External Variables

The external environment depicted in the outer circle is made up of six specific influences and one catch all grouping for all other factors. The six specific influences are culture, subculture, social class, social group, family and personal influences.

The concept of culture has been characterized as that complex whole that includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, custom and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society. As such, it provides a basis for people in our society place on time and punctuality forms the basis for positive consumer reactions to such market offerings as fast food franchisers express checkout lanes at supermarkets, and quartz watches.

The emphasis is on segments of a given culture that have values, customs, traditions, and other ways of behaving that are unique and that distinguish them from others sharing the same cultural heritage. These aspects of uniqueness can have significant implications for the understanding of consumers and the development of successful marketing strategies. Subcultures distinguished on the basis of age and ethnic dimensions receive particular attention.

The term social stratification refers to the process by which people in a society rank one another into different social positions. The result is a hierarchy often referred to as a set of social classes. People within a given social class tend to share beliefs, values, and methods of behaving. They also tend to associate more closely with one another than with people from different social classes. The value, wants and interactions that develop in these distinct groupings tend to have significant influences on consumers. They affect such basic factors as membership in a group, choice of neighborhoods, appreciation of certain styles, and choice of places to shop.

A social group can be viewed as a collection of people who have a sense of relatedness resulting from some form of interaction with one another. These groups can have many functions. One that is particularly important from a consumer behavior perspective is the influence that group members can have on the individual. That is, the group can serve to persuade and guide the individual’s values and behavior. The coming interest that college students show in the latest fashions and in music serves as an illustration. Another interesting aspect of social groups is their role in providing consumers with various forms of information that an influence subsequent behavior.

The family is a special form of social group that is distinguished at least in part, by numerous and strong face to face interactions among its members. The influence of different family members on purchase decisions is one area of interest in the field of consumer behavior. In some cases, decisions are made by one individual with little influence from other family members. In other cases, the interaction is so strong it is said to actually yield a joint decision rather than just an influence of one member on another. Of course, the nature and degree of influence in these decision making patterns are quite important to marketers attempting to inform and persuade consumers regarding their offerings. Another aspect of family influence on consumer behavior is the way in which the stage of a family’s life cycle (newly married, childhood years, and so on) influences the need for products and services. In a similar vein, the changing patterns of family and household structures, including families with working wives and those made up solely of singles, have significant implications for consumer behavior.

The process of personal influence, which can be described as the effects on an individual resulting from communications with others, has long been of interest to marketers. Interest in this subject is strong because personal influence has an important effect on the amount and type of information that consumers obtain about products. It is also considered to be significant force acting on a consumer’s values, attitudes, brand evaluations and interest in a product. In fact, personal influence is an important function of opinion leaders. These opinion leaders are people that others look to for advice, opinions and suggestions regarding purchase decisions. Personal influence also strongly affects the process of diffusion by which new product and service innovations spread in the marketplace.

An example might be the effects of media that are not incorporated into one of the other categories. Many of these influences, including physical surroundings, the interpersonal setting, national events, and the consumer’s available cash, have been summarized by the term “situational variables”.