Stage 3 Evaluation of Alternatives

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Once the consumer has conducted an information search, how does he or she process competitive brand information and make a final judgment? There are several evaluation processes; the most current models view the process as being cognitively oriented, meaning that consumers form judgments largely on a conscious and rational basis.

Some basic concepts underlie consumer evaluation processes. As noted earlier, the consumer is trying to satisfy a need. In seeking certain benefits from the product solution, the consumer sees each product as a bundle of attributes with varying abilities of delivering the benefits to satisfy this need. However, the attributes of interest to buyers vary by product. For example, the attributes sought in a camera might be picture sharpness, camera size, and price. In addition, consumers vary as to which product attributes they see as most relevant and the importance they attach to each attribute. Knowing that consumers pay the most attention to attributes that deliver the benefits they seek, many successful marketers segment their markets according to the attributes that are salient to different consumer groups.

In the course of evaluating alternatives, the consumer develops a set of brand beliefs about where each brand stands on each attribute. The set of beliefs about a particular brand, which make up the brand image, will vary with the consumer's experiences as filtered by the effects of selective perception, selective distortion, and selective retention.

Ultimately, consumers develop attitudes toward various brand alternatives through an attribute evaluation procedure.28 Suppose, for example, that Linda Brown has narrowed her choice set to four computers (A, B, C, D) on the basis of four attributes: memory capacity, graphics capability, size and weight, and price. If one computer dominated the others on all of the criteria, we could predict that Linda would choose it. But her choice set consists of brands that vary in their appeal. She sees A as having the best memory capacity, B as having the best graphics capability, C as having the best size and weight, and D as having the best price.

Like most buyers, Linda is considering several attributes in her purchase decision, and she gives each a particular weight. She has assigned 40 percent of the importance to the computer's memory capacity, 30 percent to its graphics capability, 20 percent to its size and weight, and 10 percent to its price. To find Linda's perceived value for each computer, we multiply her weights by the scores indicating her beliefs about each computer's attributes. So for computer A, if she assigns a score of 10 for memory capacity, 8 for graphics capability, 6 for size and weight, and 4 for price, the overall score would be:

Calculating the scores for all of the other computers that Linda is evaluating would show which one has the highest perceived value.29 This is critical, because a manufacturer who knows how buyers evaluate alternatives and form preferences can take steps to influence buyer decisions. In the case of computers, a manufacturer might redesign the computer (a technique called real repositioning), alter consumer beliefs about the brand (psychological repositioning), alter consumer beliefs about competitors' brands (competitive depositioning), alter the importance weights (to persuade buyers to attach more importance to the attributes in which the brand excels), call attention to neglected attributes (such as styling), shift the buyer's ideals (to persuade buyers to change ideal levels on one or more attributes).30

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