Why do not all individuals buy the same goods and services for personal consumption? Why do certain groups of people prefer different items than other groups? The reason is to be found in the factors that influence consumer buying behaviour. One part of these factors are the buyer’s characteristics. These factors affect what is going on in the buyer black box.
The buying behaviour of final consumers is influenced by various factors. These factors or characteristics determine what is going on in the so-called black box of the consumer. The buyer black box is the consumer’s head. There, the whys of buying behaviour take form.
The buying behaviour is based on stimuli, coming from the environment, such as the 4 Ps (Marketing Mix) and other environmental factors such as the DESTEP forces in the Macro Environment. The stimuli then go through the buyer black box, where a decision is formed. The black box consists of two parts. This reaction on stimuli is based on 1) the buyer’s characteristics, as well as 2) the buyer’s decision process. What specifically is going on here regarding the buyer’s characteristics will be discussed in more detail in this article. The buyer’s decision process is explained here. The outcome of the thinking that takes place in the black box are the buyer’s responses. These refer to buying attitudes and preference. Also, the purchase behaviour is an outcome. What does the consumer buy, where, when, and in what quantities? Finally, the relationship behaviour towards brands and companies is a result of the things going on in the buyer black box. Thus, the black box is the central element of the consumer buying behaviour. We will examine closely what happens inside: The Factors influencing Consumer Buying Behaviour.
Marketers need to understand how the stimuli are transformed into responses inside the consumer’s head, the buyer black box. The buyer’s characteristics influence how the buyer perceives and reacts to the given stimuli. After that, the buyer’s decision process itself takes place and affects the buyer’s behaviour.
Consumer buying behaviour is affected by cultural, social, personal and psychological characteristics. Obviously, marketers cannot change or control these factors. However, they must be aware of them, in order to design their offerings in a way that is attractive from the viewpoint of these factors.
Cultural Factors in the Buyer Black Box
The thinking going on in the Buyer Black Box is firstly influenced by cultural factors.
Culture is the software of the mind. In other words, the set of basic values, perceptions and behaviours that distinguishes one group from another. These values and behaviours are learned by a member of society from family and other institutions. They are so deep-seated that they steer a person in any situation. Therefore, culture is the most fundamental cause of a person’s wants and behaviours.
By growing up in a society, a child learns basic values, perceptions, and behaviours from family and the social context. This may be achievement and success in one society, hard work and individualism in another, and collectivism in a third society. Cultural characteristics in different countries can be assessed on basis of Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions.
Every society has a culture, and cultural influences can differ greatly between groups. Therefore, marketers must adjust to these variations in order to prevent embarrassing cultural blunders.
Each culture consists of several smaller subcultures. These subcultures are groups of people who share value systems. This may be based on common experiences and situations. Subcultures can be nationalities, religions, but also geographic regions. Often, single subcultures make up a market segment that marketers aim add by tailoring a product to the subculture’s needs.
Social classes exist in nearly every society. The term social class refers to a certain permanent division in a society. The social class is an important factor in the buyer black box as it determines what the consumer’s response will be. A combination of several factors such as income, occupation and education determine the social class structure. Worthy of note is the fact that in some societies, it is easier to move between social classes than in other societies. In Europe, the borders between social classes are not that rigid. Therefore, people can move to a higher class or drop to a lower one. In other social systems, they may be more fixed, making it difficult to climb up the ladder.
7 distinct social classes can be recognized in most societies. They can be found in the graphic below.
Especially in areas such as cars, leisure and clothing, social classes show different product and brand preferences.
Social Factors in the Buyer Black Box
Next to cultural factors, social factors influence the Buyer Black Box.
Reference groups influence a buyer’s behaviour. In particular, reference groups are direct or indirect points of comparison (reference). In other words, a buyer orientates him/herself by means of a reference group. If the group wears Nike shoes, the buyer must have them as well. If the reference group prefers certain brands, the buyer will do as well. Therefore, reference groups expose a person to new lifestyles and new behaviours. Thereby, they affect the person’s attitudes. This also means the creation of a certain pressure to conform. Obviously, the influence of reference groups is strongest when the product is directly visible to others in the buyer’s reference group.
As do reference groups, families strongly influence the buyer black box. In fact, the family is often the most powerful influence on consumer buying behaviour. For instance, the husband-wife relationship and involvement may greatly affect an individual’s buying behaviour. But also children can have a strong influence on family buying behaviour.
Roles and Status
Would a top manager of a large-scaled international organization drive a Fiat Panda? The answer to the question is quite clear. But why? It has to do with the role and the status of the person. This is nothing else than the person’s position in a certain group. The role refers to the activities that the person is expected to perform according to the group members. Also, each role carries a certain status that reflects the general esteem given to it by society.
Since people usually choose products based on their roles and status, as the above mentioned example shows, this factor can greatly influence the buyer black box.
Personal Factors in the Buyer Black Box
The Buyer Black Box is greatly influenced by personal characteristics.
Age and lifecycle stage
People do not buy the same goods over their lifetimes. Instead, tastes in food, clothes, furniture and style are often related to age. In addition, buying behaviour is also influenced by the family life cycle. Marrying, having children, purchasing a home, divorcing etc. may change the factors in the buyer black box.
Without doubt, the buyer black box is strongly influenced by the person’s occupation. For instance, blue-collar workers will tend to buy more rugged clothes for work. On the contrary, executives will prefer business suits. Furthermore, a farmer will probably like a cool beer more after work than a lawyer, who would go for the wine. Marketers must try to identify these occupational groups. They should find the one which has the highest interest in their products.
Even more evidently, the buyer’s economic situation affects the buyer black box. It will affect his/her product and store choices. For instance, personal income, savings and other factors influence what a buyer will purchase where, when, and how much.
Lifestyle refers to a person’s pattern of living. This pattern can be expressed in the person’s activities, interests and opinions, the so-called AIO dimensions. Activities refer to work, hobbies, sports and similar things. Interests are linked to food, fashion, family etc. Opinions can be about the person him/herself, social issues, businesses and products. Therefore, a lifestyle describes more than just the buyer’s social class or personality. Instead, the person’s whole patters of acting and interacting is contained in the lifestyle. It is important to know that the consumer’s buying behaviour is strongly linked to the match between his/her own lifestyle and that of a product. Consumers do not buy products, they buy the lifestyles and values those products represent. Therefore, lifestyle is a critical factor steering the buyer black box.
The buyer black box is also affected by his or her personality. Personality means nothing else than the unique psychological characteristics distinguishing one person from another. It is often described in terms of traits. These can be self-confidence, dominance, aggressiveness and so further. As is the case with lifestyles, the idea is that brands also have personalities. Consumers will therefore be likely to choose brands which have personalities matching their own.
Psychological Factors in the Buyer Black Box
Finally, the Buyer Black Box is influenced by psychological factors.
What drives a person towards a certain action? Motives. Motives are needs that are sufficiently pressing to direct the person to seek fulfilment of the need. Needs can be of various natures. And those needs can become a motive when they are sufficiently intensive. The most popular theory that addresses needs is Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The latter explains that human needs are arranged in a hierarchy, from the most pressing one to the least pressing one. According to Maslow, a person tries to satisfy the most important need first. Not before that need is satisfied is will stop being a motivator. Then, the person will try to satisfy the next most important need. To understand how motivation works is crucial for marketers. The reason is that motivation steers the buyer black box, by directing the decision for and against products.
Every person has an individual picture of the world. That is a result of perception, which plays a major role in the buyer black box. Perception is the process by which a person selects, organises and interprets information. By that process, a meaningful picture of the world is generated.
Therefore, people often have different perceptions of the same stimulus. To understand these perceptions is important in order to understand the buyer black box.
Learning is another factor contributing to the stimulus-transformation in the buyer black box. Every time a person acts, he or she learns. This means a change in his or her behaviour arising from experience. Imagine a consumer buys a Mercedes-Benz. If the experience is rewarding, which it will probably be, the consumer’s response will be reinforced. Then, the next time that consumer buys a car, the probability is greater that he or she will buy a Mercedes again. Thus, learning can be the decisive factor in the buyer black box.
Beliefs and Attitudes
Through all the doing and learning, a person acquires beliefs and attitudes. These factors, in turn, influence the buyer black box. If a buyer has negative beliefs about a product based on learning, it is unlikely that he or she will buy it in the future. Also, the person will have a negative attitude towards the product. Certainly, beliefs and attitudes of a person are quite difficult to change. Therefore, marketers should concentrate on trying to fit the products into existing attitudes instead of attempting to change them.
As we have learned, the buyer black box is influenced by many factors. These factors lead to the transformation of a stimulus into a specific response. Trying to change the characteristics of a buyer is a rather helpless attempt. The interplay of cultural, social, personal and psychological factors is just too complex. Therefore, marketers should try to keep these characteristics in mind and create products and marketing programmes suited to the factors in the buyer black box.