Buyer Behavior: External Variables in Marketing

Consumer behavior is one of the most important subjects, especially in the field of marketing. It mainly deals with the study of how people choose to buy a certain product, what, when, and why they buy. In fact, it is a multidisciplinary subject that blends elements from psychology, sociology, socio-psychology, anthropology, and economics. In today’s competitive world, it has become important to understand the need of customers.

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It is a well-known fact that service encounters are an everyday issue that is used to provide goods and services to a variety of customers. In spite of the increasing internet and other shopping channels, most of the encounters are still carried out face-to-face. For an experienced service provider, it is easy to predict the customer’s behavior through his non-verbal mode of communication. Many times customer’s dissatisfaction is obvious from their voice, facial expression, and body language.

In addition, gestures, posture, eye contact, and facial expression can provide important cues – of what the customer is really looking for. The marketing industry needs to acquire knowledge about the behavior, preferences, needs and wants of customers. This paper intends to look into some of the impacts of External Variables on Marketing. Additionally, it also gives a brief account of theories on diffusion processes, culture and subculture, and other factors that impact customer behavior.

Role of Advertisements on Consumer Behaviour

Today, advertising has become the most common subject and has become an inevitable part of product promotion. Advertising is the promotion of goods, services, companies, and ideas, usually in popular media. Advertisements are placed in newspapers, magazines, schools, and on billboards everywhere. It is used to convey the availability of a “product” (which can be a physical product, a service, or an idea) and to provide information regarding the product which can stimulate demand for the product. Stimulating the demand is one of the main objectives of advertising.

In ancient times ‘word of mouth’ was the most popular way of advertisements; today, with the intervention of media and the internet, advertisement has become an easy and popular mode of providing information. Advertising has different effects on people; it changes their perspective on what is, and what is not, worth buying, what they buy, and when they buy it. Advertising affects people in what they do and how they do it. Today advertisers are into more market research to analyze the consumers’ behaviors, likes, and dislikes.

In recent years, fast-food giants like Pizza Hut and Taco Bell have also created a presence in public schools, providing students with a tempting- but less nutritious- alternative to sack lunches and cafeteria food. Fast-food chains like McDonald’s and Burger King Market heavily to children, offering them toys and hosting state of the art playgrounds. To make things worse, popular video game distributors like Sega, Sony, and Nintendo allow kids to be sedentary for hours in front of the television instead of being active as kids should be (fit4free, N.D.). These corporations continue to enjoy success while there is an increasing epidemic of obesity among children.

Centuries of scientific advances in agriculture have increased the quantity, quality, and variety of our food supply. Recent advances in molecular research have given us fruits and vegetables that contain more cancer-fighting antioxidants and eggs and milk fortified with beneficial omega-3 fatty acids. Despite our progress, food-related health problems such as obesity, malnutrition, and food-borne illnesses remain issues of global concern. Whether we see food as medicine or as the cause of disease, medical and agricultural research, have the potential to come together in innovative ways to help consumers and producers understand and face the challenges of following a healthful diet.

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Customer Service and Satisfaction

While it is important to measure the motivation of customers towards a product, it is also important to understand the strategies used behind motivating customers by the companies. In other words, the ability to read the customer’s mind and to measure their level of satisfaction and dissatisfaction can produce top-performing sales reps, particularly in the service sector. It is understanding them to such an intense level that the service provider is actually able to think and react as their customer would is a learnable skill that can be developed with a moderate degree of practice. This will benefit not only the customer but also the service providers as their business will increase by leaps and bounds.

Each one of us experiences poor service from time to time. The only way a customer is satisfied is when the service meets or exceeds expectations. Unfortunately, when a customer faces a negative service encounter, it should be noted that such an incident would never disappear from his mind and will be reflected in his future transaction. Hence the most important point for a service provider is to consider each and every customer seriously and do their best to satisfy the customer. For this purpose, it is important to understand and have a good knowledge of non-verbal communication.

Consumer Behaviour Theories

Diffusion of Innovation

According to Everett Rogers, diffusion is defined as the process by which an innovation is communicated through certain channels over time among the members of a social system. In simple terms, it is the process of exposing people repeatedly to the new innovation. Rogers’ definition of diffusion of the innovation process can be divided into four elements –innovation, communication, time, and the most important, the social system.

Innovation is the basic idea, practices, or objects that are supposed as knew by an individual or other unit of adoption.

Communication channels are the important ways by which messages or information are transferred from one person to another. Time refers to the three-time factors that are: the innovation-decision process, virtual time with which an innovation is accepted and used by the person, and the rate of acceptance of the innovation. A social system refers to a set of interconnected units that are occupied in solving the problem jointly to bring about a common goal.

In the book entitled Diffusion of Innovation, Rogers defines the innovation-decision process as the method through which each and every person passes from the stages of acquiring knowledge of an innovation to creating a personal attitude toward the innovation, to a decision whether to adopt or reject the innovation and finally to take a decision on implementation and use of the new idea (Rogers, 1962).

For example, consider the time when we were very new to the innovations of mobile phones. Initially, we had to be exposed several times through the channels such as advertisements; later, we take a decision if we really need such an innovation or how to accommodate the new technology into our life. Once we make a decision to either accept or reject the technology or look for further information, this is the process in which a decision is made by a consumer.

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Behavioural Learning Theory

Marketers use two concepts from behavioral learning theory, i.e., stimulus generalization and stimulus discrimination. “Behavioural learning theory has focused on the role played by environmental events in learning processes and has taken a chance in behavior to be the primary evidence that learning has occurred” (Schwartz and Reisberg, 1991). According to Solomon, behavioral learning theories assume that learning occurs as the result of responses to external events.

Psychologists who agree with this viewpoint fail to give due importance to internal thought processes. On the other hand, they approach the mind as a “black box” and emphasize aspects that consist of things that go into the box. In simple terms, those stimuli or events perceived from the outside world and things that come out of the box in response or reactions to this stimulus are emphasized (Solomon, 1992).

Culture and Subculture

The marketing literature with a number of behavioral differences in consumers across nations (e.g., McCarty and Hattwick 1991; Brass 1991; Lynn, Zinkhan, et al. 1993; the Chu, Spires et al. 1999; Husted 2000). One of the pioneering studies in marketing on the issues of ethnicity and consumer behavior was carried out by Hirschman (1981). This study identified relationships between Jewish ethnicity and levels of consumer innovativeness. Hirschman, in her study, concluded that ethnicity might be an important element that needs to be considered in order to determine the consumption patterns. This study strongly suggested that ethnic norms may influence capability in the decision-making process.

It is often considered that the division of subcultures will present researchers with improved, more precise data from which to appreciate acculturating consumers. Additionally, many also suggest that research in this subject will allow greater and more precise intracultural evaluations. It is true that while cross-cultural research, including country-of-origin studies, has presented numerous priceless insights into consumer behavior, the present-day cultural comparison studies and paradigms of cultural contact are very few. As a result, there is a serious gap in the basic understanding of group preferences and patterned behavior.

Human begins are consumers of various goods from birth until their death. However, the method of attracting them towards a product has undergone changes. Though earlier, producers did not give much attention to popularizing their products through advertisements, thinking that people who require their products will automatically run towards buying these products. However, today due to the increasing competition, several strategies have evolved through the years to promote more effectively any product or services to a wide range of consumers.

Today people are aware of the portrayal of the good as well as the bad part of the ads. For instance, they are either perceived as directly lying, lying by omission, or portraying a product or service in a light that does not reflect reality. It is this increased awareness of the intention of advertising, as well as advertising regulations, that have increased the challenges that marketers face. Hence the manufacturers need to understand the consumer’s needs.

In order to get the repeat orders of the customers, it becomes essential that the quality of the product and services are the most important than advertisements. Maintaining a product database, customer database, customer charters, corporate image, customer feedback system, regular updating of customer records will go a long way but understanding the consumer behavior and will help the marketing representatives to sell the products easily.

References

Brass, Paul. R. (1991). Ethnicity and Nationalism: Theory and Comparison. Newbury Park: Sage Publications.

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Chu, P. C., Eric. E. Spires, Toshiyuki Sueyoshi. (1999). Cross-cultural Differences in Choice Behavior and Use of Decision Aids: A Comparison of Japan and the United States. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 77(2): 147-170.

fit4free, Solution to the Obesity Epidemic: Non-Profit Organization Fit4Free goes to the root of the problem. Web.

Husted, Bryan. W. (2000). The Impact of National Culture on Software Piracy. Journal of Business Ethics 26(3): 197-211.

Hirschman, Elizabeth C. 1981. American Jewish Ethnicity, Its Relationship to Some Selected Aspects of Consumer Behavior. Journal of Marketing 45: 102-110.

Lynn, Michael, George M. Zinkhan and Judy Harris. (1993). Consumer Tipping: A Cross-country Study. Journal of Consumer Research 20: 478-488.

McCarty, John. A. and Patricia Hattwick, M. 1991. Cultural Value Orientations: A Comparison of Magazine Advertisements from the United States and Mexico. Advances in Consumer Research. Eds. J. Sherry and B. Sternthal. Provo: Association for Consumer Research. 19: 34-38.

Rogers, Everett M. (1962). Diffusion of Innovations. The Free Press. New York.

Schwartz, B., and Reisberg, D. (1991), Learning and Memory, New York: W. W. Norton and Company.

Solomon, Michael R. (1992), Consumer Behavior: Buying, Having, and Being, Boston, MA: Simon & Schuster, Inc.

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