Various cultural, social, personal, and psychological factors strongly influence consumer purchase decisions.
Factors influencing consumer behavior are;
- Cultural Factors (culture, subculture, and social class).
- Social Factors (family, groups, and social roles).
- Personal Factors (age and life-cycle stage, occupation, economic situation, lifestyle, personality, and self-concept).
- Psychological Factors (motivation, perception, learning, and beliefs and attitudes).
Although these factors remain beyond the control of the marketers to a large extent, they must consider these factors in creating a marketing plan.
Cultural factors have the most influence on consumers. A person is bound by his culture, and changing cultural norms is very difficult. Social factors influence how a person interacts within society and what society thinks matters. Depending on the person factors like age, lifestyle, occupation, consumers will behave differently in the marketplace. While psychological factors are the reflection of the cultural, social, and personal factors, a person’s belief, attitudes, motivation, learning ultimately shape his/her buying decisions.
Now we will discuss the above factors in the following sections and subsections.
Cultural factors have the most significant influence on consumer behavior. Marketers need to understand the role played by the buyer’s culture, subculture, and social class in shaping consumer behavior.
The influence of cultural factors can be stated as under:
A child in the United States normally learns or is exposed to the following values: achievement and success, activity and involvement, efficiency and practicality, progress, material comfort, individualism, freedom, humanitarianism, youthfulness, and fitness and health.
Every society has a culture of its own. The influence of culture on buying behavior may vary markedly from country to country. A marketer must consciously adjust to these differences. Failure to do so may result in ineffective marketing or costly mistakes.
For example, business representatives of the U.S. community trying to market themselves in Taiwan found this out the hard way.
Seeking more foreign trade, they arrived in Taiwan bearing gifts of green baseball caps. It turned out that the trip was scheduled a month before the Taiwan elections, and that green was the color of the political opposition party.
Worse yet, the visitors learned after the fact that according to Taiwan culture, a man wears green to signify that his wife has been unfaithful.
The head of the community delegation later noted: I don’t know whatever happened to those green hats, but the trip gave us an understanding of the extreme differences in our cultures.
Marketers engaged in international marketing must appreciate the culture in each foreign market and tailor their marketing strategies accordingly.
Marketers continuously monitor cultural change to discover new products that might be demanded by the consumers.
For example, the cultural shift toward greater concern about health and fitness has created a huge industry for exercise equipment and clothing, lower-fat and more natural foods, and health and fitness services. The shift toward informality has resulted in more demand for casual clothing and simpler home furnishings.
And the increased desire for leisure time has resulted in more demand for convenience products and services, such as microwave ovens and fast food.
Each culture is composed of smaller subcultures. Subculture refers to a group of people with shared value systems based on common life experiences and situations.
Subcultures consist of nationalities, religions, racial groups, and geographic regions. Subcultures have important marketing implications. They constitute important market segments, and marketers often design products and marketing programs to fit their needs.
Consumers buying behavior will be influenced by the subculture to which he belongs. Subculture will affect his food preferences, clothing choices, recreation activities, and career goals.
Every society has a social class structure. Social classes are society’s relatively permanent and ordered divisions whose members share similar values, interests, and behaviors.
We can identify three social classes in Bangladesh-upper, middle, and lower.
Social class is not identified by a single factor, such as income. It is determined by a combination of occupation, income, education, wealth, and other variables.
In society, however, the lines between social classes are not fixed and rigid. People can move to a higher social class or drop into a lower one.
Marketers are interested in the social class because people within a particular social class tend to demonstrate similar buying behavior. Social class exhibit distinct product and brand preferences in clothing, home furnishing, leisure activity, and automobiles.
Various social factors influence consumer behavior. These factors are consumers, small groups, family, and social roles and status and can be explained as under :
Many small groups exert influence on a person’s behavior. Group refers to two or more people who interact to accomplish individual or mutual goals. Groups to which a person belongs that have a direct influence are called membership groups. Membership groups include primary groups and secondary groups.
Primary groups include family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers with regular and informal interactions.
Secondary groups include organizations like religious groups, professional associations, and trade unions, which are more formal and have less regular interaction.
People often are influenced by groups to which they do not belong. These are called reference groups, which serve as direct or indirect points of comparison or reference in forming a person’s attitudes or behavior.
For example, an aspiration group is one to which the individual wishes to belong. A teenage football player hopes to play someday for the Abahani Krira Chakra. He identifies with this group, although there is no direct contact between him and the team.
Reference groups of the target markets are important to the marketers because these groups expose a person to new behaviors and lifestyles, influence the person’s attitudes and self-concept, and create pressures to conform that may affect the person’s product and brand choices.
Marketers of products and brands having strong group influence must develop ways to reach the opinion leaders in the relevant reference groups.
Opinion leaders are people within a reference group who, because of special skills, knowledge, personality, or other characteristics, exert influence on others. Marketers try to locate opinion leaders for their products and brands and direct marketing efforts toward them.
The family is the most important consumer buying organization in society as members of a family can strongly influence buyer behavior.
For this reason, marketers take into account the roles and influence of the husband, wife, and children on the purchase of different products and services.
Buying roles of different family members change with evolving consumer lifestyles. Also, marketers must be aware that such roles vary widely in different countries and social classes from time to time.
Social Roles and Status
An individual belongs to more than one group. The position a person holds in each group can be defined in terms of both role and status.
For example, in the family, a person plays the role of a husband and a father; in a company, he plays the role of an executive.
The role embodies the activities people are expected to perform such expectation reflects the desire of the persons around. Each role carries a status that reflects the general esteem given to it by society. The general tendency of the people is to select products that indicate their status in society.
Personal characteristics have a significant influence on a buyer’s decisions. These characteristics are the buyer’s age and life-cycle stage, occupation, economic situation, lifestyle, and personality and self-concept.
The brief discussion can be presented as under;
Age and Life-Cycle Stage
People buy different types of goods and services during different periods of their lives. Demand for various goods and services is often age-related. The buying pattern is also influenced by the stage of the family life cycle.
Family life-cycle represents the stages through which families might pass as they mature over time.
The following table lists the stages of the family life cycle. Marketers often define their target markets based on the life-cycle stage and then develop appropriate products and marketing plans for each stage.
Married without children
Married with children Divorced with children
Married without children
Married with children
Married without dependent children
Divorced without children
Divorced with children
Divorced without dependent children
A buyer’s occupation significantly influences decisions regarding what to buy. Marketers try to identify the occupational groups that have an above-average interest in their products and services.
A company can even specialize in making products needed by a given occupational group. Thus, computer software companies will design different products for brand managers, accountants, engineers, lawyers, and doctors.
A buyer’s economic situation affects product choice. Marketers monitor trends in personal income, savings, and interest rates. If income indicators give a signal of a recession, marketers can take measures to redesign, reposition, and reprice their products closely.
People coming from the same subculture, social class, and occupation may have quite different lifestyles. Lifestyle is a person’s pattern of living, as expressed in his or her psychographics.
It involves measuring consumers’ major AIO dimensions-activities (work, hobbies, shopping, sports social events), interests (food, fashion, family, recreation), and opinions (about themselves, social issues, business, products).
Lifestyles capture something more than the person’s social class or personality; it profiles a person’s whole pattern of acting and interacting in the world. The lifestyle concept can be used by marketers to understand changing consumer values and influencing buying behavior.
Personality and Self-Concept
Every individual has a unique personality that influences his or her buying behavior. Personality refers to the unique psychological characteristics that lead to relatively consistent and lasting responses to one’s environment.
Personality is generally characterized by self-confidence, dominance, sociability, autonomy, defensiveness, adaptability, and aggressiveness. Marketers use personality in analyzing consumer behavior for a certain product or brand choices.
For example, coffee makers have discovered that heavy coffee drinkers tend to be high on sociability. Thus, Maxwell House ads show people relaxing and socializing over a cup of steaming coffee.
Many marketers use a person’s self-concept, which is related to personality. Self-concept is also known as self-image. The basic self-concept holds that people’s possessions contribute to and reflect their identities.
So, for having a better understanding of consumer behavior, the marketer must first understand the relationship between consumer self-concept and possessions.
Four major psychological factors have their influence on a person’s buying behavior. These factors are; motivation, perception, learning, and beliefs and attitudes. These can be expressed as under:
A person has many needs. Some of these needs are biological such as hunger and thirst, while others are psychological, such as recognition, esteem, or belonging.
A need becomes a motive when it is aroused to a significant level of intensity. A motive is a need that is sufficiently pressing to direct the person to seek satisfaction of the need.
Many psychologists have developed theories of motivation that have quite different meanings for consumer analysis and marketing.
The most popular theories of motivation are;
- Early theories of motivation are;
- Hierarchy of Needs Theory by Maslow,
- ERG Theory, developed by Clayton Alderfer.
- Theory X and Theory Y by Mcgregor, and
- The Two-Factor Theory of Motivation – Hygiene and Motivational Factor of Herzberg.
- Modern or contemporary motivation theories are;
The way a person acts is influenced by his or her perception of the situation. Persons with the same motivation and in the same situation may act quite differently because they perceive the situation differently. Perception is how people select, organize, and interpret information to form a meaningful picture of the world.
Different people perceive the same situation differently because each person receives, organizes, and interprets the sensory information individually.
The same stimulus can lead to different perceptions among different people because of the three perceptual processes.
These processes are;
- Selective Attention
Selective attention is the tendency for people to screen out most of the information to which they are exposed.
For example, the average person may be exposed to more than 500 ads in all these stimuli. It implies that marketers have to act carefully to attract the consumer’s attention.
Their message will not reach the most people who are not in the market. Even people who are in the market may miss the message unless it is distinctive from other advertisements.
- Selective Distortion
Selective distortion explains the tendency of people to interpret information in a way that will support their existing beliefs. Selective distortion implies that marketers must try to understand the mind-sets of consumers and how these will influence interpretations of advertising and sales information.
- Selective Retention
People generally will forget many things that they learn. Selective retention is the tendency of the people to retain information that supports their attitudes and beliefs.
When people act, they learn. Learning describes changes in an individual’s behavior arising from experience. Learning theorists say that most human behavior is learned. Learning occurs through the interplay of drives, stimuli, cues, responses, and reinforcement.
A drive is a strong internal stimulus that generates action. The drive becomes a motive when it is directed toward a particular stimulus object.
Cues are minor stimuli. They determine when, where, and how the person responds. If a person finds his response rewarding, it is reinforced.
Learning theory has important implications for marketers. Marketers can create demand for a product by associating it with strong drives using motivating cues and positive reinforcement.
Beliefs and Attitudes
People acquire beliefs and attitudes through action and learning. Beliefs and attitudes influence buying behavior. A belief is a descriptive thought which a person maintains about something. Beliefs may be based on real knowledge, opinion, or faith and may or may not be associated with emotion.
Marketers try to understand the beliefs that people formulate about specific products and services.
Because these beliefs build product and brand image that affect buying behavior, if it is found that there exist wrong beliefs that prevent the purchase, the marketer will take corrective measures.
An attitude is a person’s consistently favorable or unfavorable evaluations, feelings, and tendencies toward an object or idea. Attitudes put people into a frame of mind of liking or disliking things, moving toward or away from them. It is very difficult to change the attitudes of people.
Therefore, a company generally should try to fit its products into existing attitudes instead of making attempts to change them.
The discussion attempted so far gives us a comprehensive idea about the forces influencing consumer behavior.
The consumer’s choice of a product is the outcome of the complex interaction among various cultural, social, personal, and psychological factors. Many of these factors remain beyond the control of the marketer.
Nevertheless, they provide important information about potential buyers and are also useful in designing products and appeals to fulfill consumers’ needs better.