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Consumer Behavior: Emotional States and Purchasing Decisions

Consumer Behavior: Emotional States and Purchasing Decisions
by Paula Gray, AIPMM

A recent study stated that consumers are exposed to 5,000 brands every day. When consumers choose between those goods and services, they may believe that they are being objective, but their feelings, beliefs, memories, and desires also come into play. A fair amount of research has been devoted to understanding the link between emotions and purchase decisions.

Studies in consumer psychology show that individuals' brand preferences are strongly influenced by emotional factors. Emotional reactions can put a brand out of the running (or give it an advantage) before the product even has a chance to be evaluated objectively by the consumer.

Emotions are especially potent where food and drink purchases are concerned. For example, a health-conscious mother looking for alternatives to high-calorie or artificially sweetened drinks for her children may bypass anything with prominent branding from a soda manufacturer because of a strong and negative emotional reaction to the brand. The underlying belief may be that a company that produces soda does not care about the health of children. She may choose instead to buy a brand whose name is already associated with good health. This is undoubtedly why companies like Coca Cola market their healthier alternatives to soda under subsidiary brand names like Power Aid and Schweppes. Brands that are categorized as "unhealthy" may be dismissed so quickly by health-conscious consumers that, in effect, they are never even considered. Although the competing brand, which is considered "healthy," may not in fact be a healthier beverage, it at least has a better chance of scaling the first hurdle with a consumer who has deep emotional reactions to brands considered "unhealthy."

There are many more effects of emotions on purchasing behavior, but a particularly fascinating one has to do with brand loyalty. Consumers often develop brand loyalty for purely emotional reasons; e.g., the brand may reinforce positive aspects of their cultural identity. For example, ads for "Latino Clorox" show wise messages (in Spanish) from "Grandma"--life lessons unrelated to bleaching the laundry, but highly relevant to a cultural identity that values family connections and the wisdom of elders. The logical path from emotion to purchase is something like, "Grandma was a perfect example of everything we treasure in our culture; Grandma used Clorox; therefore, Clorox is the brand of our culture." Research has shown that people who are less aware of their own emotions have a harder time resisting the comfort of a well-known brand, even when the product is inferior to similar products from other brands.

Today more than ever, marketers and brand managers need to focus on relationship-building with consumers. The characteristic that is paramount for developing those relationships is emotional intelligence--the ability to understand and express one's own emotions, and to interpret and empathize with the emotions of others because it will always be an emotion-driven human driving any purchase decision.

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