Buyer decisions are strongly influenced by variables like cultural and social factors, personal factors like demographics, self-concepts, lifestyles and personality.
Culture refers to a set of values, traditions, or beliefs, which guide the individual’s behaviour. In a way, culture is normative as it prescribes norms of acceptable human behaviour. Put in other words, culture refers to values, ideas, attitudes and other meaningful symbols created by people to shape human behaviour and the artefacts of that behaviour transmitted from one generation to another. It has both the abstract and material dimensions. The abstract dimensions affect consumer preferences abstract elements of culture include values, attitudes, ideas, personality types, and summary constructs like religion. Material components on the other hand can be described as cultural artefacts or the material manifestation of culture. For example, beef is not readily accepted in Hindu society and likewise pork in Muslim society. It is important to understand, that culture influences human attitudes and behaviour. Some of the attitudes and behaviour influenced by culture are:
- sense of self and space
- communication and language
- dress and appearance
- food and eating habits
- time and time consciousness
- relationships (family, organizations, government and so on)
- values and norms
- beliefs and attitudes
- mental processes and learning
- work habits and practices,
Values are shared beliefs or group norms internalized by individuals, perhaps with some modifications. These lay down the behaviour rules for an individual member of the group. Values, in any culture, are developed through the process of socialization and acculturation. Refusing beef, onions, or garlic by a Hindu buyer is a value developed through socialization. The use of a fork or knife to eat food by an Indian family is a value acquired through acculturation.
Values are transmitted through social institutions like family, religious institutions and schools and also through early lifetime experiences. Values and culture are not static concepts. They are dynamic. Today, values are changing in Indian society, largely due to the influence of electronic media. Generational change is today occurring because the younger consumers are acquiring new values and information through the Internet and foreign television channels. On the other hands, as individuals grow old, their values too change. For example, from a risk taker to risk aversion is a very common change that takes place as individuals grow old. In any culture, there are sub-cultures that also exist. These are different nationalities, religious and geographic groups. For example, in the Indian culture, we have Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Jews, and Sikhs, existing as religious sub-cultures. Likewise, behaviour patterns of Hindus living in the North and the South differ. A marketer needs to be aware of these cultural and sub-cultural influences on consumer preferences. These will affect his brand, packaging advertising, sales promotion, and even distribution decisions:
According to Sheth, Newman, and Gross following are the five consumption values that customers look for in any product or service:
- Functional value
- Conditional value
- Social value
- Emotional value
- Knowledge value
These multiple values are considered to be independent of each other and influence consumer choices as well as brands and other elements of consumer choice.
Man is a social creature. Hence, his or her behaviour is greatly influenced by social factors like reference group pressures. Reference group here refers to peers, relatives, neighbours, and friends. Often, a product succeeds or fails in a market because of these influences. For example, strong positive word of mouth publicity will invariably lead a brand to higher market shares. As we shall see on Product Policy, a new product’s chances of success are substantially improved, when it has the support of buyers who are perceived as opinion leaders by the target market. Diffusion of an innovation or a new product idea in a society is essentially a trickle down phenomena from opinion leaders to others who may be perceived as opinion leaders by to next group of customers.
Opinion leadership is the process through which a person or group, called the opinion leader, influences the actions, views, and attitudes of others. This influence may be oral and of an informal nature, and is often supported by actions that imitate those of the opinion leader. The informal flow of consumer related influence between two people is called word of mouth communication. Word of mouth implies personal, face to face or telephone communication. Opinion leaders are often considered sources of highly credible and valid information, as they are supposed to be neutral about product information. Therefore, the information that they transfer is considered valuable.
Opinion leaders in any society could be any or all the following:
- Celebrities – film, sports, social, corporate
- Experts – professionals
- Common man
- Executive/ Employee
- Spokesperson / salesman
Opinion leaders fulfill a number of needs for opinion receivers:
- they provide new product or new usage information.
- they reduce the risk of opinion seekers by providing first-hand information about a specific product or brand.
- they reduce the search time entailed in the identification of a needed product/ services.
Today, companies have identified celebrities as their brand ambassadors. The purpose of doing so, is to communicate brand values through individuals who are perceived by society as personally possessing them.