Many believe the holy grail of marketing is trying to figure out what the key factors are that affect customers' purchase decisions. The general idea is that, with this knowledge, marketers can directly target these factors with their marketing efforts. However, as we note in our Consumer Buying Behavior tutorial, it is practically impossible to isolate one factor as the primary reason someone makes a buying decision. Sure price is often a major influencer, but few people are making a buying decisions strictly on price or on any other marketing factor, as many other issues can impact what is purchased. For example, certain cultural and group characteristics that are ingrained in the consumer can affect what they buy. These characteristics, which are often considered outside of the control of purchasers, can weigh heavily on what is bought. Other external factors include the purchase situation and the economic conditions facing the buyer.
While marketing and external factors heavily affect customer purchasing, marketers almost always find that the most difficult factors influencing consumer behavior are those that exist inside a buyer's head. These internal factors include such things as how much knowledge a customer has about a purchase; the circumstances motivating a customer to make a purchase; how a customer views their self; and many more.
A good example of how internal factors can influence consumer behavior is found in this story from Knowledge@Wharton. The story discusses research that examined how perception of status affects the purchase of new products. While the subjects in this research are business buyers rather than consumers, the results are likely to apply to the consumer market. Essentially, the research shows that those who view their status within a group as being in the middle of the status scale are more likely to adopt new products with the hope the product will improve their status. Those at the top or bottom of the status scale are less likely to buy, primarily because those at the top feel they do not need to increase their status while those at the bottom feel they are so low that the purchase will not help them.
The research method used to gather this information is quite interesting as it involved over 6,000 scientists from around the world. The research also confirms how external "opinion leaders" (well-regarded external people or groups) can influence customers' decisions.
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