Personality and Related Characteristics that Affect Consumer Buying Behavior
If personality and related factors are important for marketers to know about, then what is personality? Well, one definition says it is "All the internal traits and behaviors that make a person unique." Another says it is "visible aspects of character." The bottom line is, 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, and so on.
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/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/consume products and services. Even online, consumers reveal much information about their "self-concept" as they visit different websites. Using technology such as tracking cookies, marketers are able to identify a particular set of personality-linked traits based on consumers' online identities, or "footprints."
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. And it reflects your personality, your attitudes, your values, your beliefs, your worries/challenges, your overall outlook on life, and your habits of consumption. It's all part of your style of living.
The Pew Research Center's Social & 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.
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.
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.
There are lots of competing definitions of "social class." Some definitions use 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 to 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.
Culture and Sub-culture
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 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).
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" (Merriam-Webster.com). 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 consumer. From cellular/mobile phones to micro wave ovens, to dining and meal choices, the perception of time scarcity has had a big impact on domestic and international marketing.
© 2013 Sallie B Middlebrook PhD