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Understanding Consumer Attitudes

Gregory Dean
Consumer attitudes are both an obstacle and an advantage to a marketer. Choosing
to discount or ignore consumers attitudes of a particular product or servicewhile
developing a marketing strategyguarantees limited success of a campaign. In
contrast, perceptive marketers leverage their understanding of attitudes to predict
the behavior of consumers. These savvy marketers know exactly how to distinguish
the differences between beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors while leveraging all three in
the development of marketing strategies.

An attitude in marketing terms is defined as a general evaluation of a product or

service formed over time (Solomon, 2008). An attitude satisfies a personal motive
and at the same time, affects the shopping and buying habits of consumers. Dr. Lars
Perner (2010) defines consumer attitude simply as a composite of a consumers
beliefs, feelings, and behavioral intentions toward some object within the context of
marketing. A consumer can hold negative or positive beliefs or feelings toward a
product or service. A behavioral intention is defined by the consumers belief or
feeling with respect to the product or service.

A marketer is challenged to understand the reason a particular attitude might exist.

Perhaps the attitude formed as the result of a positive or negative personal

experience. Maybe outside influences of other individuals persuaded the consumers
opinion of a product or service. Attitudes are relatively enduring (Oskamp & Schultz,
2005, p. 8). Attitudes are a learned predisposition to proceed in favor of or opposed
to a given object. In the context of marketing, an attitude is the filter to which every
product and service is scrutinized.

The functional theory of attitudesdeveloped by Daniel Katzoffers an explanation

as to the functional motives of attitudes to consumers (Solomon, 2008). Katz
theorizes four possible functions of attitudes. Each function attempts to explain the
source and purpose a particular attitude might have to the consumer. Understanding
the purpose of a consumers attitude is an imperative step toward changing an
attitude. Unlike Katzs explanation of attitudeas it relates to social psychology,
specifically the ideological or subjective side of manconsumer attitudes exist to
satisfy a function (Katz, 1937).

The utilitarian function is one of the most recognized of Katzs four defined functions.
The utilitarian function is based on the ethical theory of utilitarianism, whereas an
individual will make decisions based entirely on the producing the greatest amount
of happiness as a whole (Sidgwick, 1907). A consumers attitude is clearly based on
a utility function when the decision revolves around the amount of pain or pleasure
in brings.

The value-expressive function is employed when a consumer is basing their attitude

regarding a product or service on self-concept or central values. The association or
reflection that a product or service has on the consumer is the main concern of an
individual embracing the value expressive function (Solomon, 2008). This particular
function is used when a consumer accepts a product or service with the intention of
affecting their social identity.

The ego-defensive function is apparent when a consumer feels that the use of a
product or service might compromise their self-image. Moreover, the ego-defensive
attitude is difficult to change. The ego-defensive attitudein general psychologyis
a way for individuals deny their own disconcerting aspects (Narayan, 2010). A
marketer must tread lightly when considering a message strategy to a consumer with
an attitude based on the ego-defensive function.

The knowledge function is prevalent in individuals who are careful about organizing
and providing structure regarding their attitude or opinion of a product or service
(Solomon, 2008). A marketer can change a consumers knowledge function based
attitude by using fact-based comparisons and real-world statistics in the message
strategy. Vague and non-relevant marketing campaigns are ineffective against a
knowledge attitude audience.

Advertising campaigns that appeal to consumer behaviors based on the value-

expressive or utilitarian functions are the most common (Sirgy, 1991). Utilitarian
advertisements deliver a message regarding the benefits of using a product or
service. Advertising targeted to consumers with value-expressive attitudes will
typically include product symbolism and an image strategy. In either case, it is
important to understand why a consumer holds a particular attitude toward the
product or service.

The ABC Model of Attitudesconsisting of the three components: affect, behavior,

and cognitionaccentuates the relationship between knowing, feeling, and doing
(Solomon, 2008). Affect is the feeling an individual has regarding an object. In the
current context, affect represents the emotion or opinion about a product or service.
Behavior is the responses of a consumer resulting from affect and cognition. Behavior
only implies intention. Cognition is an individuals belief or knowledge about an
attitude object.

The hierarchy of effects is the result of all three components working together. The
hierarchy of effects is a concept used to distinguish between the involvement levels
or motivation an individual might have toward the attitude object. The standard-
learning hierarchy, low-involvement hierarchy, and experiential hierarchy are the
three hierarchies of effects. Dr. Jill Novack, from Texas A&M University, includes a
fourth member of the hierarchy of effects. Novack states that behavioral influence
should be included, and represented by the component orderbehavior, belief, and
affect (Novack, 2010).

The standard-learning hierarchy, also known as the high-involvement hierarchy

assumes that the consumer will conduct extensive research and establish beliefs
about the attitude object. The consumer will then establish feelings regarding the
attitude object. The feelingsor affectare followed by the individuals behavior. The
cognition-affect-behavior approach is prevalent in purchase decisions where a high
level of involvement is necessary.

The low-involvement hierarchy consists of a cognition-behavior-affect order of

events. A consumer with an attitude formed via the low-involvement hierarchy of
effects bases the purchase decision on what they know as opposed to what they feel.
The consumer establishes feeling about a product or service after the purchase. This
limited knowledge approach is not suitable for life-changing purchases such as a car
or new home.

The experiential hierarchy of effects is defined by an affect-behavior-cognition

processing order. In this scenario, the consumer is influenced to purchase based
entirely on their feeling regarding a particular product or service. Cognition comes
after the purchase and enforces the initial affect. Emotional contagion is common in
attitudes formed by the experiential hierarchy of effects (Solomon, 2008). Emotional
contagion, in this situation, suggests that the consumer is influenced by the emotion
contained in the advertisement.

The elaboration likelihood model (ELM) offers a theory concerning attitude change.
Similar to the ABC model of hierarchy, the ELM model is based on the level of
involvement in the purchase (Petty & Cacioppo, 1981). Depending on the level of
involvement and motivation, the consumer will follow one of two possible routes. The
central route is when the consumer is highly involved in every aspect of the purchase.
A consumer following the central route extends extra effort in researching and
understanding the products or services. The peripheral routeas the name implies
is followed by a consumer with low involvement in the purchase process.

Social judgment theory offers another explanation for attitude changes, whereas a
consumer compares current information to previous notions (Novack, 2010).
Incoming messages are filtered down two possible pathslatitudes of acceptance
and latitudes of rejection. If the new information is similar to existing information,
the consumer follows the latitude of acceptance. In contrast, if the information is
disparate, the consumer follows the latitude of rejection (Solomon, 2008).

Multiattribute models are used to understand and measure attitudes. The basic
multiattribute model has three elementsattributes, beliefs, and weights. Attributes
are the characteristics of the attitude object. Beliefs are a measurement of a
particular attribute. Weights are the indications of importance or priority of a
particular attribute. A multiattribute model can be used to measure a consumers
overall attitude.

The most influential multiattribute modelthe Fishbein modelalso uses three

components of attitude. The first, salient beliefs, is a reference to the beliefs a person
might gain during the evaluation of a product or service. Second, object-attribute
linkages, is an indicator of the probability of importance for a particular attribute
associated with an attitude object. Evaluation, the third component, is a
measurement of importance for the attribute. The goal of the Fishbein model is to
reduce overall attitudes into a score. Past and predicted consumer behavior can be
used to enhance the Fishbein model (Smith, Terry, Manstead, & Louis, 2008).
A more advanced and automated modeling technique, semantic clustering, is used
to analyze and predict consumer attitudes. While proven effective for measuring the
flow and direction of information, recently semantic clustering is being used to elicit
attitudes toward brands (Shaughnessy, 2010). Blogs and forums are a prime target
for an analyst using the semantic clustering technique.

Results from a multiattribute will reveal several pieces of information that can be
used in various marketing applications. If the competitor scores higher on a particular
attribute, a marketer should downplay the attribute and emphasize the importance
of a high-scoring attribute of his or her own. Likewise, if the score reveals a broken
connection between a product and attribute, the marketer can develop a message
strategy to establish the link. Differentiation is an important advantage to marketers.
Using the results of a multiattribute model, a marketer can develop and market new
attributes to existing products.

Changing a consumers attitude towards a product, service or brand is a marketers

Holy Grail. Three attitude change strategies include: changing affect, changing
behavior, and changing beliefs (Perner, 2010). Classical conditioning is a technique
used to change affect. In this situation, a marketer will sometimes pair or associate
their product with a liked stimulus. The positive association creates an opportunity to
change affect without necessarily altering the consumers beliefs. Altering the price
or positioning of a product typically accomplishes changing behavior. One example is
the use of coupons or incentives to promote sales.

Changing beliefs is the most difficult of the three. A marketer can leverage several
approaches to changing a consumers beliefs about a product. Four common
approaches include: change current held beliefs, change the importance of beliefs,
add beliefs, and change ideal. Changing beliefs is sometimes a necessary, for
example, when a mature product is to be reintroduced into the market (Arora, 2007).

Marketing spans many disciplines including mathematics, and psychology. Math plays
an important role is predicting consumer behavior. Understanding the reasons behind
consumer behavior requires knowledge of several theories of psychology. These two
disciplines combine to aid in the complete rationalization of consumer behavior.
Attitudes are easily formed, but difficult to change. Marketing is an ongoing attempt
to instill a positive attitude toward a specific product or service.
Attitudes can be influenced by many factors outside the product attributes. Social
and cultural environment as well as demographic, psychographic, and geographic
conditions can sometimes shape consumer behavior. Consumer attitude, if positive,
is an advantage to a marketer. A savvy marketer can build a model for prospecting
new consumers from the attributes of a satisfied customer. Direct marketing
companies create higher response rates by using look-alike modeling based on
existing customersindividuals with a positive attitude.

Consumer behavior is the study of how a consumer thinks, feels, and selects between
competing products. Moreover, the study of attitudes is critical to understanding the
motivation and decision strategies employed by consumers. The combination of
beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors influence how a consumer reacts to a product or
service. Marketers develop relative, compelling marketing messages using the same
combination of information, and ultimately influence consumer behavior.


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(Source: http://marketography.com/2010/10/17/understanding-consumer-attitudes/)