External Affecting Consumer Behavior
Besides the internal factors, external factors also Influence consumer behavior. These factors are not individualistic,and are external to the individual. These factors include culture, subculture, social class, reference group and family influences. These factors are associated with the groups that the individual belongs to, and interacts with.
Culture refers to the traditions, taboos, values and basic attitudes of the whole society within which an individual lives. Culture is essentially associated with a certain nationality or religious identity of an individual. Cultural norms are learnt by an individual from childhood, and their influence is so ingrained that it is invisible in daily behavior. Culture teaches an individual the acceptable norms of behavior, and tells him the rights and wrongs. When an individual deviates from acceptable norms, certain sanctions are imposed on him.
Cultural values affect how business is conducted. Culture also affects consumption behavior. Cultural influences can be seen in the food habits and dressing style of people. It also influences communication (language), attitudes and values that influences consumption patterns. For instance, attitude towards future security and prosperity affects the propensity to save and consume, and also affects decisions about possessions. In many Asian countries, having one’s own house is one of the most important indicators of security (it is considered an investment}, and lends social standing.
Cultural influences are highly conspicuous in communication messages. Use of colors, symbols, language and message sources reflect culture. Many brands associate their messages with a country’s culture to adapt their messages. For instance, Honda, a Japanese brand, communicates lndianness and its wide presence in India by using the brand logo in Mehindi (Henne, a local craft of painting one’s hands), Chevrolet uses a popular Indian festival to indicate cultural adaptation, while some food brands such as Pillsbury use the mother serving hot food to her children and thus communicating her love (signifying the role of the mother in the Indian culture} to position their brand’s superior product. The main aim of the multinational brands is to tune their messages according to the cultural specifications of various regions that they operate in.
Social class refers to the hierarchical arrangement of the society into various divisions, each of which signifies social status or standing. Social class is an important determinant of consumer behavior as it affects consumption patterns, lifestyle, media patterns, activities and interests of consumers.
Though there are various methods of ascertaining social class, most often it has been equated with income differences. However, this may not be true. Income differences do contribute to differences in social status, though they may not be the sole cause of differences in consumption patterns or lifestyles. For instance, two consumers earning the same income may differ considerably in lifestyle when one has professional qualification at the post graduate level and is employed at the senior management cadre of a multinational, while the other is self employed, with education confined to a few years of schooling.
Preferences regarding product and brand purchases, media consumption patterns, interests in pursuit of various leisure time activities vary a lot among these two consumers. Such revelations through the years have prompted marketers to measure social class as a composite variable that reflects not just income differences, but other indicators such as educational qualifications, type of profession and designation, material possessions etc.
Social class may fall to distinguish between contrasting consumption patterns though it remains an important discrimination of consumption patterns. Social class should be used with other measures such as life stage and life cycle.
Reference groups are groups of people that influence an individual’s attitude or behavior. Individuals use these groups as reference points for learning attitudes, beliefs and behavior, and adapt these in their life. Family and close friends are considered to be primary reference groups in an individual’s life due to their frequency of interaction with the individual and primacy of these significant others in an individual’s life.
Schoolmates, neighborhood, colleagues, other acquaintances are a part of the secondary reference groups of an individual. An individual may or may not personally interact with others to imitate their behavior, and thus even those individuals or groups from whom an individual learns by mere observation are also part of his reference group.
Reference groups influence product and brand purchases, particularly when the consumption is conspicuous in nature. Where a product is conspicuously consumed, the brand chosen may be influenced by what buyers perceive as acceptable to their reference groups. In case of conspicuous luxuries, even product consumption is influenced by reference groups. In case of inconspicuous products, reference group influence is lower, as there are little or no consequences (sanctions) for not buying the ‘right’ choices.
Among various members in a reference group, there are some who are referred to as opinion leaders. An opinion leader is someone in a reference group from whom other members seek guidance on a particular topic. They can exert enormous power on purchase decisions. They propagate word of mouth communication. Their credibility is higher, as they are part of the reference group, and do not have vested interests in selling the product to others, unlike marketers.
Opinion leaders are product or category specific, and are characterized by high involvement level. It is extremely difficult to identify opinion leaders as they appear to be like other members of their group. They do not stand out, though their influencing power is stronger. Marketers can identify reference group members only by conducting appropriate research, which has to be product specific. Such research must include questions about the involvement levels of the respondent, level of knowledge, social standing in groups, inclination to adapt new products and ability to influence others.