What influences a consumer’s purchasing behavior? A few factors that come to mind are brand awareness, product knowledge, advertisements, and references. To understand the depth of this intrinsic behavior, this paper explores the various factors that contribute to a consumer’s purchasing pattern. A very powerful tool that guides consumer behavior is word-of-mouth advertisement. Barry L. Bayus, writing in a column in Journal of Advertising Research had this to say on the indirect effects of marketing; “The business community is well aware of the power of word-of-mouth on consumers, and they are also equally aware how catastrophic it can be if used negatively” (Bayus, 1985). It is against this backdrop that organizations have to use their skills to guide consumers to them.
Today, the emphasis has shifted from influencing customers to buy a product that is available off the shelf, to understanding what consumers require and look to meet those requirements. The consumers of today are far more knowledgeable thanks
[Figure courtesy: Schiffman & Kanuk, 2000] largely to the advancement of science and technology, and the role of advertising agencies. Therefore, unlike the past, it would be illogical for manufacturers or service providers to ride on the popularity of their product or service and take for granted that they can survive competition. A number of factors guide a customer’s purchase preferences, and this is an area that all prospective business houses need to understand and master.
In order to maintain or develop a profitable business relationship with customers, organizations need to enhance their focus on relationship marketing. This is what influences or guides a consumer’s interest in a product or service. Relationship marketing involves the creation of a strong, lasting relationship, by which, consumers feel privileged to be associated and be a part of an organization’s success, as shown in the figure above. Relationship marketing involves identifying all those issues that affect a consumer’s decision-making behavior. Guiding customers in how they should buy a product or service involves a lot of processes, and the primary objective would be to question why do they need to buy? A number of researches have been carried out to understand the reasons why consumers buy something. It has also been proved that no too customers have the same need. So, when faced with such contrasting and complexities in identifying what could cause a customer to buy a product, it is essential to know what could drive their buying behavior. This is where relationship marketing comes to the fore.
Once an organization is able to understand the buying or influencing behavior of a section of consumers, they can then target them through a number of advertisement tools. The idea to a good advertising strategy follows the thinking process of a consumer and targets its efforts to satisfy them. These include the need for recognition and awareness; the necessity to search for information, and evaluation of alternatives; the purchase and post-purchase evaluation (Schiffman & Kanuk, 2000). By understanding a consumer’s buying decision process, organizations can develop their strategy in partnership with their advertising agency to guide their consumer’s through the various stages of their decision-making exercises. And, the consumer’s decision-making processes are evaluated based on what are the qualities in a product or service is it that consumers look for when they take decisions, what would their buying capacity, and what kind of service or product would influence them, and finally, what could be their post-purchase evaluations or concerns be. If an organization is able to address these issues and promote their product or service to substantiate their claim, they will be able to guide those consumers to them.
Guidance of consumers can take place in various forms in different industries. However, the guidance is an acceptable form by which the interests of consumers are addressed. There have been many cases where consumers have been misinformed or misguided by unscrupulous practitioners under the gullible propensity of public interest.
Consumers today have the choice to buy a product manufactured by a number of companies; each one promising something that the consumer needs. Added to this is the role of marketers who use innovative practices to influence the consumer’s purchase behavior. The effect of free samples for generating public interest, the ‘magnanimous’ discounts offered to consumers, incentives, memberships, and what notare all part of the advertising juggernaut to ‘lure’ consumers; not guide them. According to Shukla (2008), “psychological and brand awareness are extremely important among middle‐aged consumers in influencing their conspicuous consumption.” It is a fact that the middle-aged group are the most active consumers who have individuality to take decisions, and the power to buy. The psychological factor plays an important role in that middle-aged consumers generally are influenced by their peers, and they are more often than not, attracted by what their friends, neighbours, colleagues buy. It becomes a question of status, and they wouldn’t want to be seen to be different. Brand awareness is equally important, as it is the brand that creates the status. Considering these points, Shukla (2008) believes that product marketers are missing the plot, and are unaware of how they can market their brands; “knowing how consumers associate themselves with brands.”
In the UK, several attempts to protect consumers from food risks have been made, and most notably of these has been the creation of the Food Standards Agency (FSA) in 2000 (Rothstein, 2005). The FSA was created was given full autonomy to act independently to protect consumer interests and public health in relation to food, with the aim to put ‘consumers first,’ ‘openness,’ and ‘independence.’ The creation of FSA not only helped create an opportunity for consumers to demand better food, but it also ensured that food manufacturers and suppliers had to comply with food safety regulations in the UK, or face action. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF), which till the creation of the FSA, was looking after the promotion of food and agriculture development, was not able to handle both these portfolios. The clash of interests between the two sectors, led to the conflict of interests that ultimately led to the deterioration of quality of food. MAFF was guilty of maintaining excessive secrecy in its dealing with local government enforcement bodies and the Department of Health (Rothstein, 2005). This initiative by the UK government shows how and why, consumers should be guided. By showing that they care for the consumers and were willing to go the mile; so to say, to ensure protection of their interests, the UK government was ready to create an independent agency that would look into their needs and grievances. Thus, the government guides the interests of the consumers by addressing their most serious concern regarding food consumption. Once consumers understand that there is a dedicated agency that will ensure quality of food, consumers are bound to spend their money on it. The government, through its initiative, has managed to guide the interests of its people.
Another area where guiding consumers is addressed by the government, is in the health sector. The Consumer-Directed Theory of Empowerment (CDTE) is introduced to assist or guide people with physical disability (Kosciulek, 1999). The objective of CDTE is to develop and evaluate disability policies and rehabilitation services. The problem with people with physical disability is that they don’t have complete control over their decision-making abilities. CDTE allows “informed consumers to control the policies and practices that affect their lives directly” (Kosciulek, 1999). CDTE believes that an increased consumer-direction in disability policies and rehabilitation services will enhance those with disabilities to interact in the communities to which they belong, bestow them with more power that increases their confidence, and increase their quality of life.
If disabled people require personal satisfaction to lead a quality life, they should be able to take independent decisions that are supported by disability policies and rehabilitation services that are central to their empowerment. This empowerment provides the disabled person privileges that reflect their “autonomy, identity, and individuality,” says Condeluci & Gretz-Lasky (1987). The right to make independent choices, the right to express their preferences, and to exercise control over life issues are necessary to empower and enhance the quality of life of people with disabilities, says Kiernan & Hagner (1995).
As mentioned before, consumers rely on a number of inputs they can get from sources before they take a decision. Consumers depend on the various ‘influencers’ to understand and evaluate a product or service, and therefore, by generalizing these ‘influencers’ to attract consumers would be futile. Since these influencers make up a diversified audience with contrasting interests and needs, what organizations need to do is guide consumers through the process of evaluation of alternatives, educating them on their product or service, and supporting their claims with evidences will be the way to attract consumers.
The influence of advertisements on influencing consumer buying behavior is well researched. However, the idea of guiding consumers requires a far more serious study as a number of issues have to be considered. In addition to a quantitative research, qualitative research would also be required to evaluate the pain points that marketers need to focus on to guide consumers. Empirical research in this area is surprisingly limited, and the problem with qualitative research is that it has its limitations as well. In order to understand its relevance and its importance in consumer buying behaviour, it is imperative that marketers understand the pain points of consumers before they can guide consumers. Some of these were discussed in this paper, but further research will be required to form an opinion.
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