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5 consumer behaviour theories every digital marketer should know

You may have previously brushed off consumer behaviour theories, but why is it important? And even more so post-pandemic?

Consumer behaviours are changing rapidly now more than ever. Covid has disrupted consumers’ normal purchasing habits and routines, causing them to change their behaviours rapidly and on a large scale.

In America, 75% of consumers have experimented with new brands, products and ways of shopping during the pandemic. Now, when many companies’ consumer insights gathered from previous years lack relevance to the current market, it is essential to leverage consumer behaviour theories to predict the behaviours of consumers.

What is consumer behaviour theory?

Theories of consumer behaviour in marketing can be defined as the understanding of how consumers think, feel and act when they buy a product of service.

Why is understanding consumer behaviour theories important for digital marketers?

Consumer behaviour knowledge is vital to every aspect of a digital marketer’s campaign. By understanding how, when and why customers make purchases, marketers can carefully craft ads that influences their buying habits. Through this, marketers can encourage consumers to have a positive perception of their brand and motivate them to reach the conversion stage in the digital marketing funnel.

Here’s 5 consumer behaviour theories you can apply to improve your digital marketing ads:

1. Pavlovian Theory

The Pavlovian theory also known as Classical Conditioning, suggests a person or animal can learn to associate two stimuli together and as a result, produce a learned automatic response. During Pavlov’s experiment, he realised that dogs would naturally salivate when they are presented with food.

Therefore, he repeatedly rang the bell before presenting the dog with food, which allowed the dog to learn to associate the stimuli of a bell sound with food. Thus, whenever the dog heard the bell even though there wasn’t any food, it would display the new learned response of salivating in response to the bell sound.

Within ethical guidelines, digital marketers can condition positive responses, consumer habits and brand recall through their online advertising. Just earlier this year, Menulog announced that the number of orders they were receiving increased by 81% from last year. Although there are many reasons behind their current success, a major factor is due to their catchy ads featuring an upbeat song.

Since a happy tune will naturally evoke positive emotions from the person listening to it, Menulog intentionally chose an upbeat song and increased their ad frequency to encourage consumers to associate the joyful tune with their brand. This encouraged their customers to display the new learned response of feeling positive emotions whenever they saw Menulog even without hearing the happy tune.

2. The Tribe Mentality

Tribe mentality is the human tendency to seek out and connect with like-minded people who share common interests, beliefs or habits. This is seen in the consumer world, where brand loyalists gather together to form groups due to their desire to seek out others who hold a common interest of the specific brand or product.

Digitally, social media has allowed these individuals to form tribes or online groups easier and on a larger scale without any demographic barriers. Today, Facebook has more than 10 million Facebook groups with over 1.8 billion people active in them each month. Therefore, digital marketers should be reaching into these “tribes” and seek to play an active role in them. This can be done through designating an employee to reply to messages related to the brand within any groups.

For example, a customer may have had a negative experience with a clothing brand and expressed their dissatisfaction via a post in a Facebook group. Having an employee reply to the message by apologising, acknowledging their shortcoming and offering a compensation, it will encourage the customer to shift their view of the brand from a negative light to one that’s positive after seeing the brand’s sincerity.

Furthermore, it will encourage customers to feel like they have a personal relationship with the brand, which increases their brand loyalty and repeated purchases. Since many others within the group can also view the post, responding in a positive way can increase brand awareness due to social media word of mouth, which can establish your brand credibility and reputation.

3. Theory of Reasoned Action

In the context of marketing, the theory of reasoned action focuses on the relationship between marketing and the pre-existing attitudes consumers bring to their purchasing decisions. According to the theory of reasoned action, consumers act in accordance with their belief that they will receive a particular desired outcome.

Thus, digital marketers should associate a specific positive result with purchasing the company’s product or service. For example, marketers of a yoga studio would need to promote the association that the purchase of yoga classes would directly lead to a positive result such as being fitter. To gain the trust of consumers, digital marketers should consider collaborating with micro influencers that specialises in health content.

Since more brands would want to partner with popular influencers, micro influencers would have a lower saturation rate of sponsored content, indicating that their content is highly authentic and their followers are more likely to trust what they recommend. Micro influencers can share with their followers how attending yoga classes has personally impacted them in terms of gaining a better posture, figure and physical health. This would encourage customers to move down the decision-making process to reach the stage of store choice and purchase.

4. Hawkins Stern Impulse Buying

In contrast to the theory of reasoned action that focuses on how individuals act rationally, Hawkins Stern looks at consumers’ impulse behaviour in purchases. Stern proclaimed that consumers indulge in impulsive buying behaviours under the influence of external forces such as advertisements. Thus, arguing that marketers can convince consumers to buy more than what they initially planned to.

According to the Stern philosophy, impulse buying occurs on four levels. The first level consists of a quick impulse purchase without much thought. Digital marketers can target this by placing items at the bottom of the checkout page which encourages consumers to add items to their cart last minute.

The second level is also known as the reminded impulse purchase and this occurs when consumers make connections between one product and another product. When consumers search up shoes on your website, marketers can intentionally allow items of shoes and socks to both pop up. Although the consumer was only planning to buy shoes, but when they see socks positioned right next to the shoes, it reminds the consumer that they should also purchase the socks.

The third level is known as the suggested impulse purchase where consumers are suggested and encouraged to buy an additional item along with their purchase. Marketers can target this by automatically adding an insurance package in their cart. Consumers may perceive the additional item as necessary and important and thus, decide to purchase it along with everything else.

The fourth level is the planned impulse decision, which is often triggered by sales and promotions leading to consumers buying something they don’t need or more than what they need. Marketers can offer promotions such as offering free shipping when purchases are over $200. This encourages consumers to buy more items to reach the $200 mark when they weren’t initially considering to.
However, take precaution that this theory may not be as applicable to items that are expensive and of high stake. Despite this, it is still crucial for digital marketers to understand consumer perception and product placement to increase sales.

5. Motivation-Need Theory

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs posits that individuals act to satisfy and fulfil their needs based on five categories that have a hierarchical importance which are physiological survival, safety, love, esteem, and self-actualization. This theory emphasises that only once the needs at the bottom of the triangle are met can one move up to the next level of needs.

By crafting campaign messages that aim to encourage customers to both recognise their need and perceive your product as the solution to satisfying their need, it will lead to increased purchases.

For example, luxury car brands recognise that consumers may feel guilty for spending a large sum of money on a car just to satisfy their need for esteem and status. This is because, the need for esteem is closer to the top of the Maslow’s pyramid and thus, consumers perceive this as a less important and a more superficial need to be satisfied. However, by advertising that their luxury cars are also strong and sturdy, customers will be able to absolve their guilt of purchasing the car as they perceive such purchase as satisfying their essential need for safety and security.

Therefore, digital markets should aim to develop campaign messages that target needs that are closer to the bottom of the Maslow’s triangle, since these are instant and important needs for customers. In doing so, there would be more growth and success opportunities in motivating your customers to make purchases.

Just like buying a gift for someone you hardly know can be hard, creating effective digital marketing campaigns can be difficult when you don’t know your consumers well. However, consumer behaviour theories allow us to understand our consumers, which is the real essence of a great marketing campaign.

Lucy Jadyn Huang
Lucy Yuan

Lucy Yuan is a third-year student at the University of Melbourne completing her Bachelor of Commerce, specialising in the areas of Economics and Marketing. She has currently finished up her internship at EY in the People Advisory team and at Fuse Recruitment in the marketing team. Through these opportunities, she has gained extensive insights within the bounds of communication, digital marketing and content creation. Intrigued in the intertwining of digital marketing within the corporate sphere, she endeavours to explore and learn more about corporate marketing in her future career.