In his book on brand management, David Arnold (1992: 106) stated, “If a brand is developed without reference to the consumer group then the chances of it being successful are reduced “. Several years later, Martin Evans and other authors confirmed this by suggesting, “The understanding of customer needs and wants is one of the main tasks of promotion and marketing” (Evans et al 2006, p.2). The common message contained within both these statements is that customer buying behaviour has an effect upon marketing strategies, and therefore needs to be taken into account in the development and presentation of the promotional message. The art of good marketing strategy is in understanding what these behavioural influences are and how they determine the customers purchasing habits.
Customer purchasing behaviour is motivated by a number of determinants, including those of a psychological, physical and emotional nature and, whether consciously or not, all these combine to affect purchasing behaviour. This combination of determinants is instrumental in creating the experiences and associative triggers that are stored within the human conscience and sub-conscious memory. Ultimately, it is these memories that the customer will rely upon to judge whether the benefits and enjoyment to be gained from a specific product or service are strong enough to either encourage purchase. In terms of marketing therefore, the task is to develop strategies and promotional campaigns that will directly influence these memories and experiences, rather than subject the customer to a barrage of audio or visual messages that is unfocused and will therefore cause them not to purchase.
Of course, because memories and experiences are individual, it is not easy for marketers to develop a strategy that will create a positive behavioural response from all customers. Not least of the reasons for this is the fact that, because often experiences and memories are stored within the sub-conscious, it is often difficult for customers to explain why they behave in a particular manner. However, there are common behavioural denominators that are likely to apply to certain groups of customers, which marketers’ can use to good effect.
Perception, expectation and influence
Perception is one behavioural determinate that can affect marketing strategies. Every new image or promotional experience a customer is subjected to will create new experiences and memories. When those promotions become repetitive, the customer will build an association between the brand, and an expectation related to its product/service offering, which eventually will become extremely difficult to alter. For example, mention the word Mercedes or MacDonald’s and the customer will automatically associate these names with luxury automobiles and fast food burgers respectively. However, when Heinz tried to promote new cleaning products, because the brand is associated in the customers’ memory with food products, the campaign failed. In other words, the association that had been formed between the Heinz name and its core products did not allow the corporation to change its product offerings in such a dramatic fashion in the mind of the customer, therefore leading their rejection of the new product.
Family and peer pressure are other examples of customer behavioural determinants that will affect marketing strategies, but can be also used to the marketers advantage. In terms of the former, nostalgia and experiences from childhood and earlier periods of a customer’s life are likely to have a positive influence on his/her buying behaviour. Many brands have recognised this and have targeted their marketing and promotional strategies accordingly. For example, recent Coca-Cola promotions have used nostalgic images to reinforce the longevity of the brand and its products. In the UK, Hovis, the bread manufacturer has used the same approach. In both case, these brands have used the influence that nostalgia has upon customer buying behaviour to their advantage. The same situation occurs with peer pressure. It is human nature to want to feel a sense of belonging to certain social groups. Therefore, our actions are likely to be influenced by the behavioural patterns exhibited by the leaders of that group and other factors which will enhance the sense of belong to, rather than being isolated from, the group. An example of this can be seen in the way that certain fashion brands use their marketing images to target social groups in the younger generation, inferring that non-purchase of their products could lead to the customer’s exclusion from that group.
Habit is perhaps the most difficult influence on customer buying behaviour to address within marketing strategies. Think about it! If you ask anyone why he or she acts in a certain way, all too often the response will be “because I have always done it this way”. The same is often true with purchasing. Customer purchasing behaviour is often linked to habit. We purchase certain brands of product, be that foods, automobiles, cleaning materials, electronic products because we have always purchased these brands. Of course, it is possible to use special offers and other incentives to tempt customers to change their habitual brand purchase because, as David Arnold says, most people are likely to try something new at least once. However, the difficulty is in persuading these customers to make the change permanent once the special offer or inducement has ended.
Customer buying behaviour can seriously affect marketing strategies. Those marketers who recognise the potential threat this behaviour can present to their brand and its products and adapt their strategies accordingly are the ones who will succeed in turning threats into opportunities.
Arnold D (1992), The Handbook of Brand Management, Century Business: The Economist Books. London, UK
Evans, M., Jamal, A and Foxall, G (2006), Consumer Behaviour, John Wiley & Sons Ltd. Chichester, UK
Re&d provide web content and model educational products, click here learn more.