(Part 1)
Intro Note from the Editor: Sure, cost matters. But a consumer’s decision to choose your company’s products or services is based on a slew of other factors, some you might not even have on your radar. In a multiple-part series, Dr. Kendrick Brunson will answer the question: why do customers purchase the way that they do? The answer could help you respond in a way that increases the likelihood of a sale.

Understanding the Marketplace
In this series, we will analyze individual attributes of consumers, social influences and situational influences at the time of purchase. Each of these major categories will have sub-categories and may require more than one article to sufficiently cover the topics.

Before launching into the first consumer behavior attribute, it is beneficial to review the general dynamics of the marketplace. Consumers only seek solutions offered by others when the value of those solutions outweighs the costs of the solutions to the consumer. For example, if consumers were willing, able and had the time to grow their own food and preserve it, they would not need grocery stores. Fortunately for grocers, most Americans no longer farm and visit grocery stores on a weekly basis. Therefore, regardless of why consumers purchase, based on behavioral criteria, the marketer needs to offer solutions to consumers that benefit them beyond the value of the costs.

Individual Attributes
Among the individual attributes of the typical consumer are (a) self image and one’s role in the world, (b) perceptions about the world around them, (c) how one learns and remembers, (d) how one is motivated to respond, (e) one’s value system, and (f) attitudes toward experiences and other human beings. In this article, we will examine the first attribute, self-image.

Part of the discussion in these articles may include an evaluation of how each of these attributes might be different among genders and generations. The primary generations to be considered are Baby Boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964), Generation X (those born between 1965 and 1979), and Generation Y / Millennials (those born between 1980 and 2000).

A Consumer’s Self Image Counts
There is little argument today that the market is becoming more self-centered and demanding more customized solutions. Even in the service industry, one manifestation of this phenomenon is the expectation of convenience, defined as 24/7/365 access to services. In products, customers want more individualized colors, shapes, sizes, capacity, etc. The challenge for the marketer/producer is how to create diversity and remain profitable. This problem is not unique to the younger Millennial generation, though it is more pronounced there as an expectation. Most consumers expect a greater degree of flexibility in product and service offerings today.

Embrace Social Media
Part of the key to success in this demanding market is to accurately identify where the bulk of demand will be, not just today, but in the near future.

The best source of information to determine the potential future trends is in the social media universe. More and more companies are beginning to establish entire departments dedicated to monitoring what is being said about a brand on social media and to respond from the brand in a positive way that informs the market that the company has heard any suggestions or complaints and is taking a proactive position to address all comments.

Sometimes the perceptions about social media of those not of the Millennial Generation is that it is the enemy. Yet often, comments or suggestions can be motivated by the desire for an enterprise to improve in order for the writer and his or her network to increase their purchase behavior in the future.

For small businesses that cannot afford to hire full-time employees to monitor social media, using an intern on a part-time basis may be the solution. The interns could also be helpful in designing a social media strategy for the organization.

Make Your Customer a Hero
Most people are the heroes of their own life story. Whatever they do and whatever they purchase are attempts to remain a hero and avoid becoming a villain. Society norms will often shape the current definition of what is heroic and what is villainous. Therefore, one can determine the definitions by observing the culture norms.

Some examples of heroism today include “saving the planet,” “giving back to those less fortunate,” “not allowing others to take unfair advantage of you,” etc. How can a marketer respond in a way that encourages the average consumer to maintain the hero role? Does the marketer’s organization give back some of its profits to community charities (corporate social responsibility)? Can a loyal customer be rewarded in front of his or her peers at the next encounter with unexpected savings or additional unexpected benefits? Will employees of the marketer’s organization be genuinely friendly, helpful, and respectful of customers in the store? These are just a few suggestions on how to help your customers be the hero.

By Dr. Kendrick Brunson