So much of market research is based on understanding and predicting consumer behavior. Why do consumers choose to purchase certain goods or services? How can we predict who will make those purchases? What can businesses do to influence potential consumers to lead them to make purchases?
These questions really are the core of market research. Sure, there is so much more big data that goes into answering these questions – modeling, predicting, etc. But the core to conducting appropriate market research comes from an understanding of the tenants of behavior and behavior change.
With a background in psychology, I incorporate psychological theories and concepts throughout the research process. I consider who are these people, what is their background and lifestyle, and how do these aspects influence their consumer behavior.
So – getting back to attitudes. Attitudes include three different major components:
- Behavioral Component: how the attitude influences your behavior
- Cognitive Component: Your thoughts and beliefs about the subject
- Affective Component: How the object, person, event or issue makes you feel
When conducting market research, we look at all of these components together and use that information to form conclusions. We might look at spending on types of products and frequency of purchases or visits to businesses (behavior). Researchers might have a consumer examine an item’s new design and share what they think about that design (cognitive). Is it too simplistic, too busy? A consumer could also complete an emotional assessment after using a product (affective).
Once attitudes (behaviors, thoughts, and emotions) are understood by the business, they move onto examining how they can either maintain attitudes or change consumer attitudes to make them more likely to buy their product.
HOW OUR ATTITUDES CHANGE
There are numerous factors that influence attitude formation, and those factors can also be used to change attitudes.
- Experience: Our attitudes change in direct relation to our experiences. This is essentially the premise of exposure therapy for treatment of phobias (i..e., by continually exposing an individual to what they are afraid of without experiencing a negative outcome, their fear diminishes). Exposure directly influences how an individual feels towards a product, person, etc.
- Learning: Advertisers often use what is called classical conditioning to influence attitudes. In a commercial, you might see some beautiful people having fun playing volleyball on a tropical beach. When they finish playing volleyball, they take a drink of a sports drink. Over time, the attractiveness of the imagery leads you to develop a positive overall association with the sports drink even if you don’t realize that it is occurring. This is one example of how we learn a specific attitude.
- Social Factors: Roles and norms for social groups also influence attitudes or expectations for how to behave in certain situations. Advertising can contribute to social factors or social norms and lead us to purchase goods in a given situation that we may otherwise not have.
- Conditioning: Operant conditioning is another method of attitude change; however, this usually occurs on a more personal basis. An example of operant conditioning could be that whenever an individual smokes a cigarette, their significant other complains and asks them to go outside or away when they smoke. This creates a punishment for the behavior that also happens to be an inconvenience. The negative feedback could eventually lead the individual to stop smoking and develop a more negative attitude toward the behavior.
IN CLOSING . . .
All sorts of businesses and fields use concepts from psychology to inform their practice – specifically marketing and advertising. Being a smart consumer also means understanding how businesses evaluate their consumers and what methods they use to attract more consumers.
As a consumer, it’s beneficial to understand how businesses use these tricks of the trade. As a business, it’s even more important to understand how to improve customer attitudes towards your product in order to influence purchasing behaviors.
Written by Elle Moore, Research Specialist