September 02, 2010
With his book Consumer Behavior in Action new to the market, Business Administration Professor Geoffrey Lantos explains what makes consumers tick.
Why do consumers buy what they buy?
To get what we don't have and to replenish what we run out of or wear out.
Is it that simple?
Understanding consumers' minds is complicated. Marketers strive to satisfy consumer wants and needs. But, to develop want-satisfying products, price them pleasingly, distribute them conveniently, and communicate them effectively, marketers need to understand the "why behind the buy."
Explain what 'why behind the buy' means?
Marketers want to know why people buy, who makes the purchases, and how they do so. There are key three factors: the particular consumer (her needs and wants, values, family situation, professional or work life, hobbies and interests, pervious experiences, and other personal characteristics), the nature and characteristics of the product being marketed, and the purchase and usage situations (bought for self, family, or friends; used individually vs. in a social setting, etc.).
What is the biggest influence on consumers?
If you wanted me to say that marketing is the biggest influence, sorry to disappoint you. The most powerful forces shaping consumption are personal (family, teachers, friends, and work colleagues) rather than impersonal (advertising and the media).
Elaborate on that.
The marketing concept - find consumer needs and fill them - suggests that advertising and marketing should follow rather than lead consumers, as it tells the firm to discover consumer needs and wants via marketing research and then develop a product and market it in a way that appeals to those desires.
I would say that as long as this is done in ethical ways and concerns products of genuine value, such influence is socially legitimate. Consumers are sovereign - they are in control of their decision making, personally responsible, and not controlled by outside forces such as marketing.
So lifestyle is key?
Yes, how we spend our time and money is probably the largest influence because it is a function of virtually all of the factors mentioned: social class, social groups, family life cycle stage, personality, etc. Lifestyle is especially potent for conspicuously consumed luxuries, but it influences the little things too, such as our media and entertainment .
Why did you write the book?
Most consumer behavior textbooks overemphasize theory and underemphasize practice. In addition to its down-to-earth conversational style, my book's defining feature is its approach, which gets students actively involved with the material, thereby gaining better mastery of the theoretical material. After all, the title Consumer Behavior in Action. Each exercise uses active learning strategies such as analyzing ads and scenarios, conducting research, shopping online, and crafting creative marketing tactics, among others.
What kind of consumer are you?
I'm uberfrugal, always looking for the best deals. I've learned to follow economist Alfred Marshall's model of an economically rational consumer.
Define a bad consumer?
He or she is a spendthrift who is not a good steward of his or financial resources. Another bad consumer model is that of Thorstein Veblen: the conspicuous consumer, out to impress others with her bling. Then, there's the Freudian consumer, who is out to grab all the gusto he can-temporary pleasers rule.
Is consumerism gluttony?
Novelist John Updike observed that the goal of advertising is "to persuade us that a certain beer, or candy bar, or insurance company, or oil-based conglomerate is like the crucified Christ, the gateway to the good life." The "good life" is too often valued in terms of consumer goods-"He who dies with the most toys wins." The advertising industry plays on this, promising redemption from our problems through material things.
Sounds like you are a consumer skeptic?
Consumerism is a moral sickness that may indicate a hole in our soul that needs to be filled. If it's not material goods, it's seeking fortune, fame, popularity, power, career advancement, knowledge, beauty or brawn. However, these are all self-centered.
Put that in economic terms:
The law of diminishing marginal utility or diminishing returns inevitably sets in-the more we have, the more we want and the more acquisitive we become. Things never satisfy. Your valuables do not determine your value. In fact, every major item you own wants your attention-your possessions end up possessing you.
What's your advice?
I tell my students to follow the biblical model of personal satisfaction: Love of God, family, friends, and others. Relationships between people are most important. The Greatest Commandment in the Old Testament is to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and strength," and the second greatest commandment is to "Love your neighbor as yourself."
Explain more about this.
As a Christian, I believe that anything we put ahead of God is an idol. These idols can and often do deteriorate-money can be lost in a bad investment; possessions can be lost or destroyed; beauty fades with age, etc.
In contrast to such sources of happiness stands joy-the quiet, confident assurance of God's love and working out His plan for our lives, no matter what our circumstances. Plus, the things we so highly esteem, such as wealth, fame, and earthly success mean very little to God and do not gain us more favor with Him.
I recall former Archbishop of Washington Cardinal Theodore McCarrick telling the Class of 2006 that happiness "only comes in reaching out to your neighbor, in loving God and loving the little guy. Think not just of yourself but of other people."
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