Learning, memory & other factors in consumer marketing


When people act, they learn. Learning involves changes in an individual’s behavior arising from experience. Most human behavior is learned. Learning theorists believe that learning is produced through the interplay of drives, stimuli, cues, responses, and reinforcement.

A drive is a strong internal stimulus impelling action. Cues are minor stimuli that determine when, where, and how a person responds. Suppose you buy a Dell computer. If your experience is rewarding your response to computers and Dell will be positively reinforced. Later on, when you want to buy a printer, you may assume that because Dell makes good computers, Dell also makes good printers. In other words, you generalize your response to similar stimuli. A countertendency to generalization is discrimination. Discrimination means that the person has learned to recognize differences in sets of similar stimuli and can adjust responses accordingly.

Learning theory teaches marketers that they can build demand for a product by associating it with strong drives, using motivating cues, and providing positive reinforcement. A new company can enter the market by appealing to the same drives that competitors use and by providing similar cue configurations, because buyers are more likely to transfer loyalty to similar brands (generalization); or the company might design its brand to appeal to a different set of drives and offer strong cue inducements to switch (discrimination).


All the information and experiences individuals encounter as they go through life can end up in their long-term memory. Cognitive psychologists distinguish between short-term memory (STM)–a temporary repository of information – and long-term memory (LTM)—a more permanent repository.

Most widely accepted views of long-terms memory structure involve some kind of associative model formulation. For example, the associative network memory model views LTM as consisting of a set of nodes and links. Nodes are stored information connected by links that vary in strength. Any type of information can be stored in the memory network, including information that is verbal, visual, abstract, or contextual.

A spreading activation process from node to node determines the extent of retrieval and what information can actually be recalled in any given situation. When a node becomes activated because external information is being encoded (e.g. when a person reads or hears a word or phrase) or internal information is retrieved from LTM (e.g. when person thinks about some concept), other nodes are also activated if they are sufficiently strongly associated with that node.

Consistent with the associative network memory model, consumer brand knowledge, in memory can be conceptualized as consisting of a brand node in memory with a variety of linked associations. The strengths and organization of these associations will be important determinants of the information that can be recalled about the brand.

Godiva Chocolatier’s success is based on the appeal of emotional brand associations in 1994, when the recession slowed sales of super premium goods, such as chocolates that sold for as much as $45 a pound, Godiva under went a marketing makeover in its retail stores. The idea was to define, through store design, what the experience of eating chocolate felt like sensual, indulgent, and even sinful. In its multimillion-dollar redesign Godiva created elegant Art Noveau style stores with bleached wood floors and wood and glass display cases. Customers were able to sample chocolates and find price lists instead of having to ask the salesperson the prices (which they might have found embarrassing). As redesigned “test� stores began to post significantly higher sales, Godiva rolled out the whole redesign and now the brand’s associations of luxurious indulgence and sensuality have become ingrained in consumers’ minds.

Companies such as Procter & Gamble like to create mental maps of consumers that depict their knowledge of a particular brand in terms of the key associations that are likely be triggered in a marketing setting and their relative strength, favorability, and uniqueness to consumers.

Brand associations consist of all brand-related thoughts, feelings, perceptions, images, experiences, beliefs, attitudes, and so on that become linked to the brand node. Marketing can be seen as making sure that consumers have the right types of product and service experiences such that the right brand knowledge structures are created and maintained in memory.