An attitude is a learned predisposition, or tendency, to respond to an object or class of objects in a consistently favorable or unfavorable way.
Attitudes are oftentimes viewed as a person’s positive or negative feelings toward something, such as one’s like or dislike for a product or service, a specific brand, a particular attribute, a retail outlet, or a corporation.
Such dispositional feelings constitute one of the three components of an attitude – the affective component. A person’s beliefs or knowledge regarding the attitude object make up the cognitive component, and his intentions to act or behave constitutes the conative or behavioral intentions component.
The rationale for including cognitive, affective and conative dimensions in the definition of an attitude is that what a person believes about an object, how he feels about it, and what is planned in terms of behavior toward it, are closely related to one another. Moreover, each aspect provides unique information about the person’s attitude toward the object.
Attitudes serve various functions for an individual, and it is important to be aware of the diverse roles that attitudes perform. Attitudes often serve a utilitarian function by assisting an individual to determine quickly whether some object should be approached or avoided.
People are generally drawn to things that bring them pleasure and steer clear of those things they do not like or that represent potential threats.
Attitudes also may convey something about a person or what he wishes to portray to others. In this sense, the attitude serves a value-expression function. For example, a person who likes “hot rod” automobiles is most likely to be viewed as masculine, aggressive and a risk-taker.
Somewhat comparable to the value-expressive function, the ego-defensive function relates to the fact that people sometimes hold certain attitudes to avoid anxiety-producing threats to their ego. For example, a man may like Marlboro cigarettes because he fears being seen as effeminate.
Another function of attitudes is that of organization of knowledge. Attitudes serve as bases through which incoming information can be organized. People tend to add information to memory in relation to the organization they have already developed, and this organization usually revolves around the pros and cons of the object.
In summary, people form attitudes about things which have some relevance to them, and such attitudes may serve differing functions in carrying out their daily lives.
The companies and public agencies that have focused on understanding con¬sumer attitudes often report obtaining useful insights into what consumers believe and feel about the product or service in question.
A study conducted for the Federal Trade Commission determined that even after widespread corrective advertising to dispel erroneous beliefs that Listerine cures colds, many consumers continue to hold this mistaken belief.
Through their ongoing market research activities, Procter and Gamble detected a declining trend in sales and market share of Crisco shortening among heavy users in the southeast United States.
Additional research into the probable causes for the trend revealed that heavy users of shortening hold very positive attitudes toward Crisco in general and toward its differentiating product attributes; yet, it was also learned that some of these consumers had shifted their purchase behavior to a more price-oriented brand and expressed behavioral intentions to continue to purchase in that manner.
The Crisco brand manager decided it would be necessary to convince these price- oriented switchers that they should spend the extra money to buy Crisco. A combined media and sales promotion campaign with Loretta Lynn as the spokesperson was implemented. The brand regained its lost market share and fully recouped the expense for the media/sales promotion blitz.
There are numerous benefits which may be derived from assessment of attitudes. In many instances, a focus on consumer attitudes is the only feasible means for projecting likely purchase behavior prior to the implementation of a given change in marketing strategy. For proposed new products, a marketer has no choice but to rely on consumer attitudinal reactions to the product concept for making decisions regarding continuation of the development process.
Additional uses of consumer attitude information may result in such tangible benefits as greater profitability and increased market share, and in such intangible benefits as enhanced consumer satisfaction and improved product positioning.
Attitudes are occasionally used as vehicles for longitudinal tracking purposes, which may help identify needed strategy changes and other deserving problem areas. Attitudes also serve an important role in market segmentation (e.g., brand loyal versus non-loyal segments) and may help in distinguishing determinant from nondeterminant product attributes.
Attitudes toward particular product attributes, when coupled with perceptions (i.e., beliefs) of competing brands, are very helpful to marketers for identifying the relative positioning of each brand on the set of attributes under scrutiny. Such information highlights a brand’s strengths and weaknesses in the marketplace and allows for voids and other opportunities to be detected.
An effective attempt to explore consumer attitudes requires consideration of a number of related issues. These issues include aspects that pertain to attitude content, context and measurement.
The content-related decisions that must be made are extremely important to the overall usefulness of an emphasis on consumer attitudes. A manager first needs to consider the breadth and depth to which attitudinal information is needed, as well as the attitude object to be the focus of study. These decisions involve asking questions such as:
1. What attitude object should be the focus of study – the firm, the product, the brand, etc.?
2. Is there a need to ascertain both specific and general attitudes toward the object? If so, what aspects or attributes of the object should be considered?
Related to these decisions, it is necessary to decide on the particular components of attitudes that should be the foci of investigation—cognitive, affective, and/or conative.
In most instances, a manager will benefit from knowledge of:
(1) affect toward specific product or store attributes,
(2) beliefs about the extent to which a brand or store is believed to possess particular attributes,
(3) overall affect toward the object in general, and
(4) behavioral intentions regarding the object.
With respect to this second area, the manager should decide whether the beliefs component should be assessed on a comparative or noncomparative basis. A comparative approach utilizes a particular referent, such as an ideal brand or a competitive brand, whereas a noncomparative approach does not specify a particular point of reference.
Use of a comparative approach does not, however, guarantee that consumers will in fact view the comparison in a similar manner.
With respect to the areas of attribute affect, overall affect and behavioral intentions, there is evidence to support the case that responses by an individual may vary across situational contexts, such as a person having a strong positive attitude toward a particular brand for certain consumption settings and a markedly weaker attitude for other settings.
A manager should assess whether the attitude object under consideration is subject to situational variability, and, if so, whether there is a likely benefit to examining attitude differences across situational contexts. Substantial benefits are likely to be realized when the marketer is partly in control of the situational context, as when advertising can communicate the differential applicability of the brand or store in particular settings or circumstances.
The context for which attitudes are to be assessed is a second important area of concern in implementation. An ad hoc attitude survey is usually used to obtain a general perspective of the sentiment among a consumer population and is not generally conducted to provide definitive answers to particular questions of concern to a manager.
Planned or purposeful attitude surveys are conducted to track changes in attitudes over time and/or to determine the impact on attitudes of a change in marketing strategy. Timing is very important for a successful, planned attitude survey.
In the case of longitudinal tracking, the surveys should be conducted at regular intervals – for example, on a yearly basis – and under similar conditions. For maximum use, the same individuals should be surveyed and their responses matched over time.
Use of a different sample for each time period only allows for aggregate changes to be assessed. For examining the effect of a change in marketing strategy, it is important that the attitude survey be conducted only after a sufficient time has elapsed to allow for the change to have its effect.
Although attitudes may change over time, these changes are typically gradual, especially when the attitude is an expression of an individual’s values or a buffer for his ego.
The third area which needs to be considered for implementation is that of measurement. The manager first needs to address whether attitudes should be assessed with closed- or open-ended questions.
Open-ended questions are appropriate for ad hoc attitude surveys, and when the manager would like to obtain qualitative feedback about the attitude object in question.
Closed-ended questions are usually necessary for tracking changes in attitudes and when one desires to ensure that responses across individuals can be compared, which may be the case in an ad hoc survey as well. Closed-ended questions entail providing all respondents with the same, fixed set of response options from which to choose.
Subsidiary issues surrounding closed-ended questions include:
(1) the number of response options supplied to reflect the attitude continuum,
(2) the extent to which the categories of response options are labeled,
(3) whether or not to provide a “don’t know” or “no opinion” response option as an alternative,
(4) whether or not to have a neutral position as a response option, and
(5) the type of “attitude scaling procedure” to employ.
In general, the attitude continuum contains labeled end points and is commonly reflected with either 3, 5, 7 or 11 scale points when a midpoint is given for neutral responses, and 4, 6 or 10 when no midpoint is directly given to encourage the respondent to take a stand, positive or negative. Although inclusion of a “don’t know” or “no opinion” response option is advantageous for minimizing any response bias from individuals who really do not have an opinion, it does complicate matters when quantitative analyses are performed.
There are several different attitude scaling procedures which may be used, including:
(1) the semantic differential scale with bipolar adjectives such as good/bad,
(2) the Stapel scale, and
(3) the Likert scale.
These scaling procedures are typically discussed thoroughly in a marketing research text.
Depending on the purpose for the attitude focus, the criteria for evaluating responses will vary. In general, it is important that the manager formulate decision criteria or standards prior to implementation that can be used for determining whether strategy alterations should be made.
Ideally, these criteria will be derived from prior attitude surveys and managerial experience. In the case of longitudinal tracking studies, responses from a previous time period typically form the baseline gauge of change.
Irrespective of purpose, it is imperative that planned attitude comparison studies employ common measurement procedures and criteria across product attributes, brands, and/or stores. Use of attitude information for defining market segments and targets requires that such other issues as segment accessibility and substantiality be incorporated into decision criteria.
Attitudes are a fact of life. All too often firms fail to take advantage of such information until irreparable damage has been done and important marketing opportunities missed. Judicious use of attitude information is one of the critical requirements for implementing the marketing concept and achieving desired sales and market share levels.
Although attitudes tend to be relatively stable in the short run, they do change over time and situational contexts. As a consequence, it is important to consider the impact on attitudes when contemplating an alteration in strategy and to establish a regular program of attitude assessment.
Applications to Small Business
As with any form of marketing research, many small business owners make the erroneous judgment that an attitude survey is prohibitively costly and requires professional expertise. Any manager who can address the substantive issues given under the implementation heading should be fully able to develop an attitude survey for administering to present and perhaps potential customers.
A standard survey instrument could be developed and distributed on an as-needed basis to the desired customer base. The analysis phase need not be highly-quantitative for useful insights to be obtained. For examining the impact of strategy changes, more detailed computer-based analysis would likely be worthwhile.