Critical Evaluation of Consumer Behaviour based on Related Experiences
During the course of the paper the researchers’ spending journal (Appendix 1) will be studied and critically evaluated in in an effort to correlate and illuminate the cognitive and emotional purchasing process through two highly researched consumer theories. Gill & Johnson (2002) explain theory as a construction of a cause and effect relationship between two or more variables, which may or may not have been tested.
Solomon et al. (2016) define consumer behaviour as an ongoing process regarding the purchase an individual makes, starting with how they decide their need for a product to how it makes the feel, post purchase. Blackwell et al. (2006) however broaden the definition as an activity that people undertake when obtaining, consuming and disposing of services and products. As one of the key concepts of marketing is centrality, one cannot ignore this decision making process, as understanding it is key to creating strategy (Blythe, 2013). It is also beneficial to note the current market landscape as a global consumer culture oriented one, where the worldwide reach has been made possible by the use of the Internet, which in an interesting turn of events has caused a revival of local cultural identities, instead of the expected global homogenization. (Mooij, 2011). However, the geographical perspective of the paper is Europe as the researcher currently resides in the United Kingdom.
The first theory discussed is the Theory of the Self, recognizes that the multi-dimensional self-concept sways a consumers’ motivation and purchasing habits (Sirgy, 1982). The second part of the essay will focus on how culture can inform a consumers’ choice, give that it may vary quite extensively, even within the European region.
Theory of the Self
As a starting point, it is important to note the difference between self and self-concept, where the first term is process that develops in social interaction, while the second is a product of that activity. (Gecas, 1982). While cognitive theory defines the self as a conceptual system processing information about the self (Sirgy, 1982). Abel et al. (2013) also note that the self-concept can further be divided into the “actual self” (on how the person sees himself now) the “ideal self” (how the person would like to see himself in the future) and the “social self” (how an individual presents itself to others). In order for a product to have personality associations, it has to be purchased/consumed visibly or conspicuously, where a product identity is fundamentally defined by the stereotypic image of its user (Sirgy, 1982). The researcher’s ideal self is associated with quality products, gay interests and appearance (Appendix 1, entry), while the actual self can be characterized by impulsive, irrational and by wrong financial decisions (Appendix 1, entry). As it is clear that this theory has a multifaceted nature and due to the personal character of the journal, the text will primarily focus on self-esteem and image congruence components.
Two commonly research motives of the Theory of the Self are self-esteem and self-consistency (Sirgy, 1982). Kernis (2005) defines self-esteem as people’s representation of how they naturally feel about their own selves across time and context. Self-esteem stability refers to an individual’s short-term fluctuations regarding self-worth feelings. Unstable self-esteem is defined by sudden and extreme shits in feelings from a very positive to a very negative view on one’s self. On the lower spectrum this is reflected by fragile and vulnerable feelings (Appendix 1, entry), while on the other end the feelings of being secure and overconfident prevail (Appendix 1, entry). This type of self-esteem can either be externally provided (Appendix 1, entry) or self-generated. Gecas (1982) further notes that our perception of others’ evaluation are generally biased toward favourable assessment.
The researcher’s unstable self-worth impacts the purchasing habits by their own exaggeration of the evaluative implications of an event (Appendix 1, entry). While developmentally harsh environments can influence a low self-esteem, heightened ego involvement is significant to the other (Kernis et al., 2000). The most commonly used scale used to measure self-esteem was developed by Rosenberg (1965), where the results are based on 10 questions pertaining to the topic, with a four points answer scale, that goes from strongly agree to strongly disagree. In order to further understand on how self-esteem can impact consumer behaviours, the researcher underwent the test, and scored a result of 10/30, indicating a low self-esteem (Appendix 2).
Analysing diary entries related to self-esteem, the researcher thoroughly exhibits an unstable self-esteem behaviour, that in turn impact on his purchasing decision, mostly based on the perception of a specific event, either it be a victory or a failure, further supporting the proposition posed by Shrauger & Schoeneman (1979), where as a result of their study, the observation that there is very little agreement between an individual’s self-perception and how they are actually viewed by others, emerged.
Another important component in determining the nature of the Theory of the Self, is image/product congruence. Solomon et al. (2006) states these models suggest that a consumer cognitively chooses products when their characteristics tie in with some aspect of the self The ideal self is more relevant to highly expensive social products, whereas the actual self is linked more to functional, everyday products. Dahlen et al. (2010) argue that at a basic level, the brand will be seen by the consumer through its aptitude of matching physical qualities against assumed needs. Hammerl et al. (2016) note that the stronger that these qualities are associated to the self, the more meaningful they become in the consumers’ eyes. (Appendix 1, entry)
The link between self-image and product-image congruity was initially propositioned by Gardner & Levy (1955), where consumers preferred products congruent with their self-concepts. This relationship can be explained within the two terms established by Heider (1958): “egocentric attribution” and “attributive projection”, where a specific image given to a product is affected by a person’s egocentricity (Appendix 1, entry). Landon & Laird (1974) further expand this idea where the need for achievement is related to product-image perceptions via a product-anchored Q-methodology used to study people’s “subjectivity”—that is, their viewpoint.
Through the purchase and use of products, consumers often times maintain and enhance their self-concept. (Appendix 1, entry). Thus, products are not only used for their benefits but they create a significant symbolic meaning to the buyer (Holt, 1995). A Likert-type scale test was a common way measuring self-concept traits and linking them to product attributes. However, despite heavy criticism regarding the use of irrelevant images and compensatory rule, Sirgy et al. (1992) bring forward a new method of measuring the self-image congruence using product-image right at the moment of response and juxtaposed it with the actual self-images of the surveyors. Satisfaction and demographics were used an overall composite of consumer attitude towards a particular brand.
Jamal & Good’s (2001) study further supports an even stronger connection between self-image congruency and brand preference where promotional images become extremely important in how a brand is positioned in the consumers’ eyes, as can be seen from the researcher’s entries (Appendix 1, entries).
Consumption choices cannot be fully understood until the cultural context factor comes at play. Culture may be defined as the accretion of shared norms, traditions and meaning between members of an organization or society (Solomon et al, 2016). Because of its vast implications, the effect culture has on consumer behaviour has proved to be a struggle for marketers to fully grasp and appreciate. Values stand at the base if every culture, where the distinction between good and bad takes form. The process of learning one’s culture values is called enculturation (Lury, 2011). As culture is a movable variable, where ideas continually evolve or revamp (Solomon et al., 2016) three functional area have been found: ecology, social structure and ideology.
As national identity is big influence on culture, the delimitation between behavioural features (norms, rituals, symbols) and material ones (technology, infrastructure) can be made. Blackwell et al. (2006) also note the difference between macro-culture (values that apply to an entire society) and micro-culture (where values are defined within a restrictive group defined by variables such as age, religion, social class).
Culture is consistently present throughout the entries used for description of the researcher’s consumption behaviours within the journal (Appendix 1), and the impact is has on how the idea-self changes through time. Multiculturalism is present in most urban areas around the world, As the researcher is a Romanian individual that has lived in the UK for around 5 years, it shows minor signs of acculturation (Appendix 1, entry), however, in the long-term acculturation may lead to the shaping of a culturally plural consumer by merging issues related to consumers culture and self-concept, that define the changes within the self in regard to cultural aspects (Gould, 2010).
Herche (1994) notes that with the increase in size of ethnical minorities, purchasing power and geographic localization, marketers are now looking at different ways of building ad campaigns that are culturally tailored to please both the ethnic minority and the dominant majority (Lindrige and Dibb, 2003). As the researcher is a Romanian migrant, living in the United Kingdom, the cross cultural phenomenon can be discussed, where the crossing of cultures, is very seldom homogenous, the subject never entirely leaving one behind and homogenising completely into another (Davies, 2004). Furthermore, responses to new cultural values are context and socially bound (Faber et al., 1987).
Using Hofstede’s (1997) cultural dimensions theory the comparison between two countries regarding the six cultural dimensions defined by the author has been made (Appendix 3).With a very low score of 20, Romanian culture is one of Restraint. Societies with a low score in this dimension have a tendency to cynicism and pessimism. Also, in contrast to Indulgent societies, restrained societies do not put much emphasis on leisure time and control the gratification of their desires. People with this orientation have the perception that their actions are restrained by social norms and feel that indulging themselves is somewhat wrong.
The researcher also subjected himself to the VALS test (Appendix 4), a proprietary research methodology used for psychographic market segmentation, to further try and explain the consumer behaviour exhibited. The results would indicate that the researcher is cautious, risk-adverse and do not strive to appear trendy, traits which are contradicted by Appendix 1, entries. However, traits such as loyalty to brand products, and spending time mostly on their own are supported by entries.
The direct connection between culture and self-image can be seen thought the researcher’s diary. The dating culture in Scotland seems to be visibly different for the researcher’s one country as can be seen from Appendix 1, entry. However, the most interesting culture-driven purchase from the diary was pertaining the researcher getting a tattoo (Appendix 1, entry), purely based on the fact that the UK perception of tattoos is assimilated to a sentiment of being cool, artistic and self-expressive, whereas the researcher’s country of originally perceives them as a sign of vulgarity, poverty and lack of class.
All in all, culture impacts almost every decision of the researcher, however there are several discrepancies between the theory at hand and the actual purchasing habits developed, and as noted by Mooij (2011) in order for accurate international comparisons to be made, the data should have the same meaning across countries, must be equivalent, as biased information will most likely lead to ambiguous conclusions.
The relationship between consumer behaviour and the various theories discussed in this paper, do offer insights on how marketers can target different audiences based on their behaviour. However, some tests did prove to be only partly accurate when it come to the consumers’ purchasing pattern, which brings forth the idea, that although an individual might have a set traits that could be attributed to an archetype, there are also several other decisions made outside of this compartmentalization. Juxtaposing the researcher’s consumption experiences with the theories discussed here, illustrates a complexity of individuality that is ever changing, and an identity that is rapidly influenced by external factors and the current internationalized landscape.
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Appendix 1 – Diary week 3-5 + reflection
Appendix 2 – Rosenberg self-esteem scale test
Available at https://openpsychometrics.org/tests/RSE.php
Appendix 3 – Hofstede country comparison
Available at https://www.hofstede-insights.com/product/compare-countries/
Appendix 4 – VALS test
Available at http://www.strategicbusinessinsights.com/vals/presurvey.shtml