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Consumer behavior is one of the most interesting topics in


Consumer behavior is one of the most interesting topics in the discipline of marketing. Attempting to understand why consumers buy certain products but not others or why a particular product becomes a must-have item is fascinating detective work. To engage in these types of activities, it is necessary to understand the role of consumer behavior within the discipline of marketing, as well as the different approaches to consumer decision-making. Although understanding precisely why consumers behave the way they do is not always possible, it is generally possible to understand themes, or the overarching rationale, for certain types of behavior. For example, convenience is a theme that pervades an enormous number of goods and services.

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The wide range of consumer preferences creates many different categories of customers and a large number of choices of products. Because of the variability within consumer behavior, it is important to know how consumer behavior has evolved and what trends may appear in the future. By understanding how consumer decision-making impacts the products that are available now and in the future, marketers may help direct their companies to decisions that meet customer needs and bring greater profitability.

Targeting to Customer Preferences

The ability of modern companies to be successful often depends on their ability to target particular products to the right type of customer. Having a clear understanding of the different categories, or segments, of customers is a critical part of targeted marketing. Such segmentation has not always been the way products are marketed.

At the turn of the 20th century, Campbell’s Soup was sold in only 21 flavors, whereas today, Campbell’s has over 30 flavors of low-sodium soup alone—not to mention the dozens of other flavors that are available to meet consumers’ wants (CSC Brands, 2005). The simple lesson from Campbell’s is that companies must understand the different segments of customers and their preferences and tailor their marketing efforts as needed.

Consumer Decision-Making Process

Although one person’s consumption habits may look like random craziness to other people, the reality is that most individuals employ a fairly standardized process for certain types of purchasing decisions. Understanding the theories related to models for consumer decision-making is a first step for marketers who want to make sense of consumers’ actions.

Many variables affect the type of decision processes a consumer will use, but patterns in decision-making do emerge. For example, when a consumer is buying his or her first car, this consumer is likely to fully engage in each of the steps in the consumer decision-making process. However, when a consumer becomes loyal to a particular brand of cars and is about to buy his or her eleventh new vehicle, he or she will most likely truncate the decision-making process dramatically.

o deepen your understanding, you are encouraged to consider the questions below and discuss them with a fellow learner, a work associate, an interested friend, or a member of the business community.

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  • We are all consumers. On a daily basis, we find ways to obtain, consume, and dispose of products. Think of an example of what you have done as a consumer in your own life. How did you participate in obtaining, consuming, and disposing of a product? What was interesting, unique, or creative about the product? Why did you obtain the product by a certain method as opposed to a different method? Was the product used, or consumed, in the way the seller intended?
  • Select a well-known organization that you believe uses the idea of consumer orientation. What are two ways that the organization displays consumer orientation? Assess the success of the organization in its use of consumer behavior concepts. What would, and does, influence customer behavior as it relates to this organization, its business, and its consumer orientation?
  • The government, from the national level to the local level, plays an important role in how products are acquired, consumed, and disposed of. Think about the policies of the government on the acquiring, consuming, and disposing of products. Select an aspect of your local community that you believe that the government, whether local or national, should act upon, or does act upon, in acquiring, consuming, or disposing of a product. What is the consumer’s role in this aspect as it relates to acquiring, consuming, or disposing of the product? Does the government have any control or role in this aspect currently? Should the government take a more active role or a less active role in this aspect?
  • Although consumers can often identify their own processes for buying particular products, the purchasing habits of other people can sometimes seem mysterious. Consider whether you think most purchasing is done through a process, like a structured consumer decision-making process, or through gut decisions.
  • For many consumers, there comes a time when they become dedicated to a particular brand or service. Some have described this as moving from a customer to a friend, and finally to a fan. Review the presentation Customers, Friends, and Fans, linked in the Resources, which addresses these categories. Then, consider these categories, the conversion through the categories, and the companies with which you interact as a customer, and respond to the following: 
    • Describe your experience with three different enterprises. Pick one enterprise for which you would consider yourself a customer, one enterprise for which you would be a friend, and one of which you could call yourself a fan.
    • Why would you consider yourself a customer, friend, or fan of each enterprise? What has the company done to put you into the category you chose?
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