nokia, Samsung Galaxy and Motorola.
Philip: Nokia is less complicated and is user-friendly, unlike some of the other brands in the market.
Marcus: I think I share my views with Philip.
Q. What or who influenced you in buying your phone?
John: A friend of mine.
Williams: My colleague.
Susan: My husband.
Sally: My friends.
Philip: I was introduced to Nokia by a friend of mine years ago. Since then, I have always remained loyal to Nokia.
Marcus: I like the feel of Nokia and Motorola.
Q. Do you get everything you want from it?
John: Yes, I do.
Q. Have you tried other brands?
Q. What would you say is the most popular mobile phone brand?
John: Sony Xperia Z3, I guess.
Susan: Apple iPhone?
Sally: Apple iPhone 6 Plus?
Philip: No idea.
Marcus: Motorola Moto G?
Q. Do you keep or stick to a certain brand?
John: No, not really.
Q. What differentiates your phone from others Brands?
John: I really don’t know.
Williams: No idea.
Susan: No idea.
Sally: I guess it’s the features.
Philip: Just the name I guess.
Q. So it’s the features that make the difference?
John: I really don’t know.
Williams: No idea.
Susan: No idea.
Sally: Yes, it is.
Philip: No idea.
Q. What comes to mind when you hear about your phone?
John: I made the right choice.
Williams: A phone that is user-friendly and has all the required features.
Susan: No idea.
Sally: The best there is.
Philip: Reliability and trustworthy.
Marcus: A proud owner.
Q. Are you influenced by advertisements?
Q. Do these advertisements make you want to buy that product?
John: To a certain extent.
Sally: I guess so.
Q. Just before buying a mobile phone, would you consider comparing the advantages and disadvantages with other brands?
John: To a certain extent.
Sally: I guess so.
Q. What would you say were the reasons for buying this brand? Was it something emotional, or was it because of its attractive price offer; perhaps it must have been some external factor such as your friends or family, or simply because you knew the product by heart?
John: Price, design and features
Sally: It is definitely my friends.
Marcus: Price, and features.
Q. If you were in your friend’s position, and wanted to advice a friend about your mobile phone, what would be your immediate reaction, and what would you do?
John: I am happy with its features and price.
Williams: It is affordable and good.
Susan: I am happy with my phone.
Sally: Buy the Apple iPhone 6 Plus smartphone, because it has all the features and looks that speaks of sophistication and class.
Philip: Worth the money.
Marcus: I have no complaints.
Q. Ladies and gentlemen, to conclude this session, I would like to ask one final question. If you were given the option of replacing your existing mobile phone with another free-of-cost, which brand would you choose?
John: No idea.
Williams: Apple iPhone 6.
Susan: Samsung Galaxy.
Sally: I’ll keep this one itself.
Philip: Apple iPhone 6 Plus smartphone.
Marcus: Apple iPhone 6 Plus smartphone. .
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