What are the different models of consumer behaviour?

Updated November 21, 2016

Marketing managers use theoretical models of consumer behaviour to help them understand why and how people choose to buy things. They use this information to plan marketing campaigns that target the right customers at the right time.Different models take different approaches and give weight to different factors in decision-making. This variability reflects the almost limitless range of consumers’ circumstances and outlook. It suggests that no single model can cover all consumer behaviour, although each can offer insights into it.

Influences on consumer decision-making

According to the Open University, the human factors that influence consumer behaviour are psychological, personal, social and cultural. Psychological factors include motivation, perception, learning, beliefs and attitudes. Personal factors include gender, age, occupation, lifestyle and economic status. Social influences come from family, friends and fashion, while cultural effects depend on one’s ethnic and religious background and socio-economic class. Factors within the control of the marketing organisation include pricing, advertising, packaging and delivery logistics.

Underlying approaches

The traditional approach in behavioural modelling is based on utility theory -- the idea that rational economic self-interest, i.e. getting the most goods for the least money, governs consumer behaviour. This approach ignores the other needs and considerations that go into purchasing decisions. Subsequent theories include the psychodynamic approach, influenced by Freud, where choices are governed by subconscious biological drives; and the behaviourist approach, which allows for shopping habits learnt through experience. Cognitive and humanistic models go further in trying to account for the diversity in consumer response. They see buyers as information processors, who weigh up their personal attitudes, wants and needs in light of the goods available and marketing campaigns. This approach allows for greater complexity in decision making, including emotional and ethical reasons for buying things.

Types of model

Different models emphasise different facets of consumer behaviour. For example, Maslow identifies a hierarchy of consumer needs: from physical comfort through security, social acceptance and self-esteem to self-realisation. The Howard-Sheth model details all the economic and social factors that determine behaviour in a complex but rigid grid. The Katona model recognises the influence of sentiment on economic behaviour. The Nicosia model relates producer attributes and consumer predispositions to purchasing motivations. Fishbein and Asjen’s behavioural intention theory looks at how people plan, make and follow through decisions to buy in light of their sense of purpose, determination and regard for other people’s opinions.

Stage model

According to the stage model from San Diego State University, consumer decision-making can be seen along a timeline of five successive stages: problem recognition, information search, evaluation, purchasing decision and post-purchase behaviour. Problem recognition means perceiving a need. Information search draws on past experience, other customers’ reports and marketing material. Evaluation covers the purchaser’s own assessment of value, and leads to the decision whether, when and from whom to buy. Post-purchase satisfaction or dissatisfaction affects future buying decisions. The whole process is influenced by personality, attitude to risk, past experience, values, beliefs and lifestyle.

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