Successful products are invariably associated with favorable attitudes. Despite the strong association at any given time between attitudes and product use, the research literature shows a maze of contradictory findings regarding both the strength of the attitude-behavior relationship and the direction of causality.
Through close examination of the attitude-behavior relationship, however, it is possible to place these contradictory findings into a more systematic framework.
It seems quite reasonable to assume that most consumers develop a strong, positive attitude towards one or more specific automobiles before they commit themselves to such a major purchase. Yet, many consumers will know someone who strongly prefers, say, a Japanese car but purchases an American car because “people who work for this firm buy American.”
As another example, consider a frequently purchased, low cost non-durable such as frozen “gourmet” dinners. Given the low cost, a reasonable consumer’s strategy might be to try the product before deciding his attitude towards it. Each of these examples is consistent with both the theoretical and empirical consumer behavior literature.
The primary benefits that accrue from a proper understanding of the attitude-behavior relationship come from a better matching of marketing mix decisions with the information needs of consumers when making different types of buying decisions.
The attitude-behavior relationship is an abstract concept and, thus, there is nothing to implement in the form of a specific program. However, the perspective provided by the role of attitudes in the consumer decision process gives valuable insights into how to construct a firm’s marketing mix strategy, especially in the area of promotion decisions.
Knowledge of the attitude-behavior relationship has a number of implications for implementing successful marketing programs.
- First, one must determine whether the behavior in question is under attitudinal control. For one or more market segments it may not be.
- Second, promotional goals are very much affected by the direction of the attitude-behavior relationship. Establishing strong positive attitudes before purchase is generally not a critical promotional goal for low involvement goods because attitudes tend to follow purchase and are based upon direct product experience. For such goods it is generally sufficient if the promotional program establishes enough awareness and interest to induce trial use. In marked contrast, high involvement goods will generally require a strong positive attitude before purchase. In both situations, of course, it is critical that the consumer’s product use experience be positive.
- Third, knowing the direction of causality is critical to the development of appropriate marketing research studies. A finding that potential consumers who have not used the product do not have positive attitudes has a number of different implications depending on the direction of the attitude-behavior relationship.
Applications to Small Business
Knowledge of the attitude-behavior relationship is potentially as useful to small business as to large business. Indeed, a proper appreciation of the attitude-behavior relationship is critical in developing an optimal plan for deploying the small firm’s usually limited resources for promotion and marketing research.