Attitude and Consumer Behavior

Attitude and Consumer BehaviorAttitude is considered to be the most important determinant of buying behavior. Marketers, therefore, pay close attention to consumers’ attitudes. A marketer needs to know the important aspects of consumer attitude. Equally important for a marketer is to understand how attitude is organized.

Background of the Attitude Study and Consumer Behavior

From the earlier unit, you realized that consumers’ motives determine or activate behavior resulting in purchases.

You also came to know that consumer behavior cannot be predicted simply from motivations. Other intervening individual factors come into play.

These factors tend to influence the consumer’s perception of various products and brands of products that may be utilized to satisfy his/her needs.

Some of the important individual intervening variables are consumer’s attitudes, self-image, and habits. You know that the purchase decision process starts with the identification of a need that is unmet.

Once the desire for a need satisfaction arises, the next step that the consumer passes in the purchase decision-making process is evaluating different products or services as ways of satisfying the unmet need.

Evaluation helps the consumer decide the brand to be purchased or the seller to satisfy his need.

His attitudes play an important role in the process of evaluating alternatives and selecting a particular brand of a product or so that the consumer can satisfy his need. Attitudes thus play a direct and influential role in consumer behavior.

By this time, it should be clear to you that consumers’ attitudes toward a company’s products significantly influence the success or failure of its marketing strategy.

Attitude study is important for the marketers because it affects consumers’ selective processes, learning, and ultimately the buying decision making.

As consumers’ attitudes influence their intention to buy, knowledge of different aspects of consumer attitudes may help marketers make a sales forecast of their products.

Measuring consumer attitudes may help a marketing executive get a better picture of both present and potential markets.

As attitudes often affect the consumer’s decision-making process, marketers must understand attitude formation and change if they expect direct marketing activities to influence consumers.

Awareness of consumer attitudes is such a central concern of both product and service marketers that it is difficult to imagine any consumer research project that does not include the measurement of some aspect of consumer attitudes.

An outgrowth of this widespread interest in consumer attitudes is a consistent stream of attitude research reported in the consumer behavior literature.

It is well understood that attitude has been one of the most important topics of study in the consumer behavior field.

Attitude study may contribute to decisions regarding new product development, repositioning existing products, creating advertising campaigns, and understanding the general pattern of consumer purchase behavior.

Thus, an understanding of what an attitude is, how it is organized, what functions it performs, how it can be measured, and how a marketer can change an existing attitude is very important for a marketer to combat competition successfully.

Following few important and generally accepted findings on consumer attitudes further justify the importance of attitude study for a marketer taken from the studies of Alvin Achenbaum; Henry Assael and George S. Day; Frederick W. Winter; and, Steward W. Bither, Ira J. Dolich, and Elaine B. Nell.

  • Finding #1: Product usage tends to increase as consumers’ attitudes toward a product become more favorable. Usage tends to decline as attitudes grow less favorable.
  • Finding #2: The reason for different market shares occupied by different sellers in a product category is the differences in consumers’ attitudes toward different brands.
  • Finding #3: Marketers may try to change consumers’ attitudes toward their products, aiming to increase sales through persuasive communications. But, they should bear in mind that many other variables determine the effectiveness of such communications.
  • Finding #4: Consumers may likely change their attitudes toward the existing products if exposed to new ones. It is, therefore, important for the marketers to even reinforce existing positive attitudes.

Attitude Defined from Consumer Behavior Point of View

attitude definition for consumer behavior point of view

Everyone adopts conscious and unconscious attitudes toward ideas, people, and things they are aware of.

Allport defined an attitude as a mental state of readiness, organized through experience, exerting a directive influence upon the individual’s response to all objects and situations with which it is related.

It extends to beliefs and knowledge of products as well as to people and events. It also covers feelings, such as likes and dislikes created, and a disposition to act or act because of such feelings and beliefs.

You should keep in mind that there is nothing necessarily right, wrong, or rational about attitudes. You should also note that consumers do not have to have direct experience of products and services to form an attitude toward the product or service in question.

Berkman and Gilson, citing Daryl J. Bem, described attitudes as our likes and dislikes, affinities for and aversions to situations, objects, persons, groups, or any other identifiable aspects surrounding us, including abstract ideas and social policies.

Attitude, like so many concepts in the behavioral sciences, though is a word used in everyday life and conversation, has a more precise meaning within the context of psychology.

It refers to the positive or negative feelings directed at some object, issue, or behavior. It is a learned predisposition to respond in a consistently favorable or unfavorable way to a given object.

Attitude can also be defined as a predisposition toward some aspect of the positive or negative world. You should note that this predisposition can’t be neutral. That is, a neutral attitude is virtually no attitude.

Marketers and psychologists know that consumers’ attitudes are mixtures of beliefs, feelings, and tendencies to behave in particular ways. That is the reason why marketers try to establish favorable beliefs about their offers.

The beliefs, feelings, and tendencies lead to favorable responses resulting in a purchase. An individual’s attitudes constitute his mental set that affects how he will view something, such as a window provides a framework for our view into or out of a house.

In the words of John W. Newstrom and Keith Davis, “the window allows us to see some things, but the size and shape of the frame prevent us from observing other elements. Besides, the color of the glass may affect the accuracy of our perception, just as the ‘color’ of our attitudes has an impact on how we view and judge our surroundings.”

Thus, it is an individual’s point of view toward something, which may be a product, an advertisement, a salesperson, a company, an idea, a place, or anything else.

To understand the attitude, check out our post on definitions of attitude and determine the important aspects of attitude from this definition and those given above.

Analyzing the above definitions and the discussion made above, we can identify the following few aspects of an attitude:

Important Aspects of an Attitude

Attitudes are Learned

Individuals do not bear with attitudes. That is, attitude is not programmed genetically.

Individuals rather learn attitudes through information received from the environment. An individual may receive information both from his commercial and social environments.

Second, they learn attitudes through direct experience with the attitude object.

For example, one may buy and use a particular toothpaste brand and can develop a positive or negative feeling toward the brand.

Third, attitudes may be learned through a combination of information received and experience with the attitude object.

For example, one may read an advertisement (information) and buy and use the product.

As attitudes are learned, marketers may provide information to customers through marketing communication tools and distribute free samples for customers to have experience with the product, thus helping them form attitudes toward the product.

Attitudes are Predispositions to Respond

Attitudes imply a covert or hidden behavior, not overt or exposed. That is, others cannot observe them (attitudes).

One cannot see others’ attitudes or verify them; attitudes can be felt. They are the individuals’ predispositions to evaluate some symbol or object or aspect of his world favorably or unfavorably.

Attitudes may be expressed verbally through opinions or non verbally through behavior. It means that attitudes are hypothetical make-ups or constructs. These hypothetical constructs lead to actual overt behavior.

For example, if an individual is favorably predisposed toward a brand, he is likely to recommend others to buy that brand, or he may purchase the brand himself.

Attitudes are Consistently Favorable or Unfavorable Responses

Attitude toward an object leads to responses toward that object.

If an individual’s attitude is found favorable toward an object, he is likely to make positive responses toward it, and this tendency is likely to be fairly consistent.

In the case of a negative attitude, negative responses are likely to happen and happen consistently again.

Attitude Objects

It was mentioned earlier that attitudes are directed toward some object. In this case, the object may include a product, company, person, place, service, idea, store, issues, behavior, and so on.

Attitudes Have Degree and Intensity

Attitudes can be measured or quantified. That is, they have degrees.

For example, one may develop a highly positive attitude toward a particular brand, and another may develop a moderately positive attitude toward the same brand.

By this, you understand that attitudes have degrees.

Moreover, they have intensity, that is, the level of certainty or confidence of expression about the attitude object. For example, one individual may be highly confident about his belief or feeling, whereas another individual may not be equally sure of his feeling or belief.

Models Explaining How Attitudes are Organized or Formed

Understanding the structure of attitude is important because it helps us know how attitude works. There are quite a few schools of thought on attitude organization.

Each of these thoughts represents a model of attitudes. Out of these few orientations, two are noteworthy. They are The tripartite view or three-component attitude model; and, The multiattribute model developed by Martin A. Fishbein.

Though these two models are considered as competing viewpoints, they are not actually inconsistent with one another. We shall now discuss them in turn.

Three-Component Attitude Model

Advocates of the three-component model or tripartite view believe that attitude consists of three components;

  1. Cognitive Component (awareness, comprehension, knowledge),
  2. Affective Component (evaluation, liking, preference), and
  3. Action Tendency or Conative Component (intention, trial, or purchase).

Cognitive Component

Cognition refers to all beliefs that an individual holds for the attitude object. Let us say we are talking about an individual’s attitude toward a particular brand of toothpaste. His cognitive component of

attitude toward the said brand, say, ‘Pepsodent,’ may be expressed as, “Pepsodent whitens teeth.” How does he say that this particular brand of toothpaste whitens teeth? This is based on his cognition or knowledge about the brand. His cognition may be developed through reading, listening to others, or through the experience.

This aspect of attitude tells us how he evaluates the attitude object. The evaluation is usually based on his knowledge about different aspects of the attitude object and his beliefs on these aspects.

His evaluation based on the knowledge or cognition tells him whether to see the attitude aspect favorably or unfavorably and the action he should take in case of an unfavorable attitude developed toward the object.

For example, if an individual holds a negative attitude toward cigarette advertisements, he may not buy magazines, putting on cigarette advertisements, or even destroy the magazines publishing cigarette advertisements.

Affective Component

Feeling or affect component of an attitude relates to positive or negative emotional reactions to the attitude object. For example, if an individual believes that ‘Pepsodent’ toothpaste whitens teeth (cognition), the affective component of his attitude toward ‘Pepsodent’ may be expressed as: “I like Pepsodent.”

Action Tendency or Conative Component

The third component of an attitude, the conation or action tendency component, encompasses intended and actual or overt behavior to the attitude object. So, this is a predisposition to behave in a particular way toward the attitude object.

For example, if an individual’s attitude toward ‘Pepsodent’ is positive, he may be intending to buy or actually buy ‘Pepsodent’ toothpaste. This component of his attitude toward ‘Pepsodent’ may be expressed as: “I like to buy Pepsodent” or “I regularly use Pepsodent.”

The three-component model of attitude advocates believes that these three components are an integral part of an attitude. That is, they work together. In other words, in every attitude, these three components work together; maybe their degrees vary. It is also argued that there are consistencies among the components. If one connotes positive meaning, the other two will also connote the same.

For example, if an individual believes that a particular brand is good (cognition), he is likely to favor that brand (feeling or affect) and will buy the same once he requires the product (action or overt behavior). The problem with this model is that a significant number of empirical investigations do not yet substantiate it.

Moreover, it isn’t easy to measure each of these components of a given attitude. As a result, this model has minimal real-life use in measuring consumers’ attitudes.

Multi-attribute Model of Attitude

There are quite a few models of attitude showing the connection between perception and preference or attributes and attitudes.

These models are often referred to as evaluative belief models of cognitive structure to emphasize that attitudes are the product of evaluations of the attributes and beliefs about how much of attributes are possessed by the attitude object. One such model has been developed by Martin A. Fishbein, which is widely used.

According to this model, attitudes are viewed as having two basic components. One is the beliefs about an object’s specific attributes (product, here in consumer behavior). The attributes could be the product’s price, quality, size, shape, design, distinctiveness, durability, availability, packaging, and so on.

The other component is the evaluative aspects of consumer’s beliefs on different aspects of the attitude object. It implies how an individual evaluates the importance of each attribute of the object (product) in satisfying his/her need.

Fishbein’s model may be formulated as below:

fishbein model

The attitude of the individual toward a particular brand is thus based on how much the brand’s performance on each attribute differs from the individual’s ideal performance on that attribute weighted by the importance of that attribute to the individual. Let us try to make you understand this model through an example.

Let us assume that a segment of cola drinkers perceive “Y” brand of cola to have the following levels of performance on four attributes such as price, taste, status, and calories (see the figure given below) :

multi attribute model of attitude

From the above figure, it is seen that this segment of consumers believes (i.e., the X’s) that brand “Y’ of cola drink is extremely high priced, very bitter in taste, very high in status, and very high in calories.

The above figure shows that consumers’ ideal brand of cola drink (i.e., the I’s) should be medium-priced, slightly mild in taste, extremely high in status, and extremely low in calories.

It is assumed that these attributes are not equally important to consumers. We can assign hypothetical weights to these attributes as follows based on their relative importance to consumers:

multiattribute model of attitude 2

From the above distribution of weights on each of the four attributes consumers consider in case of buying cola drink, and the figure on the previous page, we can measure attitudes of a segment of consumers toward the cola brand “Y” as follows:

multiattribute model of attitude 3

Here we can find that the computed attitude index toward the cola brand “Y” is 280. Now the question comes: “Is it good or bad?”

It isn’t easy to give a straight answer to the above question on one’s attitude toward a particular object because the attitude index is a relative measure.

To conclude on a particular attitude index, it must be compared with the attitude index of competing objects, in this case, products or brands.

Functions of Attitude & Attitude Measurement

Attitudes perform four functions for the individual, viz. adjustment, value expression, ego defense, and knowledge. These functions determine an individual’s response to a particular product or service.

Consumers’ attitudes may be measured using a few techniques. Marketers in gauging consumers’ attitudes may apply these techniques. Measurement of consumers’ attitudes may help him decide on his course of action.

Functions Which Attitudes Perform for an Individual

Marketers are constantly trying to shape or reshape consumers’ attitudes to make them purchase their products. An identification of the function or functions being performed by an attitude is a prerequisite for successful attitude modification.

We have used the terms ‘function’ and ‘functions’ because any given attitude may simultaneously serve more than one function. There are four major functions that attitudes serve for an individual.

These functions are not seen as mutually exclusive. They are complementary to each other, and at times, overlapping. Daniel Katz, in his article titled “The Functional Approach to the Study of Attitudes,” identified the following four functions that attitudes perform for an individual:

Function-1: The Instrumental, Adjustive, or Utilitarian Function

This function is a recognition that people try to maximize the rewards in their external environment and minimize the negative consequences.

For example, a child develops positive attitudes toward the objects in his world, which are associated with the gratification of his needs and desires, and negative attitudes toward objects which punish him or thwart him.

Why the child does so? The answer is to help him reaching the desired goals and avoiding the undesirable ones.

An individual favoring a political party hoping that he will be benefited if the party assumes power is an example of an instrumental, adjustive, or utilitarian attitude.

The dynamics of attitude formation for the adjustment function depend upon present or past perceptions of the utility of the person’s attitudinal object.

Thus, an attitude’s adjustment function leads to action and may be related to the action tendency component of the tripartite or the three-component attitude model.

Function – 2: The Ego-Defensive Function

Through ego-defensive function, an individual protects himself from acknowledging the basic truths about himself or the harsh realities in his external world. We know that individuals not only seek to make the most of their external world and what it offers, but they also expend a lot of energy on living with themselves.

Ego-defense basically includes the mechanisms of protecting one’s ego from one’s unacceptable impulses and from the knowledge of threatening forces from within, as well as reducing one’s anxieties created by such problems.

Ego-defense may also be termed as the devices by which a person avoids facing either the inner reality of the kind of person he is or the outer reality of the dangers the world holds for him. These devices stem from the internal conflict with its resulting insecurities.

Defense mechanisms help the individual removing the conflicts created within and save the person from a complete disaster. They may also handicap the individual in his social adjustments and obtain the maximum satisfactions available to him from the world in which he lives.

For example, a worker who regularly quarrels with his supervisor and colleagues may act out some of his own internal conflicts.

By doing so, he may relieve himself of some of the emotional tensions which he is having. Ego-defense is related to the affective component of the three-component attitude model discussed earlier.

Through this function of an attitude, a person protects himself from others in the environment by concealing his most basic feelings and desires, which are regarded as socially undesirable.

Ego-defense may lead to the projection of one’s own weaknesses onto others or attributing shameful desires to others.

Function – 3: The Value Expression Function

Through the value expression function, an individual derives satisfaction from expressing attitudes appropriate to his personal values and his own concept.

The value expression function is central to ego psychology’s doctrines, which emphasize the importance of self­expression, self-development, and self-realization.

By this time, you are aware that many attitudes have the function of preventing the person from revealing to himself and others his true nature.

Other attitudes also have the function of giving positive expression to the external world, his central values, and the type of person he thinks of himself. This is served by the function of an attitude, which we term ‘value expression’ function.

For example, if a person thinks of a nationalist, he will probably buy and use locally manufactured products to give others the idea of his self-image.

Marketers need to identify the values their consumers hold to develop products and design promotional campaigns that best suit the market’s values.

Function – 4: The Knowledge Function

This function is based upon the person’s need to give adequate structure to his universe. Other descriptions of this function could be an individual’s search for meaning, the need to understand, and the trend toward a better organization of perceptions and beliefs to provide clarity and consistency for him.

People acquire knowledge in the interests of satisfying specific needs or desires and give meaning to what would otherwise be an unorganized, chaotic universe.

To understand their world, people need standards or frames of reference. Their attitudes help them to provide such standards. They do want to understand the events which impinge directly on their lives.

Knowledge function may be related to the cognitive component of the three-component attitude model. This function helps the individual in evaluating the world around him. It helps him to develop a positive or negative attitude toward the attitude object.

Determinants of Attitude Formation and Arousal Conditions concerning Type of Function

After you become aware of the functions that attitudes perform, you may be interested in knowing the origin and dynamics and the arousal conditions of attitudes.

One can make concerning attitude arousal because it depends on the excitation of some need in the individual or some relevant cue in the environment.

For example, when a man becomes hungry, he talks of food items. He may also express a favorable attitude toward a preferred food item if external stimulus cues or stimulates him.

In the following table (see next page), you are given an idea in the summary form regarding the determinants of attitude formation and arousal concerning the type of function.

Shows the Determinants of Attitude Formation and Arousal concerning Type of Function
FunctionOrigin and DynamicsArousal Conditions

The utility of attitudinal objects in need of satisfaction.

Maxi­mizing external rewards associated with need and minimizing punish- satisfaction

  1. Activation of needs
  2. Salience of cues
Ego-defenseProtecting against internal Conflicts and external Dangers
  1. Posing of threats
  2. Appeals to hatred and repressed impulses
  3. Rise in frustrations
  4. Use of authoritarian suggestion
Value expressionMaintaining self-identity; enhancing favorable self-image; self-expression and self­determination
  1. The salience of cues associated with values
  2. Appeals to individ­ual to reassert self­image
  3. Ambiguities which threaten self­concept
KnowledgeNeed for understanding, for a meaningful cognitive organization, for consistency and clarity
  1. Reinstatement of cues associated with old problems or of the old problem itself.


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