Life Cycle versus Age in Segmenting Markets

The reader may wonder whether the lifecycle concept offers a richer explanation of consumer behavior than a single variable such as age does. You will recall that we raised a similar question earlier when considering the merits of social class versus income in segmenting markets. The evidence heavily favors the use of life cycle as a way of segmenting markets. One in depth study on this subject found that for most items investigated, product consumption was more sensitive to life cycle than it was to age. It should be noted, however, that for several categories of products and services the reverse was true. One category for which this was the case was products tied to age related physical difficulties (such as medical appliances and other medical car items). Age was also more sensitive for products and services classified mainly as luxuries and for a diverse catchall category.

For most products however lifecycle analysis allows the marketer to achieve a richer understanding of the market. A summary overview of life cycle stages for family members and their consumer behavior is presented.

Beyond the life Cycle: Intergenerational Influences

An important issue related to the concept of family life cycle concerns the degree to which family influence affects children’s consumer behavior later as adults. Although little research has been done on this subject, it would seem that there is a significant degree of influence and it is not simply one way. That is, not only do parents influence children but children also have the opportunity to influence their parents’ consumers as seen. Adult children may also have an important influence on the consumer decisions of their going parents.

The family is the primary socialization agent for each new generation. The transmission of attitudes, values, and behaviors from parents to children is termed intergenerational transfer. This socialization process results in transmission of, not only general social values and norms but also skills and knowledge relevant to becoming successful consumers in a complicated marketplace. Through our families we first learn skills such as budgeting, attitudes and preferences toward products and brands store choice and shopping patterns, the meaning of marketing communications, and price value judgments. The effect of such processes has only been hinted at because of the small number of studies on the influence of parents’ consumption decisions on subsequent choices made by their adult children. But it appears that these effects may be strong. Figure illustrates the process of intergenerational transfer of consumer behavior patterns between parents and children. Thus, a relevant question for the marketer is the extent to which this family influence carries over in to our consumer behavior as adults. It should be noted too, that such influences may continue to be exerted between parents and children as each group ages, particularly among families with children who return to the security of the nest like boomerangs perhaps because of decisions about school work, or marriage. In fact, over two thirds of people 18 to 24 live with their parents or other relatives.

Family Purchasing Decisions:

This sections probes more deeply into the nature of the decision making process within the family and its implications for consumer behavior and marketing. Family purchasing decisions will be examined from four perspectives: (1) role structure, (2) power structure, (3) stage in the decision making process, and (4) family specific characteristics. It is very important that the marketer understand who influence whom, and how in the family buying process, so that the proper marketing strategy may be developed.

Role structure:

In our earlier discussion of the concept of roles, we described how society is structured of roles that are occupied (or played by its members. So, too, the family has its own structure, with each member playing his or her role. Thus, gender role preferences reflect culturally determined attitudes toward the role of wife / husband and mother / father in the household. Perceptions of these gender roles affect the decision making process and household decision behavior.