Personal Factors Influencing Buyer Behavior

Cultural and social factors are just two of the four major factors that influence consumer buying behavior. The third factor is personal characteristics, including the buyer's age, stage in the life cycle, occupation, economic circumstances, lifestyle, personality, and self-concept.

Age and Stage in the Life Cycle

People buy different goods and services over a lifetime. They eat baby food in the early years, most foods in the growing and mature years, and special diets in the later years. Taste in clothes, furniture, and recreation is also age-related, which is why smart marketers are attentive to the influence of age.

Similarly, consumption is shaped by the family life cycle. The traditional family life cycle covers stages in adult lives, starting with independence from parents and continuing into marriage, child-rearing, empty-nest years, retirement, and later life. Marketers often choose a specific group from this traditional life-cycle as their target market. Yet target households are not always family based: There are also single households, gay households, and cohabitor households.

Some recent research has identified psychological life-cycle stages. Adults experience certain "passages" or "transformations" as they go through life.10 Leading mar keters pay close attention to changing life circumstances—divorce, widowhood, remarriage—and their effect on consumption behavior.

Occupation and Economic Circumstances

Occupation also influences a person's consumption pattern. A blue-collar worker will buy work clothes and lunchboxes, while a company president will buy expensive suits and a country club membership. For this reason, marketers should identify the occupational groups that are more interested in their products and services, and consider specializing their products for certain occupations. Software manufacturers, for example, have developed special programs for lawyers, physicians, and other occupational groups.

In addition, product choice is greatly affected by a consumer's economic circumstances: spendable income (level, stability, and time pattern), savings and assets (including the percentage that is liquid), debts, borrowing power, and attitude toward spending versus saving. Thus, marketers of income-sensitive goods must track trends in personal income, savings, and interest rates. If a recession is likely, marketers can redesign, reposition, and reprice their products to offer more value to target customers.


People from the same subculture, social class, and occupation may actually lead quite different lifestyles. A lifestyle is the person's pattern of living in the world as expressed in activities, interests, and opinions. Lifestyle portrays the "whole person" interacting with his or her environment.

Successful marketers search for relationships between their products and lifestyle groups. For example, a computer manufacturer might find that most computer buyers are achievement-oriented. The marketer may then aim its brand more clearly at the achiever lifestyle.

Psychographics is the science of measuring and categorizing consumer lifestyles. One of the most popular classifications based on psychographic measurements is SRI International's Values and Lifestyles (VALS) framework. The VALS 2 system classifies all U.S. adults into eight groups based on psychological attributes drawn from survey responses to demographic, attitudinal, and behavioral questions, including questions about Internet usage.11 The major tendencies of these groups are:

^ Actualizers: Successful, sophisticated, active, "take-charge" people whose purchases often reflect cultivated tastes for relatively upscale, niche-oriented products.

^ Fulfilleds: Mature, satisfied, comfortable, and reflective people who favor durability, functionality, and value in products.

^ Achievers: Successful, career- and work-oriented consumers who favor established, prestige products that demonstrate success.

^ Experiencers: Young, vital, enthusiastic, impulsive, and rebellious people who spend much of their income on clothing, fast food, music, movies, and video.

^ Believers: Conservative, conventional, and traditional people who favor familiar products and established brands.

^ Strivers: Uncertain, insecure, approval-seeking, resource constrained consumers who favor stylish products that emulate the purchases of wealthier people.

^ Makers: Practical, self-sufficient, traditional, and family-oriented people who favor products with a practical or functional purpose, such as tools and fishing equipment.

^ Strugghrs: Elderly, resigned, passive, concerned, and resource-constrained consumers who are cautious and loyal to favorite brands.

Although psychographics is a valid and valued methodology for many marketers, social scientists are realizing that older tools for predicting consumer behavior are not always applicable to the use of the Internet or on-line services and purchases of technology products. As a result, researchers are coming up with new research methods for segmenting consumers based on technology types. Forrester Research's Technographics system segments consumers according to motivation, desire, and ability to invest in technology; SRI's iVALS system segments consumers into segments based on Internet usage.12

Lifestyle segmentation schemes vary by culture. McCann-Erickson London, for example, has identified these British lifestyles: Avant-Gardians (interested in change); Pontificators (traditionalists); Chameleons (follow the crowd); and Sleepwalkers (contented underachievers). The advertising agency D'Arcy, Masius, Benton & Bowles has identified these segments of Russian consumers: "Kuptsi" (merchants), "Cossacks" (ambitious and status seeking), "Students," "Business Executives," and "Russian Souls" (passive, fearful of choices).13

Personality and Self-Concept

Each person has a distinct personality that influences buying behavior. Personality refers to the distinguishing psychological characteristics that lead to relatively consistent and enduring responses to environment. Personality is usually described in terms of such traits as self-confidence, dominance, autonomy, deference, sociability, defen-siveness, and adaptability.14

Personality can be useful in analyzing consumer behavior, provided that personality types can be classified accurately and that strong correlations exist between certain personality types and product or brand choices. For example, a computer company might discover that many prospects show high self-confidence, dominance, and autonomy, suggesting that computer ads should appeal to these traits.

Self-concept (or self-image) is related to personality. Marketers often try to develop brand images that match the target market's self-image. Yet it is possible that a person's actual self-concept (how she views herself) differs from her ideal self-concept (how she would like to view herself) and from her others-self-concept (how she thinks others see her). Which self will she try to satisfy in making a purchase? Because it is difficult to answer this question, self-concept theory has had a mixed record of success in predicting consumer responses to brand images.15

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