Consumer Psychology: Improving Customer Experience With Consumer Behaviour Models

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Supersede Media’s Consumer Psychology series is here to help you better understand your customers’ buying behaviour so that you can influence it with solid copy. In this post, we’re shining the spotlight on consumer behaviour models and explaining how you can use them to improve customer experience. Let’s get started!

What is a consumer behaviour model?

Consumer behaviour models are frameworks that explain how and why customers behave the way they do and what factors impact their purchasing decisions.

Once you understand what goes into each step of the buyer journey, you can do two crucial things:

  1. Tweak your business model, brand and copy to steer them in the right direction: towards making a purchase!
  2. Improve the customer experience by targeting their exact needs and expectations—making the decision-making process as easy as possible.

Consumer behaviour models

There is a wide range of consumer behaviour models based on concepts from psychology, sociology, economics and more. These models can be split into ‘traditional’ and ‘contemporary’.

Traditional consumer behaviour models

  1. Economic Model
  2. Learning Model
  3. Psychoanalytical Model
  4. Sociological Model

Contemporary consumer behaviour models

  1. Black Box Model
  2. Engel-Kollat-Blackwell (EKB) Model
  3. Hawkins Stern Model
  4. Howard Sheth Model
  5. Nicosia Model
  6. Webster and Wind Model

Traditional consumer behaviour models

Man holding open an empty brown walletImage source: Towfiqu barbhuiya (via Unsplash)

1. Economic Model

The Economic Model for consumer behaviour is probably the simplest model on our list. It theorises that consumers are focused primarily on meeting their wants and needs whilst minimising costs.

Businesses, therefore, can predict consumer behaviour based on their customers’ income, the prices of their products and their competitors’ products. If you can offer customers the lowest prices for your products, you’re guaranteed a loyal customer base and a steady stream of profits.

Whilst this can be true for many consumers, it is a limited model. Not every purchase is based on price alone. For example, when it comes to products like cars, phones and laptops, consumers might opt for something more expensive because it’s more durable or will improve their social status.

In this instance, factors like need or desire may outweigh a customer’s income and cost minimisation.

2. Learning Model

The Learning Model argues that consumers will prioritise purchases that satisfy their basic needs, like food and clothing, before moving on to ones that will meet learned needs, like feelings of accomplishment and prestige. It is based on psychologist Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (from top to bottom):

  • Self-actualisation needs: self-aware, concerned about personal growth, focused on fulfilling your potential
  • Esteem needs: respect, self-esteem, recognition, status
  • Social needs: family, friendship, intimacy, community
  • Security and safety needs: employment, health and wellness, property
  • Physiological needs: food, water, air, shelter, clothing, reproduction

According to the model, consumers will make purchases that satisfy their most basic needs before moving up to their learned needs. For example, a customer will satiate their need for food first before fulfilling a learned need to purchase a car or go on holiday.

This model applies well to businesses that sell a wide variety of products. If you know what your customers are looking for, you can organise your website or physical store to help them address their primary needs before moving on to the next level in the hierarchy.

3. Psychoanalytical Model

The Psychoanalytic Model bases its theory on Sigmund Freud’s work. It claims that consumers are driven by conscious and unconscious motives when making purchases. As a result, some consumers may find themselves drawn to businesses or certain products without knowing why.

This model has many interesting applications for businesses. It means that if you can determine what appeals to your customers and target it in your marketing, your conversions will soar. For example, if you’re a luxury clothing brand, you will appeal to your customers’ desire to appear prestigious rather than practical.

To understand your customers’ motives, look at your buyer personas and psychographics.

4. Sociological Model

The Sociological Model argues that consumers will make specific purchases to align with the expectations and values of their societal groups. These groups can be friends, family, work colleagues, fellow hobbyists, or even a generation.

For example, a person who takes regular yoga classes will purchase activewear, mats, and certain types of food to fit in with the rest of the group. Similarly, those in executive positions will spend their money on professional attire and accompanying accessories to follow the group’s rules.

This model can be used by almost any business. You can market your products to consumers by emphasising how it can help them maintain their position in a particular group. People who like running, for example, will want trainers that will increase their performance so they can continue to fit in with their group.

Contemporary consumer behaviour models

Hands playing with rubix cube with blue backgroundImage source: Olav Ahrens Røtne (via Unsplash)

1. Black Box Model

The Black Box Model, also referred to as the Stimulus-Response Model, believes that the minds of consumers are like black boxes. When they come into contact with external stimuli, like your social media marketing and targeted ads, they will process the information and compare it to their existing knowledge to make their purchase decision.

Let’s take a look at what goes into this decision process…

External stimuli
Marketing stimuliOther stimuli
  • Product
  • Price
  • Place
  • Promotion
  • Economic
  • Political
  • Social
  • Technological
Black box (buyer’s mind)
Buyer characteristicsDecision-making process
  • Beliefs
  • Values
  • Wants/needs
  • Lifestyle
  • Learning
  • Problem-solving
  • Information search
  • Alternative evaluation
  • Purchase
  • Post-purchase
  • Evaluation
Buyer responses
  • Product choice
  • Brand choice
  • Retail choice
  • Dealer choice
  • Purchase timing
  • Purchase amount
  • Purchase frequency
OR no purchase at all

Don’t worry; it’s a lot more straightforward than it looks! It means that consumers are problem solvers who will only decide to make a purchase after determining how your product will satisfy their needs and whether it will align with their values. If you can pinpoint your consumers’ characteristics, you can tailor your marketing and copy so that your product becomes their only rational choice.

A weakness of this model is that it assumes that consumers make purchases based on rational decision-making. As we’ve explored in using cognitive biases to influence buyer behaviour, however, the truth is that consumers are very susceptible to emotions and irrational behaviour.

2. Engel-Kollat-Blackwell (EKB) Model

The Engel-Kollat-Blackwell Model summarises the entire consumer buying journey into five steps.

  1. Awareness: a consumer will become aware of a need or desire for a product or service, usually due to advertising.
  2. Information processing: after finding this product, the consumer will start to consider how it will affect their lives or fulfil their needs.
  3. Evaluation: the consumer will then shop around with competitors and research to see if they’re getting the best possible deal.
  4. Purchasing decision: eventually, the consumer will determine which business has the best deal and decide whether or not to make the purchase.
  5. Outcome analysis: the consumer will reflect on their purchasing decision to decide whether it met their expectations. If it did, they might become a repeat customer. If it didn’t, they may look elsewhere and move back to the evaluation stage.

This model is highly relevant to businesses that are surrounded by competitors with similar products and services. With such a saturated market, the only way to rise above the competition is to catch your consumers’ attention at each of the five steps listed above. This means:

  • Increasing awareness of your business through careful SEO practices, social media advertising and general marketing campaigns
  • Highlighting the benefits of your products through feature descriptions, customer reviews and other user-generated content
  • Calling attention to the cost-effectiveness of your product, free trials, promotions or discounts for certain purchases
  • Providing post-sales communication that makes them feel valued and supported

3. Hawkins Stern Impulse Buying Model

Unlike the Learning Model and the EKB Model, the Hawkins Stern Model argues that the purchases made by consumers aren’t always fuelled by rational thoughts. Instead, consumers make decisions based on four types of impulses.

  1. Escape purchase: a purchase that is wholly impulsive and outside of the norm for a consumer. In other words, it’s a way for them to escape from their mundane or routine purchases.
  2. Reminder purchase: a purchase that is triggered by a reminder that a product exists. For example, a consumer may encounter an in-store promotion or unexpectedly stumble across a product in an aisle. 
  3. Suggest purchase: when a consumer is made aware of a product through a suggestion. For example, a friend may recommend a product, or a consumer may get a pop-up suggestion after adding a product to their basket.
  4. Planned purchase: when a consumer wants to make a purchase but only bites the bullet when there’s a promotion or sudden price drop. So, whilst planned, it’s still impulsive.

This is a model that most businesses can take advantage of. To cater to the customer experience of impulse buyers, you could add a reel of suggested items when customers add products to their basket or run regular promotions to influence planned impulse purchases.

4. Howard Sheth Model

We’re back to a consumer behaviour model that argues that consumers follow a rational decision-making process before purchasing. The Howard Sheth Model outlines three stages of the decision-making process.

  1. Extensive problem-solving: the consumer does not have any basic information about their desired product or the businesses that provide it. At this point, they will do extensive research to learn more about what’s on offer.
  2. Limited problem-solving: the consumer now knows what they want to purchase but needs to compare different brands to gather more information.
  3. Habitual response behaviour: the consumer knows all about the pros and cons of the products offered by various brands. With this evaluation, they know which product to purchase.

Simple, right? Well, there are a few variables that can affect consumer behaviour during these stages, such as:

  • Input variables: the marketing campaigns and ads that a consumer may encounter when looking at products, user-generated content and product attributes (i.e. price, quality and availability).
  • Hypothetical constructs: the way that a consumer perceives and responds to the information from input variables, according to their experience, preferences and needs.
  • Output variables: the consumer’s ultimate decision after the influence of input variables and hypothetical constructs.
  • Exogenous variables: these are other undefined variables that can affect buyer decisions, such as financial status, social class and culture.

As with the EKB model, businesses that follow the Howard Sheth Model must find ways to make their products outshine their competitors’ to retain their customers’ attention through their buying journey.

5. Nicosia Model

The Nicosia Model is a slightly more unique take on the consumer behaviour model. It claims that a business’s marketing strategy is the primary influence behind consumer buying behaviour. The model is broken down into four fields:

  1. Transfer of information: a business develops a certain marketing strategy to target its customers. Consumers encounter these messages and begin to form an opinion about the business.
  2. Search evaluation: if the consumer is interested in the business, they will research its products and competitors.
  3. Purchase decision: if the business successfully persuades consumers that their product/service is the best choice, it will end in a purchase.
  4. Feedback: both the consumer and business will evaluate their journey. The business will evaluate the effectiveness of its marketing strategies, and the consumer will decide whether they will make future purchases.

Like the EKB Model, the Nicosia Model emphasises the need for businesses to think long and hard about their marketing strategies to nurture consumers successfully through the various stages of their buying journey.

It does have its limitations, though. It fails to account for the varying factors consumers consider before making a purchase. As great as your marketing might be, if your business clashes with a customer’s values, for example, they won’t make the purchase. You’ll need to factor in this if you plan to use the Nicosia Model.

6. Webster and Wind Model of Organisational Buying Behaviour

The last consumer behaviour model on our list is the Webster and Wind Model. This B2B model theorises that four types of variables influence the buying behaviour of businesses. Let’s take a look!

  1. Environmental: external variables such as customer demands, supplier relationships, and issues with competitors.
  2. Organisational: internal variables like company culture, business values and objectives and purchasing procedures.
  3. Buying centre: factors within the team making the purchase, such as who is involved in the decision-making process and who approves the purchase.
  4. Individual: team members’ characteristics, such as their age, education level, personal goals and desires.

B2B companies can use these four types of variables to understand exactly what influences the decisions of their target market. For example, if you’re able to pinpoint the key decision-makers of a business, you can avoid wasting time with employees lower on the ladder and target those who have the power to make a purchase.

Home in on what makes a business tick and you’ll be able to craft a buyer journey that nurtures and guides them towards making a purchase.

Choosing the right consumer behaviour model

To determine which consumer behaviour model is suitable for your business and its target market, you’ll need to understand your customers. They’re the ones that inform your entire strategy.

  • Are they prone to impulse buying? Focus on the Hawkins Stern Model. 
  • Do they only buy the cheapest products on the market? The Economic Model is an apt choice. 
  • Have they conducted heavy research into you and your competitors? Refer to logical models like the Black Box Model and EKB Model.

Take the time to create detailed buyer personas and gather as much customer data as possible. This will help you improve your customer experience so that consumers feel supported throughout their entire buying journey and are satisfied after making their purchase.