Product / Servicing Selection For  Decision Making

Problem Recognition.  One model of consumer decision making involves several steps. The first one is problem recognition—you realize that something is not as it should be.  Perhaps, for example, your car is getting more difficult to start and is not accelerating well.    The second step is information search—what are some alternative ways of solving the problem?  You might buy a new car, buy a used car, take your car in for repair, ride the bus, ride a taxi, or ride a skateboard to work.  The third step involves evaluation of alternatives.  A skateboard is inexpensive, but may be ill-suited for long distances and for rainy days.   Finally, we have the purchase stage, and sometimes a post-purchase stage (e.g., you return a product to the store because you did not find it satisfactory).  In reality, people may go back and forth between the stages.  For example, a person may resume alternative identification during while evaluating already known alternatives.

Consumer involvement will tend to vary dramatically depending on the type of product.  In general, consumer involvement will be higher for products that are very expensive (e.g., a home, a car) or are highly significant in the consumer’s life in some other way (e.g., a word processing program or acne medication).

It is important to consider the consumer’s motivation for buying products.  To achieve this goal, we can use the Means-End chain, wherein we consider a logical progression of consequences of product use that eventually lead to desired end benefit.  Thus, for example, a consumer may see that a car has a large engine, leading to fast acceleration, leading to a feeling of performance, leading to a feeling of power, which ultimately improves the consumer’s self-esteem.  A handgun may aim bullets with precision, which enables the user to kill an intruder, which means that the intruder will not be able to harm the consumer’s family, which achieves the desired end-state of security.  In advertising, it is important to portray the desired end-states.  Focusing on the large motor will do less good than portraying a successful person driving the car.

Information search and decision making.  Consumers engage in both internaland external information search.

Internal search involves the consumer identifying alternatives from his or her memory.  For certain low involvement products, it is very important that marketing programs achieve “top of mind” awareness.  For example, few people will search the Yellow Pages for fast food restaurants; thus, the consumer must be able to retrieve one’s restaurant from memory before it will be considered.  For high involvement products, consumers are more likely to use an external search.  Before buying a car, for example, the consumer may ask friends’ opinions, read reviews in Consumer Reports, consult several web sites, and visit several dealerships.  Thus, firms that make products that are selected predominantly through external search must invest in having information available to the consumer in need—e.g., through brochures, web sites, or news coverage.

compensatory decision involves the consumer “trading off” good and bad attributes of a product.  For example, a car may have a low price and good gas mileage but slow acceleration.  If the price is sufficiently inexpensive and gas efficient, the consumer may then select it over a car with better acceleration that costs more and uses more gas.  Occasionally, a decision will involve a non-compensatory strategy.  For example, a parent may reject all soft drinks that contain artificial sweeteners.   Here, other good features such as taste and low calories cannot overcome this one “non-negotiable” attribute.

The amount of effort a consumer puts into searching depends on a number of factors such as the market (how many competitors are there, and how great are differences between brands expected to be?), product characteristics (how important is this product?  How complex is the product?  How obvious are indications of quality?), consumer characteristics (how interested is a consumer, generally, in analyzing product characteristics and making the best possible deal?), and situational characteristics (as previously discussed).

Two interesting issues in decisions are:

  • Variety seeking (where consumers seek to try new brands not because these brands are expected to be “better” in any way, but rather because the consumer wants a “change of pace,” and
  • “Impulse” purchases—unplanned buys. This represents a somewhat “fuzzy” group.  For example, a shopper may plan to buy vegetables but only decide in the store to actually buy broccoli and corn.  Alternatively, a person may buy an item which is currently on sale, or one that he or she remembers that is needed only once inside the store.

A number of factors involve consumer choices.  In some cases, consumers will be more motivated.  For example, one may be more careful choosing a gift for an in-law than when buying the same thing for one self.  Some consumers are also more motivated to comparison shop for the best prices, while others are more convenience oriented.  Personality impacts decisions.  Some like variety more than others, and some are more receptive to stimulation and excitement in trying new stores.  Perception influences decisions.  Some people, for example, can taste the difference between generic and name brand foods while many cannot.  Selective perception occurs when a person is paying attention only to information of interest.  For example, when looking for a new car, the consumer may pay more attention to car ads than when this is not in the horizon.  Some consumers are put off by perceived risk.  Thus, many marketers offer a money back guarantee.  Consumers will tend to change their behavior through learning—e.g., they will avoid restaurants they have found to be crowded and will settle on brands that best meet their tastes.  Consumers differ in the values they hold (e.g., some people are more committed to recycling than others who will not want to go through the hassle).  We will consider the issue of lifestyle under segmentation.

Families and Family Decision Making

The Family Life Cycle. Individuals and families tend to go through a “life cycle:” The simple life cycle goes from

  

For purposes of this discussion, a “couple” may either be married or merely involve living together. The breakup of a non-marital relationship involving cohabitation is similarly considered equivalent to a divorce.

In real life, this situation is, of course, a bit more complicated. For example, many couples undergo divorce. Then we have one of the scenarios:

Single parenthood can result either from divorce or from the death of one parent. Divorce usually entails a significant change in the relative wealth of spouses. In some cases, the non-custodial parent (usually the father) will not pay the required child support, and even if he or she does, that still may not leave the custodial parent and children as well off as they were during the marriage. On the other hand, in some cases, some non-custodial parents will be called on to pay a large part of their income in child support. This is particularly a problem when the non-custodial parent remarries and has additional children in the second (or subsequent marriages). In any event, divorce often results in a large demand for:

  • Low cost furniture and household items
  • Time-saving goods and services

Divorced parents frequently remarry, or become involved in other non-marital relationships; thus, we may see

       

Another variation involves

       

Here, the single parent who assumes responsibility for one or more children may not form a relationship with the other parent of the child.

Integrating all the possibilities discussed, we get the following depiction of the Family Life Cycle:

Generally, there are two main themes in the Family Life Cycle, subject to significant exceptions:

  • As a person gets older, he or she tends to advance in his or her career and tends to get greater income (exceptions: maternity leave, divorce, retirement).
  • Unfortunately, obligations also tend to increase with time (at least until one’s mortgage has been paid off). Children and paying for one’s house are two of the greatest expenses.

Note that although a single person may have a lower income than a married couple, the single may be able to buy more discretionary items.

Family Decision Making. Individual members of families often serve different roles in decisions that ultimately draw on shared family resources. Some individuals are information gatherers/holders, who seek out information about products of relevance. These individuals often have a great deal of power because they may selectively pass on information that favors their chosen alternatives. Influencers do not ultimately have the power decide between alternatives, but they may make their wishes known by asking for specific products or causing embarrassing situations if their demands are not met. Thedecision maker(s) have the power to determine issues such as:

  • Whether to buy;
  • Which product to buy (pick-up or passenger car?);
  • Which brand to buy;
  • Where to buy it; and
  • When to buy.

Note, however, that the role of the decision maker is separate from that of the purchaser. From the point of view of the marketer, this introduces some problems since the purchaser can be targeted by point-of-purchase (POP) marketing efforts that cannot be aimed at the decision maker. Also note that the distinction between the purchaser and decision maker may be somewhat blurred:

  • The decision maker may specify what kind of product to buy, but not which brand;
  • The purchaser may have to make a substitution if the desired brand is not in stock;
  • The purchaser may disregard instructions (by error or deliberately).

It should be noted that family decisions are often subject to a great deal of conflict. The reality is that few families are wealthy enough to avoid a strong tension between demands on the family’s resources. Conflicting pressures are especially likely in families with children and/or when only one spouse works outside the home. Note that many decisions inherently come down to values, and that there is frequently no “objective” way to arbitrate differences. One spouse may believe that it is important to save for the children’s future; the other may value spending now (on private schools and computer equipment) to help prepare the children for the future. Who is right? There is no clear answer here. The situation becomes even more complex when more parties—such as children or other relatives—are involved.

Some family members may resort to various strategies to get their way. One isbargaining—one member will give up something in return for someone else. For example, the wife says that her husband can take an expensive course in gourmet cooking if she can buy a new pickup truck. Alternatively, a child may promise to walk it every day if he or she can have a hippopotamus. Another strategy is reasoning—trying to get the other person(s) to accept one’s view through logical argumentation. Note that even when this is done with a sincere intent, its potential is limited by legitimate differences in values illustrated above. Also note that individuals may simply try to “wear down” the other party by endless talking in the guise of reasoning (this is a case of negative reinforcement as we will see subsequently). Various manipulative strategies may also be used. One is impression management, where one tries to make one’s side look good (e.g., argue that a new TV will help the children see educational TV when it is really mostly wanted to see sports programming, or argue that all “decent families make a contribution to the church”). Authorityinvolves asserting one’s “right” to make a decision (as the “man of the house,” the mother of the children, or the one who makes the most money). Emotioninvolves making an emotional display to get one’s way (e.g., a man cries if his wife will not let him buy a new rap album).


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