How to Apply Consumer Behavior To Your Marketing Strategy

The main goal of marketing is to create and keep customers. The more you understand your customers and why they do what they do, the closer you are to reaching this goal. What motivates your customer to buy? What are their needs and wants? How does their personality affect what they are buying? If you aren’t able to answer these questions, it might be time to analyze some consumer behavior.

Consumer behavior is the study of consumers and the processes they use to choose, use (consume), and dispose of products and services [1]. This basically refers to how and why people make purchase decisions. Most marketers are constantly striving to understand their customer’s behavior better, because it really makes a difference all areas of the company. If you figure out exactly why people are choosing your product, you can emphasize this trait in its packaging, advertising and promotions. It can be detrimental for companies to focus on values that are found to be irrelevant to consumers in the end.

This article is designed to walk you through the process of getting to know your customer and buying situation. This should be beneficial to areas outside of marketing that work with customers as well. Even if you are already actively involved in consumer behavior research, hopefully this will sharpen your skills and add more depth to your current process.

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Consumer Needs and Wants

When a consumer starts to feel they are missing something, they become motivated to purchase. They recognize a need and attempt to satisfy it with a want. These needs can range from physical to biological such as safety, security, love, affiliation, prestige, esteem and self-fulfillment [2]. Your product/service should satisfy one of these needs. For example, a product that satisfies the need of prestige should be luxurious and high-status. The people concerned with their status are willing to pay a high price, so the quality and reputation should be sublime.

It’s important to understand how this motivation develops inside a person in order to understand when and where people want to buy. Consumers process information through exposure to stimulus, actively paying attention to it, assigning meaning, retaining the meaning, and retrieving and applying the information to a problem or need they have [3]. If you know what drives people to buy products/services, you understand the need they are trying to satisfy. You can understand the end of the chain and work backwards. How can you make this need feel obvious and urgent to consumers? How can you market it in a way that is memorable and grabs people's attention?

Many companies know how to do this well and end up convincing their customer they have a new need. Tespo, a pill-free monthly vitamin company, educates consumers on the harmful ingredients in typical vitamins. They say that 90% of all vitamins contain manufacturing fillers, such as Magnesium Stearate, but their pill-free dispenser doesn’t [4]. Consumers typically see vitamins as a healthy choice, but Tespo shows them that they are actually making a bad decision and should replace that need with their product instead.

How Personality Affects Behavior

People will establish their needs differently based on their personality. Personality is the combination of characteristics or qualities that form an individual’s distinctive character. By focusing on the personality of a specific person, you can find patterns or long-term tendencies to think, feel and act in particular ways [5]. The way they feel will affect what they need to buy, the way they think will affect how they decide which product or service, and the way they act will affect how they actually purchase.

Let’s say you are trying to target an open-minded customer who cares about charity. This person generally feels happy, calm and hopeful and thinks in a selfless way. If they need to buy a new refrigerator, they will probably be open to many different types and brands. They might make a decision based on how the layout makes them feel and what the brand does for charity. Since they are self-less, they will consider the needs of the family members and other people using the product first. Then they will purchase in a calm and collected way. The promotion can be centered around charitable giving, versatility and the way the refrigerator makes you feel.

Marketers don’t just sell products; they are helping shape personalities. Everyone has a self-image of how you see yourself regardless of how others see you. The ideal self-image is who you aspire to be one day and this usually affects how you buy the most. Your self-image affects your self-esteem motive, therefore buying a product can make you feel good about yourself [6]. Therefore, marketers can also help change personalities with their products in order to make people more satisfied.

Understanding Purchasing Behavior

Fortunately for marketers, consumers buy products and services in a systematic and almost predictable way. As stated earlier, consumers identify a need and find a way to solve it. For many situations, the technique to solve it is routinized and doesn’t take much effort to evaluate the choices. This is called habitual evaluation which refers to a state in which the consumer disregards marketing materials placed in a store, because of brand loyalty, lack of time, repeat purchasing or other reasons [2]. If this is your customer, there is less of a need to fight your competitors and maintain a competitive advantage. People are going to purchase the products no matter what. As long as you can grab the attention of new customers and make them loyal, you are golden.

The opposite purchasing behavior would be extensive evaluation in which people consider the prices and promotions of all brands before making a decision [2]. This is typically for higher priced items like cars, homes, and travel packages. It’s a major decision that requires time in order to avoid regret. If your product/service is valuable and highly important, then your marketing should reflect how your consumer will go about purchasing. You know they will research all your competitors, so it’s important for you to be fair and stand out. Why is your option the best?

How to Apply it: Next Steps

If you are still lost in how to apply these consumer behavior techniques to your marketing strategy, take a look at these techniques. This will help you get started and understand your customer.

  1. Laddering - If you need help understanding why consumers make product choices, consider conducting laddering research. The interviewer asks for an attribute and continues to ask more questions about that attribute until reaching the end goal. This goal will be what moves consumers at an emotional level in order to purchase [7].
  2. Segmentation - Are you struggling figuring out who your customer even is? Try collecting multiple characteristics and grouping your customers together. When you find a relevant characteristic for a group of people, you can try focusing as your target market.
  3. Targeting - Targeting this group of people can be tricky, since each segment should be target differently in order to maximize potential. In the past, marketers would target based on demographics like age and gender, but consumer insights are moving way beyond this. It is more efficient to target based on learning behaviors, personality traits and self-concepts [6]. If you're interested in learning more about targeting, please refer back to our previous entry on Demographic Research.
  4. Positioning - Your positioning statement is very important and possible the easiest fix to issues. What you say about the product/service should appeal to the customer’s motivations. It should offer functional, emotional and economic benefits.


By embracing consumer behavior, you are putting the customer at the center of your marketing activities. Isn’t this the goal of marketing? It’s all about the customer. How people think, decide, and act when they buy things will influence all other sectors of marketing and many other business areas.

By effectively tracking your consumers' behaviors and pinpointing precisely who your consumers are, you can restructure your entire marketing campaign around the needs and interests of the consumers. If this is conducted in the correct way, the right products will be implemented at the right price through the right channels with the right message. You will know your customer inside and out!


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