Psychological Factors Influencing Buyer Behavior

Psychological factors are the fourth major influence on consumer buying behavior (in addition to cultural, social, and personal factors). In general, a person's buying choices are influenced by the psychological factors of motivation, perception, learning, beliefs, and attitudes.


A person has many needs at any given time. Some needs are biogenic; they arise from physiological states of tension such as hunger, thirst, discomfort. Other needs are psychogenic; they arise from psychological states of tension such as the need for recognition, esteem, or belonging. A need becomes a motive when it is aroused to a sufficient level of intensity. A motive is a need that is sufficiently pressing to drive the person to act.

Psychologists have developed theories of human motivation. Three of the best known—the theories of Sigmund Freud, Abraham Maslow, and Frederick Herzberg— carry quite different implications for consumer analysis and marketing strategy.

^ Freud's theory. Sigmund Freud assumed that the psychological forces shaping people's behavior are largely unconscious, and that a person cannot fully understand his or her own motivations. A technique called laddering can be used to trace a person's motivations from the stated instrumental ones to the more terminal ones. Then the marketer can decide at what level to develop the message and appeal.16 In line with Freud's theory, consumers react not only to the stated capabilities of specific brands, but also to other, less conscious cues. Successful marketers are therefore mindful that shape, size, weight, material, color, and brand name can all trigger certain associations and emotions.

^ Maslow's theory. Abraham Maslow sought to explain why people are driven by particular needs at particular times.17 His theory is that human needs are arranged in a hierarchy, from the most to the least pressing. In order of importance, these five categories are physiological, safety, social, esteem, and self-actualization needs. A consumer will try to satisfy the most important need first; when that need is satisfied, the person will try to satisfy the next-most-pressing need. Maslow's theory helps marketers understand how various products fit into the plans, goals, and lives of consumers.

^ Herzberg's theory. Frederick Herzberg developed a two-factor theory that distinguishes dissatisfiers (factors that cause dissatisfaction) from satisfiers (factors that cause satisfaction).18 The absence of dissatisfiers is not enough; satisfiers must be actively present to motivate a purchase. For example, a computer that comes without a warranty would be a dissatisfier. Yet the presence of a product warranty would not act as a satisfier or motivator of a purchase, because it is not a source of intrinsic satisfaction with the computer. Ease of use would, however, be a satisfier for a computer buyer. In line with this theory, marketers should avoid dissatisfiers that might unsell their products. They should also identify and supply the major satisfiers or motivators of purchase, because these satisfiers determine which brand consumers will buy.


A motivated person is ready to act, yet how that person actually acts is influenced by his or her perception of the situation. Perception is the process by which an individual selects, organizes, and interprets information inputs to create a meaningful picture of the world.19 Perception depends not only on physical stimuli, but also on the stimuli's relation to the surrounding field and on conditions within the individual. The key word is individual. Individuals can have different perceptions of the same object because of three perceptual processes: selective attention, selective distortion, and selective retention.

^ Selective attention. People are exposed to many daily stimuli such as ads; most of these stimuli are screened out—a process called selective attention. The end result is that marketers have to work hard to attract consumers' attention. Through research, marketers have learned that people are more likely to notice stimuli that relate to a current need, which is why car shoppers notice car ads but not appliance ads. Furthermore, people are more likely to notice stimuli that they anticipate—such as foods being promoted on a food Web site. And people are more likely to notice stimuli whose deviations are large in relation to the normal size of the stimuli, such as a banner ad offering $100 (notjust $5) off a product's list price.

^ Selective distortion. Even noticed stimuli do not always come across the way that marketers intend. Selective distortion is the tendency to twist information into personal meanings and interpret information in a way that fits our preconceptions. Unfortunately, marketers can do little about selective distortion.

^ Selective retention. People forget much that they learn but tend to retain information that supports their attitudes and beliefs. Because of selective retention, we are likely to remember good points mentioned about a product we like and forget good points mentioned about competing products. Selective retention explains why marketers use drama and repetition in messages to target audiences.


When people act, they learn. Learning involves changes in an individual's behavior that arise from experience. Most human behavior is learned. Theorists believe that learning is produced through the interplay of drives, stimuli, cues, responses, and reinforcement. A drive is a strong internal stimulus that impels action. Cues are minor stimuli that determine when, where, and how a person responds.

Suppose you buy an IBM computer. If your experience is rewarding, your response to computers and IBM will be positively reinforced. Later, when you want to buy a printer, you may assume that because IBM makes good computers, it also makes good printers. You have now generalized your response to similar stimuli. A counter-tendency to generalization is discrimination, in which the person learns to recognize differences in sets of similar stimuli and adjust responses accordingly. Applying learning theory, marketers can build up demand for a product by associating it with strong drives, using motivating cues, and providing positive reinforcement.

Beliefs and Attitudes

Through doing and learning, people acquire beliefs and attitudes that, in turn, influence buying behavior. A belief is a descriptive thought that a person holds about something. Beliefs may be based on knowledge, opinion, or faith, and they may or may not carry an emotional charge. Of course, manufacturers are very interested in the beliefs that people have about their products and services. These beliefs make up product and brand images, and people act on their images. If some beliefs are wrong and inhibit purchase, the manufacturer will want to launch a campaign to correct these beliefs.20

Particularly important to global marketers is the fact that buyers often hold distinct beliefs about brands or products based on their country of origin. Studies have found, for example, that the impact of country of origin varies with the type of product. Consumers want to know where a car was made but not where lubricating oil came from. In addition, attitudes toward country of origin can change over time; Japan, for instance, had a poor quality image before World War II.

A company has several options when its products' place of origin turns off consumers. The company can consider co-production with a foreign company that has a better name. Another alternative is to hire a well-known celebrity to endorse the product. Or the company can adopt a strategy to achieve world-class quality in the local industry, as is the case with Belgian chocolates and Colombian coffee.

This is what South African wineries are attempting to do as their wine exports increase. South African wines have been hurt by the perception that the country's vineyards are primitive in comparison to those in other countries and that wine farmers are continuing crude labor practices. In reality, South Africa's wine farmers have improved the lives of their workers. "Wine is such a product of origin that we cannot succeed if South Africa doesn't look good," says Willem Barnard, chief executive of the Ko-operatieve Wijnbouwers Vereniging, the farmers' co-op that dominates the industry.21

Attitudes are just as important as beliefs for influencing buying behavior. An attitude is a person's enduring favorable or unfavorable evaluations, emotional feelings, and action tendencies toward some object or idea.22 People have attitudes toward almost everything: religion, politics, clothes, music, food. Attitudes put them into a frame of mind of liking or disliking an object, moving toward or away from it. Attitudes lead people to behave in a fairly consistent way toward similar objects. Because attitudes economize on energy and thought, they are very difficult to change; to change a single attitude may require major adjustments in other attitudes.

Thus, a company would be well advised to fit its product into existing attitudes rather than to try to change people's attitudes. Of course, trying to change attitudes can pay off occasionally. Look at the milk industry. By the early 1990s, milk consumption had been in decline for 25 years, because the general perception was that milk was unhealthy, outdated, just for kids, or only good with cookies and cakes. Then the National Fluid Milk Processor Education Program kicked off a multi-million dollar print ad campaign featuring milk be-mustached celebrities like Hanson and Tyra Banks with the tag line "Where's your mustache?" The wildly popular campaign has changed attitudes and, in the process, boosted milk consumption. The milk producers have also established an on-line Club Milk (, limiting membership to people who pledge to drink three glasses of milk a day.23


Marketers have to go beyond the various influences on buyers and develop an in-depth understanding of how consumers actually make their buying decisions. Specifically, marketers must identify who makes the buying decision, the types of buying decisions, and the stages in the buying process.

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  • frans
    How Psychological Factors Influence Consumer Buying Behavior?
    8 years ago

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