Key Psychological Processes

The starting point for understanding consumer behavior is the stimulus-response model shown in Figure 5.1. Marketing and environmental stimuli enter the consumer’s consciousness, and a set of psychological processes combine with certain consumer characteristics to result in decision processes and purchase decisions. The marketer’s task is to understand what happens in the consumer’s consciousness between the arrival of the outside marketing stimuli and the ultimate purchase decisions. Four key psychological processes—motivation, perception, learning, and memory—fundamentally influence consumer responses.


We all have many needs at any given time. Some needs are biogenic; they arise from physiological states of tension such as hunger, thirst, or 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 to drive us to act. Motivation has both direction—we select one goal over another—and intensity—we pursue the goal with more or less vigor.

Well-known theories of human motivation carry different implications for consumer analysis and marketing strategy. Sigmund Freud assumed the psychological forces shaping people’s behavior are largely unconscious and that people cannot fully understand their own motivations. Someone who examines specific brands will react not only to the brands’ stated capabilities but also to less conscious cues such as shape, size, weight, and brand name. A technique called laddering lets us 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.23

Cultural anthropologist Clotaire Rapaille works on breaking the “code” behind product behavior—the unconscious meaning people give to a particular market offering. Rapaille worked with Boeing to identify features in the 787 Dreamliner’s interior that would have universal appeal. Based in part on his research, the Dreamliner has a spacious foyer; larger,

FiGURE 5.1 Model of Consumer Behavior

curved luggage bins closer to the ceiling; larger, electronically dimmed windows; and a ceiling discreetly lit by hidden LEDs.24

Abraham Maslow sought to explain why people are driven by particular needs at particular times.25 His answer was that human needs are arranged in a hierarchy from most to least pressing— from physiological needs to safety needs, social needs, esteem needs, and self-actualization needs. People will try to satisfy their most important need first and then move to the next.

Frederick Herzberg developed a two-factor theory that distinguishes dissatisfiers (factors that cause dissatisfaction) from satisfiers (factors that cause satisfaction).26 The absence of dissatisfiers is not enough to motivate a purchase; satisfiers must be present. For example, a computer that does not come with a warranty is a dissatisfier. Yet the presence of a product warranty does not act as a satisfier or motivator of a purchase because it is not a source of intrinsic satisfaction. Ease of use is a satisfier. In line with this theory, sellers should do their best to avoid dissatisfiers that might unsell a product and supply the major motivators (satisfiers) of purchase.

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