Why do you buy the things you do? How did you decide to go to the college you’re attending? Where do like to shop and when? Do your friends shop at the same places or different places?
Marketing professionals want to know the answers to these questions. They know that once they do have those answers, they will have a much better chance of creating and communicating about products that you and people like you will want to buy. That’s what the study of consumer behavior is all about. Consumer behavior considers the many reasons why—personal, situational, psychological, and social—people shop for products, buy and use them, and then dispose of them.
Companies spend billions of dollars annually studying what makes consumers “tick.” Although you might not like it, Google, AOL, and Yahoo! monitor your Web patterns—the sites you search, that is. The companies that pay for search advertising, or ads that appear on the Web pages you pull up after doing an online search, want to find out what kind of things you’re interested in. Doing so allows these companies to send you popup ads and coupons you might actually be interested in instead of ads and coupons for products such as Depends or Viagra.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), in conjunction with a large retail center, has tracked consumers in retail establishments to see when and where they tended to dwell, or stop to look at merchandise. How was it done? By tracking the position of the consumers’ mobile phones as the phones automatically transmitted signals to cellular towers. MIT found that when people’s “dwell times” increased, sales increased, too. 1
Researchers have even looked at people’s brains by having them lie in scanners and asking them questions about different products. What people say about the products is then compared to what their brains scans show—that is, what they are really thinking. Scanning people’s brains for marketing purposes might sound nutty. But maybe not when you consider the fact is that eight out of ten new consumer products fail, even when they are test marketed. Could it be that what people say about potentially new products and what they think about them are different? Marketing professionals want to find out. 2
Studying people’s buying habits isn’t just for big companies, though. Even small businesses and entrepreneurs can study the behavior of their customers with great success. For example, by figuring out what zip codes their customers are in, a business might determine where to locate an additional store. Customer surveys and other studies can also help explain why buyers purchased what they did and what their experiences were with a business. Even small businesses such as restaurants use coupon codes. For example, coupons sent out in newspapers are given one code. Those sent out via the Internet are given another. Then when the coupons are redeemed, the restaurants can tell which marketing avenues are having the biggest effect on their sales.
Some businesses, including a growing number of startups, are using blogs and social networking Web sites to gather information about their customers at a low cost. For example, Proper Cloth, a company based in New York, has a site on the social networking site Facebook. Whenever the company posts a new bulletin or photos of its clothes, all its Facebook “fans” automatically receive the information on their own Facebook pages. “We want to hear what our customers have to say,” says Joseph Skerritt, the young MBA graduate who founded Proper Cloth. “It’s useful to us and lets our customers feel connected to Proper Cloth.” 3Skerritt also writes a blog for the company. Twitter and podcasts that can be downloaded from iTunes are two other ways companies are amplifying the “word of mouth” about their products. 4