Howard-Sheth Model

The Howard-Sheth Model focuses on the element of repeat buying and presents the dynamics of purchase behavior over a period of time. This model shows that a person has motives and perceptions and may make a purchase decision, leading to learning. The consumer has a set of motives and several courses of action. With repeated purchases, the decision process is simplified by storing information that has been fed back into the system.

Design of the Howard-Sheth Model of Buyer Behavior

The Howard and Sheth model of buyer behavior elaborates on a model originally developed by Mr. John A. Howard. The figure shows the simplified version of this model explaining the behavior of an individual consumer.

According to the Howard and Sheth model of buyer behavior, buyer behavior consists of four sets of constructs, frames, or variables. They are:

  1. Input variables
  2. Output variables
  3. Hypothetical constructs (consisting of learning and perceptual constructs)
  4. Exogenous variables
Howard-Sheth Model

The above figure is a simplified version of the Howard-Sheth Model. The exogenous variables are not shown in the diagram because of their implied influences. An exogenous variable, such as culture, will have a definite influence on our behavior.

Description of the Constructs of the Howard-Sheth Model

Input Variables

At any point in time, the hypothetical constructs are affected by numerous stimuli from the environment. The environment is classified as (i) commercial and (ii) social.

The marketing activities of various firms by which they attempt to communicate to the buyer constitute the commercial environment.

From the buyer’s point of view, these communications come by way of either the physical brand themselves (significative) or some linguistic or pictorial representations (symbolic) of the brands’ attributes.

The two inputs are called significative and symbolic stimuli.

The third important variable is social stimuli. It refers to the information that the buyer’s social environment provides regarding a purchase decision. The most obvious is the word of mouth communication.

Output Variables

The output variables are labeled as;

  1. Attention: It is a response of the buyer that indicates the magnitude of his information intake. There are several methods of measuring attention, such as the psychophysical method.
  2. Brand Comprehension: It refers to the buyer’s verbal statement about his knowledge of brands in a product class. It could vary from the buyer’s simply being aware of a brand’s existence to a complete description of the brands’ descriptive meaning.
  3. Attitude: Attitude is the buyer’s verbal evaluation of a brand’s potential to satisfy his motives (his description of a brand’s connotative or implied meaning).
  4. Intention: It is the buyer’s expectation, expressed verbally, that, given his information about all the aspects of a buying situation and his predictions states of the environment, he will buy the brand he likes most next time he is motivated to buy.
  5. Purchase: Purchase behavior refers to the overt act of buying or purchasing a brand.

Hypothetical Constructs

We may classify the hypothetical constructs into two classes:

  1. Learning constructs, those having to do with learning ().
  2. Perceptual constructs, those that have to do with perception.

Perceptual constructs serve the function of information processing, where the learning constructs serve concept formation. The following paragraphs describe these two types of constructs:

Learning Constructs

Learning constructs are labeled as;

  1. motives,
  2. brand comprehension,
  3. choice criteria,
  4. attitude (toward the brand),
  5. intention (to buy the brand),
  6. confidence (in judging brands) and,
  7. satisfaction (with the purchase of the brand).

Let us now look at each of them in turn:


Motives are the goals of the buyer impinging upon a buying situation. They are derived from the biogenic and psychogenic needs, wants, and desires of the buyer.

Brand Comprehension

It refers to knowledge about the existence and characteristics of those brands that form the buyer’s evoked set of alternatives. The brands that become alternatives to the buyer’s choice decision are generally small in number collectively called his evoked set.

Choice Criteria

Choice Criteria serve the function of organizing and structuring the buyer’s motives so that relevant to this product class are interrelated and ordered in terms of their relative importance to him. Choice criteria are the buyer’s mental rule (a guiding principle), which he utilizes to evaluate brands as goal objects.

Their function is to generate appropriate attitudes toward brands so that the brand with the greatest favorable attitude is potentially most satisfactory to him. Choice criteria are learned, and there are two broad sources of learning. They are actual experiences and information from the commercial and social environment.


Attitude refers to a buyer’s relative preferences of brands in his evoked set based on his evaluative beliefs about these brands as goal objects.


Intention refers to a buyer’s forecast of when, where, and how the buyer is likely to buy a brand. It includes possible modifications of the buyer’s attitudes toward brands in terms of inhibitory contingencies presented if the buyer bought a brand.

There are five inhibitory situations viz. high price of the brand, lack of availability of the brand, time pressure on buying, the buyer’s financial status, and social influences.


Confidence refers to the degree of certainty the buyer perceives toward a brand. This certainty may relate to his brand comprehension, attitude toward the brand, intention to buy the brand, and post-purchase evaluation of the brand (purchase experience). So confidence is related to the above.


Satisfaction refers to the degree of congruence (harmony) between actual consequences from the purchase and consumption of a brand and what is expected. If the expected is less than the actual, he will be satisfied.

Perceptual Constructs

Another set of constructs serves the function of information procurement and processing relevant to a purchase decision.

Information can come from any of the three inputs, such as significative commercial stimuli, symbolic commercial stimuli, and social stimuli.

Perceptual constructs are labeled as follows :

  • Attention,
  • Stimulus ambiguity,
  • Perceptual bias, and
  • Overt search.


Attention refers to the opening and closing of sensory receptors that control the intake of information. Attention acts as a gatekeeper to information entering into the buyer’s mental state.

It thus controls the quantity of information input. In the figure, attention is a function of two other constructs – stimulus ambiguity and attitude.

In fact, however, several other constructs, such as confidence, goal conflict, etc. are also determinants. Most of these mediate their influence by way of stimulus ambiguity.

Stimulus Ambiguity

Stimulus ambiguity refers to the perceived uncertainty and lack of meaningfulness of information received from the environment. It affects attention and overt search constructs. Stimulus ambiguity may change in a single communication, particularly if it is verbal as in radio and television commercials.

Perceptual Bias

The buyer not only selectively attends to information but actually distorts it once it enters his mental state.

In other words, the meaning of information is altered by the buyer. This aspect of the perceptual process is summarized in perceptual bias. The buyer may distort the cognitive elements contained in information to make them congruent (suitable) with his own frame of references as determined by the amount of information he already has stored.

Most of the qualitative change in information arises from feedback from various learning constructs such as motives, attitude, brand comprehension, and choice criteria.

The active seeking of information can be termed as the overt search. During the total buying phase, which extends over time and involves several repeat purchases of a product class, there are stages when the buyer actively seeks information.

The active seeking of information occurs when the buyer senses ambiguity of the brands in his evoked set. The ambiguity of brands exists because the buyer is not certain of the outcomes from each brand.

In other words, he has not yet learned enough about the alternatives to establish an expectancy of the potential of the brands to satisfy his motives. He may also find that two brands are equally attractive, and he is undecided about which one to choose. In all such situations, the buyer will search for information.

Relationship Among Hypothetical Constructs

Suppose that Mr. Ali Azam is observed to purchase State Express 555 filter-tipped cigarettes. This is incorporated in the output variable called ‘PURCHASE.’ Our interest at this point is not the quantity, time, or place of purchase. Rather, we wish to find out why he chose 555 over more than 30 other brands.

When asked, Mr. Azam states that he regularly buys 555 and does so because he likes it. Pushed further, he states that he likes it because it has a combination of attributes that best provide what he is looking for in smoking.

Finally, he describes what he is looking for in cigarette buying and consuming: mildness, smooth draw, convenience in packaging and availability, and reasonable price.

When further asked, he states that he knows of 10 brands and tried 5 and right now considers Gold Leaf and Benson and Hedges are other brands that he would consider buying and consuming.

Mr. Azam’s liking and evaluation are part of ATTITUDE. His purchase criteria are the CHOICE CRITERIA, and his brand awareness and consideration are part of BRAND COMPREHENSION.

He also states that he does not always choose 555 because of some occasions when he buys any of the three brands. The occasions are lumped together as INHIBITORS and are a part of INTENTION.

Mr. Azam, however, is very CONFIDENT of his evaluations of various brands. He is equally certain about his intention to buy 555. This degree of certainty is captured in CONFIDENCE.

Next, there are several questions about why Mr. Azam is so confident, certain of his evaluation, criteria, and knowledge of various brands?

He states that he has tried several brands, and based on his post-purchase evaluation (SATISFACTION), he has decided that 555 is satisfactory. Similarly, he has also learned from personal experiences that he ought to look for four criteria set out earlier.

Finally, he admits that several years ago, when he started smoking, he learned considerably about the brands and what to look for in them by word of mouth and mass media (STIMULUS DISPLAY). Furthermore, he does not actively seek any information now, although he did when he began smoking (OVERT SEARCH).

Evaluation of the Howard-Sheth Model

The Howard-Sheth model has added a social negotiation process and has, in this respect, extended the original model. Nevertheless, many of the problems of the Howard-Sheth model remain. These include problems with an insufficient explanation.

For example, it is not clear when causal relationships occur, how they operate, or what weights are associated with the model’s variables.

The Howard – Sheth model is, however, unique in its contribution to a behavioral approach to industrial buyer behavior.

This approach emphasizes the similarity between all forms of group decision-making, including family purchases, purchases made by family-owned businesses, and purchases made by buying groups in multinational organizations.

Thus, this model is more social in nature. That is, it considers interactions between people and incorporates them into the model. This model appears to be a powerful tool for explaining consumer behavior, especially for frequently purchased items, where experience is likely to influence future attitudes.

While it works better when used to guide research on the marketing of established products rather than new ones, It has been useful in planning, executing, and analyzing test markets for new brands.

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