Understanding Consumer Attitudes

17 Sunday Oct 2010
Posted by Gregory Dean in Marketing Strategy

Model of Attitudes, Attitudes, Consumer Behavior, Ego-Defensive Function, Functional Theory, Gregory Dean, Knowledge Function, Marketing Strategy, Multiattribute Model, Standard-Learning Hierarchy, Utilitarian Function, Value-Expressive Function

Consumer attitudes are both an obstacle and an advantage to a marketer. Choosing to discount or ignore consumers’ attitudes of a particular product or service—while developing a marketing strategy—guarantees limited success of a campaign. In contrast, perceptive marketers leverage their understanding of attitudes to predict the behavior of consumers. These savvy marketers know exactly how to distinguish the differences between beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors while leveraging all three in the development of marketing strategies.

An attitude in marketing terms is defined as a general evaluation of a product or service formed over time (Solomon, 2008). An attitude satisfies a personal motive—and at the same time, affects the shopping and buying habits of consumers. Dr. Lars Perner (2010) defines consumer attitude simply as a composite of a consumer’s beliefs, feelings, and behavioral intentions toward some object within the context of marketing. A consumer can hold negative or positive beliefs or feelings toward a product or service. A behavioral intention is defined by the consumer’s belief or feeling with respect to the product or service.

A marketer is challenged to understand the reason a particular attitude might exist.
Perhaps the attitude formed as the result of a positive or negative personal experience. Maybe outside influences of other individuals persuaded the consumer’s opinion of a product or service. Attitudes are relatively enduring (Oskamp & Schultz, 2005, p. 8). Attitudes are a learned predisposition to proceed in favor of or opposed to a given object. In the context of marketing, an attitude is the filter to which every product and service is scrutinized.

The functional theory of attitudes—developed by Daniel Katz—offers an explanation as to the functional motives of attitudes to consumers (Solomon, 2008). Katz theorizes four possible functions of attitudes. Each function attempts to explain the source and purpose a particular attitude might have to the consumer. Understanding the purpose of a consumer’s attitude is an imperative step toward changing an attitude. Unlike Katz’s explanation of attitude—as it relates to social psychology, specifically the ideological or subjective side of man—consumer attitudes exist to satisfy a function (Katz, 1937).

The utilitarian function is one of the most recognized of Katz’s four defined functions. The utilitarian function is based on the ethical theory of utilitarianism, whereas an individual will make decisions based entirely on the producing the greatest amount of happiness as a whole (Sidgwick, 1907). A consumer’s attitude is clearly based on a utility function when the decision revolves around the amount of pain or pleasure in brings.

The value-expressive function is employed when a consumer is basing their attitude regarding a product or service on self-concept or central values. The association or reflection that a product or service has on the consumer is the main concern of an individual embracing the value expressive function (Solomon, 2008). This particular function is used when a consumer accepts a product or service with the intention of affecting their social identity.

The ego-defensive function is apparent when a consumer feels that the use of a product or service might compromise their self-image. Moreover, the ego-defensive attitude is difficult to change. The ego-defensive attitude—in general psychology—is a way for individuals deny their own disconcerting aspects (Narayan, 2010). A marketer must tread lightly when considering a message strategy to a consumer with an attitude based on the ego-defensive function.

The knowledge function is prevalent in individuals who are careful about organizing and providing structure regarding their attitude or opinion of a product or service (Solomon, 2008). A marketer can change a consumer’s knowledge function based attitude by using fact-based comparisons and real-world statistics in the message strategy. Vague and non-relevant marketing campaigns are ineffective against a knowledge attitude audience.

Advertising campaigns that appeal to consumer behaviors based on the value-expressive or utilitarian functions are the most common (Sirgy, 1991). Utilitarian advertisements deliver a message regarding the benefits of using a product or service. Advertising targeted to consumers with value-expressive attitudes will typically include product symbolism and an image strategy. In either case, it is important to understand why a consumer holds a particular attitude toward the product or service.

The ABC Model of Attitudes—consisting of the three components: affect, behavior, and cognition—accentuates the relationship between knowing, feeling, and doing (Solomon, 2008). Affect is the feeling an individual has regarding an object. In the current context, affect represents the emotion or opinion about a product or service. Behavior is the responses of a consumer resulting from affect and cognition. Behavior only implies intention. Cognition is an individual’s belief or knowledge about an attitude object.

The hierarchy of effects is the result of all three components working together. The hierarchy of effects is a concept used to distinguish between the involvement levels or motivation an individual might have toward the attitude object. The standard-learning hierarchy, low-involvement hierarchy, and experiential hierarchy are the three hierarchies of effects. Dr. Jill Novack, from Texas A&M University, includes a fourth member of the hierarchy of effects. Novack states that behavioral influence should be included, and represented by the component order—behavior, belief, and affect (Novack, 2010).

The standard-learning hierarchy, also known as the high-involvement hierarchy assumes that the consumer will conduct extensive research and establish beliefs about the attitude object. The consumer will then establish feelings regarding the attitude object. The feelings—or affect—are followed by the individual’s behavior. The cognition-affect-behavior approach is prevalent in purchase decisions where a high level of involvement is necessary.

The low-involvement hierarchy consists of a cognition-behavior-affect order of events. A consumer with an attitude formed via the low-involvement hierarchy of effects bases the purchase decision on what they know as opposed to what they feel. The consumer establishes feeling about a product or service after the purchase. This limited knowledge approach is not suitable for life-changing purchases such as a car or new home.

The experiential hierarchy of effects is defined by an affect-behavior-cognition processing order. In this scenario, the consumer is influenced to purchase based entirely on their feeling regarding a particular product or service. Cognition comes after the purchase and enforces the initial affect. Emotional contagion is common in attitudes formed by the experiential hierarchy of effects (Solomon, 2008). Emotional contagion, in this situation, suggests that the consumer is influenced by the emotion contained in the advertisement.

The elaboration likelihood model (ELM) offers a theory concerning attitude change. Similar to the ABC model of hierarchy, the ELM model is based on the level of involvement in the purchase (Petty & Cacioppo, 1981). Depending on the level of involvement and motivation, the consumer will follow one of two possible routes. The central route is when the consumer is highly involved in every aspect of the purchase. A consumer following the central route extends extra effort in researching and understanding the products or services. The peripheral route—as the name implies—is followed by a consumer with low involvement in the purchase process.

Social judgment theory offers another explanation for attitude changes, whereas a consumer compares current information to previous notions (Novack, 2010). Incoming messages are filtered down two possible paths—latitudes of acceptance and latitudes of rejection. If the new information is similar to existing information, the consumer follows the latitude of acceptance. In contrast, if the information is disparate, the consumer follows the latitude of rejection (Solomon, 2008).

Multiattribute models are used to understand and measure attitudes. The basic multiattribute model has three elements—attributes, beliefs, and weights. Attributes are the characteristics of the attitude object. Beliefs are a measurement of a particular attribute. Weights are the indications of importance or priority of a particular attribute. A multiattribute model can be used to measure a consumer’s overall attitude.

The most influential multiattribute model—the Fishbein model—also uses three components of attitude.  The first, salient beliefs, is a reference to the beliefs a person might gain during the evaluation of a product or service. Second, object-attribute linkages, is an indicator of the probability of importance for a particular attribute associated with an attitude object. Evaluation, the third component, is a measurement of importance for the attribute. The goal of the Fishbein model is to reduce overall attitudes into a score. Past and predicted consumer behavior can be used to enhance the Fishbein model (Smith, Terry, Manstead, & Louis, 2008).

A more advanced and automated modeling technique, semantic clustering, is used to analyze and predict consumer attitudes. While proven effective for measuring the flow and direction of information, recently semantic clustering is being used to elicit attitudes toward brands (Shaughnessy, 2010). Blogs and forums are a prime target for an analyst using the semantic clustering technique.

Results from a multiattribute will reveal several pieces of information that can be used in various marketing applications. If the competitor scores higher on a particular attribute, a marketer should downplay the attribute and emphasize the importance of a high-scoring attribute of his or her own. Likewise, if the score reveals a broken connection between a product and attribute, the marketer can develop a message strategy to establish the link. Differentiation is an important advantage to marketers. Using the results of a multiattribute model, a marketer can develop and market new attributes to existing products.

Changing a consumer’s attitude towards a product, service or brand is a marketer’s Holy Grail. Three attitude change strategies include: changing affect, changing behavior, and changing beliefs (Perner, 2010).  Classical conditioning is a technique used to change affect. In this situation, a marketer will sometimes pair or associate their product with a liked stimulus. The positive association creates an opportunity to change affect without necessarily altering the consumer’s beliefs. Altering the price or positioning of a product typically accomplishes changing behavior. One example is the use of coupons or incentives to promote sales.

Changing beliefs is the most difficult of the three. A marketer can leverage several approaches to changing a consumer’s beliefs about a product. Four common approaches include: change current held beliefs, change the importance of beliefs, add beliefs, and change ideal. Changing beliefs is sometimes a necessary, for example, when a mature product is to be reintroduced into the market (Arora, 2007).

Marketing spans many disciplines including mathematics, and psychology. Math plays an important role is predicting consumer behavior. Understanding the reasons behind consumer behavior requires knowledge of several theories of psychology. These two disciplines combine to aid in the complete rationalization of consumer behavior. Attitudes are easily formed, but difficult to change. Marketing is an ongoing attempt to instill a positive attitude toward a specific product or service.

Attitudes can be influenced by many factors outside the product attributes. Social and cultural environment as well as demographic, psychographic, and geographic conditions can sometimes shape consumer behavior. Consumer attitude, if positive, is an advantage to a marketer. A savvy marketer can build a model for prospecting new consumers from the attributes of a satisfied customer. Direct marketing companies create higher response rates by using look-alike modeling based on existing customers—individuals with a positive attitude.

Consumer behavior is the study of how a consumer thinks, feels, and selects between competing products. Moreover, the study of attitudes is critical to understanding the motivation and decision strategies employed by consumers. The combination of beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors influence how a consumer reacts to a product or service. Marketers develop relative, compelling marketing messages using the same combination of information, and ultimately influence consumer behavior.


Arora, R. (2007). Message framing strategies for new and mature products. The Journal of Product and Brand Management, 16(6), 377.  Retrieved October 4, 2010, from ABI/INFORM Global. (Document ID: 1373518421).

Katz, D. (1937). Attitude measurement as a method in social psychology. [Electronic version]. Social Forces, 15(4), 479-482. Retrieved October 3, 2010, from JSTOR:             http://www.jstor.org/stable/2571413

Narayan, S. (2010). The perils of faking it. Retrieved October 3, 2010, from

Novack, J. (2010). Internal influences – lifestyle and attitude. Retrieved, October 3, 2010, from http://www.marketingteacher.com/lesson-store/lesson-internal-influences-lifestyle-attitude.html

Oskamp, S. & Schultz, W. (2005). Attitudes and opinions. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, NJ.

Perner, L. (2010). Consumer behavior: the psychology of marketing. Retrieved October 2, 2010, from http://www.consumerpsychologist.com/

Petty, R. & Cacioppo, J. (1981). Attitudes and persuasion: classic and contemporary approaches. Dubuque, IA: William C. Brown.

Shaughnessy, H. (2010). How semantic clustering helps analyze consumer attitudes. Retrieved, October 4, 2010, from http://blogs.hbr.org/research/2010/07/every-day-in-the-english.html

Sidgwick, H. (1907). Methods of ethics (7th ed.).  Macmillan and Company, London.

Sirgy, J. (1991). Value-expressive versus utilitarian advertising appeals: when and why to use each appeal. Retrieved October 2, 2010, from http://www.allbusiness.com/professional-scientific/advertising-related-services/270171-1.html

Smith, J., Terry, D., Manstead, A., Louis, W., Kotterman, D., & Wolfs, J. (2008). The Attitude-Behavior Relationship in Consumer Conduct: The Role of Norms, Past Behavior, and Self-Identity. The Journal of Social Psychology, 148(3), 311-33.  Retrieved October 4, 2010, from ABI/INFORM Global. (Document ID: 1501929231).

Solomon, M. (2008). Consumer behavior buying, having, and being (8th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.


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