Studying Consumer Behavior

The study of any subject is made easier by examining it in an organized fashion. Therefore, we should determine the general classes of variables influencing consumers’ behavior, understand the nature of these variables, and learn how to make inferences based on this knowledge. In reading what follows, it may be useful to the reader to keep in mind.

Three classes of variables are involved in understanding consumer behavior: stimulus, response, and intervening variables. Stimulus variables such as advertisements, products, and hunger pangs, exist in both the individual’s external and internal environment. These generate the sensory inputs to consumers. Response variables are the resulting mental and / or physical reactions of individuals who are influenced by stimulus variables. For example, purchasing a product or forming attitudes about it could be viewed as response variables.

Stimulus variables such as the accompanying advertisement for Dinty Moore stew often do not influence responses directly. Instead, they influence a third class of variables, called intervening variables because these variables literally intervene between the stimulus and response variables. That is, they act to influence (magnify, reduce, or otherwise modify) the effect of stimulus variables on response variables. For example, an advertisement featuring movie star to influence consumers positively toward a brand may actually be perceived negatively by some consumers who happen to hold an unfavorable attitude toward that particular movie star. Here the intervening variable of attitude modifies the effect of the advertising stimulus. Intervening variables are internal to the individual and can include values, mood, knowledge and so on as well as attitudes.

Many of the variables affecting consumers (such as personality, learning, perceptions of external situations motives, and so forth) cannot be directly observed. Therefore, those who want to learn about the variables affecting consumers must often make inferences to determine the extent to which a given variable is having an influence. That is, just like the scientist who cannot see oxygen ad must infer its properties by looking for its effects on others variables, a consumer researcher must look for the influence of unobservable variables on the activities of consumers that can be observed. The problem is that these variables have different aspects and can change over time. Therefore, if we observe the effects of the variable at two different points in time we might draw different inferences about its characteristics. We must be ready to accept this ambiguity because of the difficulty of studying unobservable behavior. We should also look forward to reading about more than one investigation of the same variables because such studies will help us narrow in on the specific nature of the variables that are of interest to us in achieving our goal of understanding the behavior of consumers.

Modeling behavior:

The study of consumer behavior can also be quite complex, because of the many variables involved and their tendency to interact with and influence each other. Models of consumer behavior have been developed as a means of dealing with this complexity. Models can help organize our thinking about consumers into a coherent whole by identifying relevant variables, describing their basic characteristic, and specifying how the variables relate to each other. A number of models of consumer behavior have been offered, and a review of them would be beyond the scope. Therefore, we have adopted a simplified approach to guide our discussion. The diagram is an organized picture of the factors that have been identified as the most important general influences on consumer behavior. The diagram will be repeated, with different areas highlighted, preceding Parts 2 through 4 of this text, a guide to their contents.

Reference to Figure reveals that it is made up of three major sections: (1) external environmental variables influencing behavior (2) individual determinants of behavior, and (3) the consumer’s decision process. These major sections are treated in Parts 2 through 4 respectively, to the text.