Individual consumer behavior encompasses the research, selection, purchase and consumption of goods and services to meet specific needs. The consumer journey is a physiological process driven by emotions. The more you know about how people feel, why they make certain buying decisions and where they decide to shop, the better you can align your products and services — as well as your advertising and marketing campaigns — to their needs.
In La Salle University's online MBA program, students gain insights into consumer behavior through a course on the topic.
Many broad categories influence consumer behavior and include important factors for each:
Individuals vary in backgrounds, personality, temperament and perceptions, so the predominant factors in one person's consumer behavior may be less important to someone else. Generally, the most important personal factors marketers and businesses consider are:
- Age: As people go through the cycle of life, their needs and wants change. What motivates young children to buy is completely different than what motivates senior citizens.
- Occupation: Professions affect who consumers encounter and are influenced by, and the pragmatic purchasing needs related to a person's job, such as a vehicle for transportation and appropriate clothing. These items may reflect attainment or aspirations.
- Financial/economic situation: People with higher incomes and more significant savings have more discretionary purchasing power. Within product categories that everyone needs, such as food and personal hygiene goods, brand status affects more affluent buyers, whereas less affluent buyers tend to focus more on price. Buyers with more financial options can focus more on wants and various categories of luxury goods and services.
- Lifestyle: People's interests, perspectives and free time activities influence how they interact with the world around them — and this includes their purchases. Lifestyle overlaps quite a bit with financial situation and cultural influences.
- Personality and self-concept: Individual personality characteristics such as assertiveness, self-confidence, thoughtfulness and compassion play a significant role in purchasing many items, from clothing to books. Also important is the idea of "self-concept," or how a person views themselves or wants to view themselves, and it is used heavily in advertising.
Human beings are one of the most social of all species. What individuals do and buy is largely shaped by social influences, including:
- Family: Preferences for all sorts of factors are heavily influenced by parents and the early influences of siblings and other family members. Children are impressionable and try to emulate what they see working for the people around them.
- Reference groups: All the formal and informal groups to which a person belongs influence consumer behavior. Preferences are shaped by group leaders, social norms and pressures to conform to their expectations and standards. For example, a high school football team may influence team members to wear specific brands of clothing or drive certain vehicles.
Like social influences, cultural factors exert considerable influence on individuals, starting as early as childhood. Most people would be very different consumers had they come from another culture.
- Culture and subculture: The surrounding culture and subculture a consumer currently participates in, as well as the one(s) in which he or she was raised, affect other consumer behavior variables, including beliefs, attitudes, lifestyles and self-concepts. Subcultures can include religions, interest groups and ethnic groups. A person's role within the culture or subculture also has a bearing on consumer behaviors.
- Social class or stratification: This refers to categorizations based on socioeconomic factors, including wealth, income, race, education, ethnicity, gender, occupation, social status or derived power from other groups. People generally want to climb hierarchies of power, status and prestige, and purchasing behaviors are often related to this desire.
Perception, motivation, beliefs and attitudes all determine the conscious and subconscious thought processes that a consumer undergoes before eventually making a purchase, whether it's an extensively researched decision or an impulse buy.
- Perception: Selective attention, distortion and retention are three processes that determine consumer perceptions. Selective attention describes the process consumers use to select where they focus. Selective distortion refers to how customers try to interpret information to align with what they already believe, like the idea of confirmation bias. Retention refers to the ways in which marketers focus on the information that supports their consumers' beliefs.
- Motivation: A need becomes a motivation to buy when it reaches enough urgency that the consumer feels compelled to act. They may act on a variety of needs at any time, including physiological, biological and social.
- Beliefs and attitudes: These are the favorable or unfavorable emotional conditions consumers have regarding products and services. This factor is critical in defining brand images that align with target consumers' beliefs and attitudes.
Mastering consumer behavior takes extensive training. The La Salle University MBA online program prepares professionals to make informed business and marketing decisions that account for the many factors that influence consumer behavior.
Learn more about the La Salle University Master of Business Administration General Online program.
Have a question or concern about this article? Please contact us.