Much consumer behavior is learned. Consumers learn which information sources to consult for information about products and services, which evaluative criteria to use when assessing alternatives, and, more generally, how to make purchase decisions. Learning refers to those behaviors that result from (1) repeated experience and (2) reasoning.
Behavioral Learning Behavioral learning is the process of developing automatic responses to a situation built up through repeated exposure to it. Four variables are central to how consumers learn from repeated experience: drive, cue, response, and reinforcement. A drive is a need that moves an individual to action. Drives, such as hunger, might be represented by motives. A cue is a stimulus or symbol perceived by consumers. A response is the action taken by a consumer to satisfy the drive. Reinforcement is the reward. Being hungry (drive), a consumer sees a cue (a billboard), takes action (buys a sandwich), and receives a reward (it tastes great!).
Marketers use two concepts from behavioral learning theory. Stimulus generalization occurs when a response elicited by one stimulus (cue) is generalized to another stimulus. Using the same brand name for different products is an application of this concept, such as Tylenol Cold & Flu and Tylenol P.M. Stimulus discrimination refers to a person’s ability to perceive differences in stimuli. Consumers’ tendency to perceive all light beers as being alike led to Budweiser Light commercials that distinguished between many types of “light beers” and Bud Light.
How does this advertisement for Tylenol 8-Hour apply to cognitive learning? Read the text to find out.
Cognitive Learning Consumers also learn through thinking, reasoning, and mental problem solving without direct experience. This type of learning, called cognitive learning, involves making connections between two or more ideas or simply observing the outcomes of others’ behaviors and adjusting your own accordingly. Firms also influence this type of learning. Through repetition in advertising, messages such as “Feel Better, Tylenol 8-Hour” link a brand (Tylenol 8-Hour) and an idea (pain reliever) by showing someone using the brand and finding relief.
Brand Loyalty Learning is also important to marketers because it relates to habit formation—the basis of routine problem solving. Furthermore, there is a close link between habits and brand loyalty , which is a favorable attitude toward and consistent purchase of a single brand over time. Brand loyalty results from the positive reinforcement of previous actions. A consumer reduces risk and saves time by consistently purchasing the same brand of shampoo and has favorable results—healthy, shining hair. There is evidence of brand loyalty in many commonly purchased products in the United States and the global marketplace. However, the incidence of brand loyalty appears to be declining in North America, Western Europe, and Japan.21
Attitudes toward Colgate Total toothpaste and Hellmann’s Real Mayonnaise were successfully changed by these ads. How? Read the text on the next page to find out how marketers can change consumer attitudes toward products and brands.