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Personality and Related Characteristics That Affect Consumer Buying Behavior

A former university media communications professor, Sallie, an independent publisher, also writes romantic fiction novels and short stories.

Personality and Consumer Behavior

The personality of a target consumer is important for marketers to know about. But first, you must understand what we mean by "personality." One definition is "all the internal traits and behaviors that make a person unique." Personality is also those "visible aspects of character." The bottom line is that a person's personality—and factors related to—it are part of his/her "uniqueness." They are things associated with who we are to others, that come to us by way of heredity and personal experiences.

Some examples of the many personality traits humans might have include such things as: self-confidence (or lack of it), individualism, friendliness, conscientiousness, workaholism, compulsiveness, agreeableness, adaptability, ambitiousness, dogmatism, authoritarianism, introversion, extroversion, aggressiveness, competitiveness, and so on.

Characteristics of Consumer Behavior

Major marketers study and utilize what they see as a link between personality and consumer purchasing behavior. For this reason, products are often created to have "brand personalities" that marketers believe match the primary personality traits of those they see as the best prospects for purchasing the product or service.

Through advertising and marketing communications, marketers seek to appeal to consumers based on the personality characteristics of their best prospects. They believe that personality factors influence greatly what consumers purchase as well as when and how they use or consume products and services. Even online, consumers reveal much information about their self-concept as they visit different websites. Using technology (by tracking cookies, for example) marketers are able to identify a particular set of personality-linked traits based on consumers' online identities, or "footprints."

Factors That Influence Consumer Behavior


Personality and other related characteristics affect the way people behave, period. And that also goes for our behavior as consumers. As consumers, we tend to buy not only products that we need, but those we see as being consistent with our "self-concept." In other words, we generally want our products to match, or to blend in, with who we think we are.

Major marketers have believed, for a long time, that what consumers buy is often influenced greatly by personality and personality-linked characteristics. For this reason, as sellers they try to match the image of their products and services to what they perceive as the self-image of their most likely customer prospects.

Think about your own personality and lifestyle characteristics. How often do things such as your personal traits, lifestyle, social class, reference groups, and your cultural background influence the products and services that you choose to purchase?


Your lifestyle is the consistent pattern of your life. Your personality influences how you live and what things are important to you as you live your life, every day; whereas your lifestyle reflects your personality, attitudes, values, beliefs, worries and challenges, overall outlook on life, and habits of consumption. It's all part of your style of living.

The Pew Research Center's Social and Demographic Trends project recently reported these US trends in lifestyles:

  • No reversal in the decline of marriage.
  • Racial/ethnic minority groups becoming new "majority."
  • Record number of young adults finishing both high school and college.
  • More Americans worrying about financing retirement.

Pay attention to marketing communications messages and you will be able to spot many of these trends as they are reflected in marketer's appeals to consumers.

Social "Identity"

Major marketers are aware of the fact that social relationships are important to us. That's why they do their best to find out who we identify with, socially. They are interested in who our favorite entertainers and opinion leaders are, and, once they find out, they use what they discover to sell us things. One way they do this is by paying spokespersons we admire to market their products and services to us. This can be a risky proposition, sometimes, as proven by Tiger Woods (General Motors), Lance Armstrong, and Madonna (Pepsi), because no one can predict the behavior of an entertainer or an opinion leader who also happens to be a human being. Humans are unpredictable, and when they behave badly, their behavior can reflect badly on the product(s) they are endorsing.

Our social relationships are influenced by our personality, and vice versa. As consumers, our wants, our desire to learn, our motives, etc., are influenced by our attention to and interaction with others. We listen to friends, family members, neighbors--those we trust, and our reference groups exert great influence on how we think, what we do, and how we see ourselves fitting into the world. All of these things, including social class and culture, influence--to some degree, what we purchase as consumers.

Family Roles/Influences

Many of the things we do, as individuals and as consumers, are based on the expectations others have of us. Our position within our primary reference groups are important influences/determinants of our behavior. Most of us have many roles. For example, one man might be a husband, a father, an employee, and a friend. As individuals going through life, our primary roles can change, and that means marketers must work hard to keep updated information on hand about the consumers they want to reach with their marketing messages.

Family is the most basic group a person belongs to. Major marketers understand that many family decisions are made by the family as a unit. In fact, they know that consumer behavior begins in the family unit. Our roles within the family, and the preferences that we model for our children, become part of our consumer behavior. Of course, we and/or our children can accept/reject/alter what is kept from what we learn while being part of a family. Still, family acts as a sort of "first line of contact" for the social and cultural values that influence an individual's behavior. Ultimately, however, even family buying decisions are a mixture of family interactions and individual decision making.

Marketers also know that because many families are spending less time with their children, many are allowing the kids to influence purchase decisions--some in order to alleviate some of the guilt of not spending more time with them.

Teens in the US are now spending around $160 billion a year (CBS News, 2007), and children, up to age 11, around $18 billion a year. In addition, preteens (age 8-to-12) are known to exert strong influence on more than $30 billion in other purchases made by their parents. For this reason, savvy marketers (80 percent of all global brands) are now using marketing strategies incorporating the known influence of "tweens," the 8-12 age group.

Other Reference Groups

In addition to the family as a reference group, individuals also identify with other groups, such as friends, or social, civic and professional organizations. Affiliation with the group can influence the individual to take on some or many of the values, attitudes or behaviors of the group members. An "aspiration group" is one an individual wants to belong to, and a "disassociate group" is one the individual does not want to belong to.

Any group exerting a positive or negative influence on a person's attitude and behavior can be considered as a reference group. Affinity marketing is focused on reaching consumers that belong to specific reference groups. An "affinity" is a characteristic that unites a group of people, and there are possibly thousands of affinities. They provide "umbrellas" under which people unite, and include such things as ethnicity, culture, experience background, passion/interest, or professional designation. Affinity-driven marketers go to the groups in hope of getting approval of products/services, so that the group will then communicate that approval to its members.

The degree to which a reference group will affect a purchase decision depends on an individuals susceptibility to reference group influence and the strength of his/her involvement with the group.

Social Class and Consumer Behavior

There are lots of competing definitions of "social class." Some definitions use a numerical basis, such as wealth or income. Others use qualitative data, such as education, culture, and social status. I like this definition: A social class is a group of people of similar status, commonly sharing comparable levels of power and wealth.

In the US, we use criteria such as occupation, education, income, wealth, race, ethnic groups, and possessions to divide people up into social classes. While personal values/attitudes can have a greater influence on buyers' behavior than the amount of money individuals have access to, the concept of "social class" still influences many aspects of our lives, including purchasing behavior. For example, upper-middle-class Americans tend to prefer luxury cars.

From the "upper-upper" classes, to "lower-lower" classes, it is clear from many different research studies over a number of years that social class, to some extent, influences purchasing patterns, including the type, quality, and quantity of products/services a person purchases or uses. It also influences where and how people shop. Those in the "lower social classes," for example, tend to stay close to home when shopping, and do not engage in much pre-purchase information gathering. Major retailers attempt to attract their best prospects by designing or decorating stores to reflect definite class images.

Family, reference groups and social classes are all social influences on consumer behavior. All operate within a larger culture.

Consumer Behavior, Culture, and Subculture

Culture refers to the set of values, ideas, and attitudes that are accepted by a homogenous group of people and are transmitted to the next generation. Culture affects what people buy, how they buy and when they buy.

Culture is also something that is used to determine what is acceptable with product advertising, because it defines the "customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group" ( Culture determines what we wear, eat, where/how we reside and travel.

Some of the cultural values in the US include good health, education, individualism and freedom. For example, in American culture, time scarcity is seen as an ever-present problem. For this reason, saving time has been the driving force for changes in how people consume. From cellular/mobile phones to micro wave ovens, to dining and meal choices, the perception of time scarcity has had a big impact on product and service offerings, as well as on domestic and international marketing.

Culture can be divided into subcultures, such as by geographic regions, or by human characteristics such as age and ethnic background (for example: West Coast, teenage and Asian American).

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2013 Sallie Beatrice Middlebrook PhD


Sallie Beatrice Middlebrook PhD (author) from Texas, USA on October 13, 2013:

Right FlourishAnyway. Even though I've worked in advertising, for agencies and companies, as a copywriter and as a consultant, I must say (now that I'm on the outside looking in), we give away a lot of information on ourselves that primarily benefits the advertisers. Even though I don't mind it so much, I do sometimes wonder what would happen if they had to pay us for following us online, and also for sending us "unsolicited" mail that we have to discard (some consumer groups have proposed this very thing). It would probably cut down, considerably, on the following and the sending!

FlourishAnyway from USA on October 13, 2013:

It's interesting how much we reveal about ourselves on-line through purchasing behavior without even knowing it. Great hub. You laid out many important elements that have me thinking. Gonna go look at me cookies and do some much needed erasing now. LOL

Sallie Beatrice Middlebrook PhD (author) from Texas, USA on May 21, 2013:

Nehaverma11. Great insight, thanks for sharing, and for the wonderful compliment. I appreciate your visit and your words of wisdom.

Rontlog, glad this Hub got you thinking on these things. You're right, "a lot of what many people buy is driven by the need to fit in with their social group." From mobile phones to sneakers to where we eat, a lot of our purchases represent attempts to "fit in" with those we identify with, or want to be associated with. Thanks for visiting and for sharing.

Rontlog on May 17, 2013:

Very interesting hub that got me thinking......Our basic needs include food to eat, keeping ourselves warm (via clothes and heating) and shelter.

Then there is the need to belong, and I think that a lot of what many people buy is driven by the need to fit in with their social group. I know when I make decisions that are different to mainstream culture some people really have a hard time understanding it.

Sallie Beatrice Middlebrook PhD (author) from Texas, USA on May 15, 2013:

lauraauld: Glad you found the Hub to be interesting, and thanks so much for the visit.

bodylevive: Thank you!

Sallie Beatrice Middlebrook PhD (author) from Texas, USA on May 15, 2013:

heidithorne: Always a pleasure to get a visit. Glad you agree with the issues I brought up in this Hub. I think both marketers and consumers (and we're all consumers even if we're marketers, huh?) need to be a little more mindful of these things as we develop marketing plans, and shopping lists! As consumers, becoming more aware of our own purchasing behavior can only be beneficial.

Sallie Beatrice Middlebrook PhD (author) from Texas, USA on May 15, 2013:

Thank you so much, StitchTheDamned. What a great and truly gracious compliment. I appreciate it so much. Thanks again.

Sallie Beatrice Middlebrook PhD (author) from Texas, USA on May 15, 2013:

vertualit. I so appreciate your visit. Thank you so much!

Sallie Beatrice Middlebrook PhD (author) from Texas, USA on May 15, 2013:

SidKemp: Anxious to read some of your writing on business ethics. I'll be visiting you.

eurozulu: Thank you so much. It's a first for me, and now I know how it feels--WONDERFUL. Glad you enjoyed reading it.

BODYLEVIVE from Alabama, USA on May 15, 2013:

congrats on HOTD

Laura Jane Auld from Los Angeles, CA on May 15, 2013:

It's an interesting hub.

Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on May 15, 2013:

First, congrats on Hub of the Day! Second, I so agree with the brand identification issues you've discussed. Every marketer needs to be very aware of personality and demographic issues when setting up advertising and marketing programs. Well done!

StitchTheDamned from Clifton Park, NY on May 15, 2013:

Wow. This is an incredibly well written article.

Abdus Salam from Bangladesh on May 15, 2013:

Hello @ drmiddlebrook - congratulations!! your hub is hub of the day!

bradley brown from Harrow Middlesex on May 15, 2013:

Good read drmiddlebrook, congrats on hub of the award,

Sid Kemp from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach) on May 15, 2013:

Thanks for answering my question with a question! I'm all for all of us freeing ourselves from automatic behavior based on unconscious impulses. I'll check out some of your writing on business ethics as I continue to write about ethical business. Some of us are living the oxymoron!

rose-the planner from Toronto, Ontario-Canada on May 15, 2013:

Very insightful! Great article! Thank you for sharing.

Sallie Beatrice Middlebrook PhD (author) from Texas, USA on May 15, 2013:

Thanks to all for visiting, and thanks for the compliments. I am honored and grateful to Hub Pages (and most of all, to God!) to have any Hub of mine selected as a Hub of the Day.

To jpcmc: You're right, some individuals do fit into more than one reference group. For this and other reasons, marketers can choose characteristics associated with the "heavy users" or potential heavy users of a product or brand. Remember, most are trying to get the most "bang" for their marketing bucks. There are all kinds of "metrics" that can help them to analyze and determine how to segment their markets to ascertain the best users/potential users of their products, to figure out how to reach those they need to reach out to. And, the best of the best marketers do a stellar job of targeting/pinpointing their marketing toward those representing their best prospects.

MsDora: You are so right: No matter which side of the "business isle" we are on, it is a good thing to understand as much as possible about how marketing works to get our attention. Sometimes, just realizing you're a "target" can help you look deeper into your own needs/motives for purchasing (or not purchasing) one thing or another.

angelsteelrolln76: It's great to have people recognize the work that goes into your Hubs. Thank you for that!

SidKemp: Good question. "Is it beneficial to society to get individuals to make unconscious impulse purchases of things we do not need and are not likely to use by understanding personality traits?"

I write a lot about "business ethics," and--unfortunately, based on the behavior of many marketers toward consumers, it often seems the term itself is an "oxymoron." With this in mind, I think my response to your question will have to be another question: Is it beneficial to individuals to make unconscious impulse purchases of things they don't need and are not likely to use by allowing themselves to be "manipulated" by marketers who understand their personality traits?

Ultimately, we have to accept responsibility for our own choices. No one can force us to purchase or to use certain products. It's true that the "playing field" is not always "level." But still, it's good to know we are not simply at the mercy of marketers (because most of them have none). Ultimately, we make our own decisions.

It is my hope that this tough economy has helped a lot of people begin to realize how important to their "bottom-line" budget every purchase is/can be. And, while it may not help millions, it is one of my goals to try to help everyday consumers who want to understand how the marketing process works; to help--in any small way that I can--make the marketing/business playing field at least a bit more level.

KFusha on May 15, 2013:

This is a fascinating topic with an immense potential. However, I have to disagree with the previous comments and give this Hub a thumbs down.

First of all, it is definitely not "very detailed". Your writing style is simple, straight-forward and easy to read. This is a good thing. The very few facts and figures you incorporated in your work are also very interesting. But, I feel like this Hub was "dumbed down".

The majority of your work consists of definitions of words such as "personality" and "lifestyle" and the constant repetition of how all these things influence what, where and when we buy. The latter became a boring repetitive pattern and it made me lose interest. I'm sure that anyone who would be interested enough to click on the title of your Hub is already well aware of these things. You should have focused more on extracting facts and figures.

Lucy Jones from Scandinavia on May 15, 2013:

Very interesting hub. Many good points and food for thought. Thanks for sharing. Voted up and shared.

Sid Kemp from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach) on May 15, 2013:

This is an interesting discussion of how analysis of personality can be used by companies to sell us more stuff. I'm interested in your thoughts about the ethics of this: Is it beneficial to society to get individuals to make unconscious impulse purchases of things we do not need and are not likely to use by understanding personality traits? It's one thing to know trends - say, to increase sales of tools that help young adults finish high school and college, or of therapy for recent divorcees. But what are the ethics of the use of this information. I'd love to hear your thoughts - maybe in another hub.

Congrats on Hub of the Day.

angelsteelrolln76 from Alabama on May 15, 2013:

Very detailed. A lot a research went into this hub. Great job!!

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on May 15, 2013:

Very good hub, quite deserving of the Hub of the Day. So many revealing facts about our choices as consumers and the "brand personalities" created to attract us. A good study for us on either side of the business aisle.

JP Carlos from Quezon CIty, Phlippines on May 15, 2013:

What a fascinating hub on consumer behavior. You practically laid out everything for us. it is essential that we recognize these traits and characteristics as these will definitely help any business. It's also important to underscore that many consumers belong to combinations of these traits. this makes it a little more difficult for business to zero in on their clients. This is definitely a great resource for businesses. Congratulations on the HOTD.