Consumer behaviour focus of new research

It’s all about the perspective: depending upon how you view things, you process information differently.

This is the crux of the findings of new research conducted by professors Pankaj Aggarwal and Sharmistha Law at the University of Toronto Scarborough (UTSC).

“Relationships are like a lens that changes what we see and how we see things,” says Aggarwal. Each relationship type has its own accepted norm or the ‘right’ way to behave. Depending on the particular relationship we have with others the norms of behavior are different, our way of viewing things is different.

For example, if you have a businesslike relationship with others, the interaction is very quid pro quo. You would expect to get back some rewards or benefits if you provide some benefits to others. However, if you have a friendship relationship with others, you may not want a return favor each time you help others.

“In this research we use the interpersonal relationship metaphor to study how it influences the way people process information,” explains professor Law.

Applying this relationship framework to a consumer-brand context, this research studies the type of features that consumers focus on, attend to and use when evaluating different brands and products.

In a friendship relationship, people care about each other’s general well-being. People take a big-picture perspective. Hence people can pay attention to information that relates to this overall big-picture.

On the other hand, in a businesslike relationship, people track every specific give-and-take interaction that they may have participated in. Nitty-gritty aspects become very important and people tend to attend to information that relates to very specific details.

Image removed.Pankaj Aggarwal

This research suggests that the type of information that is considered relevant and important by consumers is different – big-picture more abstract features are more important when consumers have a friendship type of relationship with a brand, and very detailed, specific nitty-gritty features are more important when the relationship with a brand is more businesslike.

In three different studies, results showed that when the relationship with a brand is communal in nature (friendship-like), consumers are faster and more accurate in recognizing broad and generalized features (such as style of a clothing brand), more likely to list these broad features on their own, and they are more accepting of a brand extension that is only vaguely related to the original product category.

However, when the relationship with the brand is exchange in nature (businesslike), consumers are faster and more accurate in recognizing very detailed and specific features (such as particular color or fabric of a clothing brand), more likely to list these nitty-gritty features on their own, and less willing to accept a brand extension unrelated to the original product category.

This research has an important message for practitioners. Managers might be well advised to highlight different brand features, or gainfully extend a brand name to different products, depending on the type of relationship their brand has developed with the consumers.

It is not just important to be able to differentiate your brand anymore; it is critical to highlight features that consumers expect in that relationship. And for that managers need to first ensure that they understand what relationship their brand has formed with the consumers. Unless the mangers can see the brand from the consumers’ perspective using the relevant relationship lens, they may not be able to know what features to highlight -- or what buttons to push.