Consumer behavior and self concept / product image Congruence
Consumers appear to hold images of various products, and these images can be viewed as symbols that communicate meaning about those who purchase them. Therefore, an area of considerable practical interest is the degree to which a consumer might actually prefer certain products or brands because she perceives their images as consistent with her view of herself, what she would like to be or some other aspect of self concept. An explanation of this behavior can be summarized as follows:
1) Consumers form their self concepts through psychological development and social interaction. Because the individual’s self concept has value to him, he will act to define, protect and further it.
2) Products and brands are perceived by consumers as having images or symbolic meaning.
3) Because of their symbolic role, selective possession, display and use of these good symbols assists an individual in defining and enhancing his self concept for himself and for others.
4) Therefore, the behavior of individuals will be motivated toward furthering and enhancing their self concept through the consumption of goods as symbols.
5) The brands that will e preferred are those that the consumer perceives as having images which are most consistent with his self concept.
Figure below shows this process whereby the consumer’s preferred brands are identified through matching between her self image and her perception of various brand images.
A model of brand choice process as a function of self image and brand image:
Perceived self image + Perceived brand image
Congruity theory proposes that the greater the brand / self image congruence, the more a brand will be preferred. It should again be noted that congruity can exist along a number of self concept dimensions. For example, the consumer may not perceive a strong match between the brand’s image and her actual self concept but she may perceive a close match with her ideal self. The theory would still predict that the consumer can have a strong preference for this brand because of the degree of congruity existing between the brand image and what she aspires to become. Also, the degree of congruence to both the actual and ideal self may join to exert a combined influence on consumers’ attraction toward a brand. The ideal self concept appears to be a motivating force behind the design of advertisements such as the one shown for Arrow shirts. Here, we see that the brand is effectively linked to a handsome model that many males might aspire to look like.
It is not difficult to envision that if self concept theory had validity it could be very useful in such areas as product design, positioning of products images and predicting consumers’ behavior toward various brands. To achieve its potential however, adequate measures of products and self image are required. As one might suspect, various measurement methods have been developed. A frequently chosen technique is the semantic differential which typically consists of seven point scales using bipolar adjectives or antonym phrases (happy sad, reserved out going and so on) labeling the two scale endpoints. To employ this technique the researcher must first identify the most important personality / image attributes to measure and then develop semantic scales for these attributes . Consumers are next asked to reveal the dimensions of their self concept under investigation ( real, ideal, and the like) by marking the scales in order to most appropriately described themselves . A second set of scales is used to measure the same consumers’ perceptions of brand images. If numbers are assigned to each response option on the semantic scales, it is then possible to determine the numerical distance between consumers self perceptions and their brand images. This numerical distance is used to represent the degree of congruence that exists for each brand.
To use a specific example, assume the goal is to measure the degree of congruence between women’s actual self concepts and three different brands of perfume. Assume further that five personality / image components are though to influence perfume purchases, and seven point semantic scales are developed for each components. Numbers 1 through 7 are then assigned to the response options. Each consumer in the study would next indicate on the scales her image of each brand and her own self image.