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How do Attitudes predict Behaviour?

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This piece will be looking at the ability of attitudes held by potential consumers to help predict consumer behaviour. How well can our thoughts and feelings, our attitudes help predict what our behaviour is going to be towards something, a company, brand or even and end product. Then after discussing the level to which our attitudes can help, we will then look at the ways in which marketers have used attitude change strategies in an attempt to also change consumer behaviour in their favour, persuading consumers to purchase and try their product. Attitudes represent our covert feelings of favourability or unfavourably toward an object, person, issue, or behaviour. Formally, attitude is defined as “a learned predisposition to response in a consistently favourable or unfavourable manner with respect to a given object” (Fishbein and Ajzen 1975, p. 6). Consumers learn these attitudes over time by being exposed to the object directly, by experiencing, or through receiving information about the object through advertising for example. Our learned attitudes serve as general guides to our overt behaviour with respect to the attitude object, giving rise to a consistently favourable or unfavourable pattern of response.

An attitude is a permanent combination of emotion, motivation, perceptual and cognitive processes in relation to an aspect our environment. An attitude is the way we think and feel about and act towards some aspect of our environment such as a retail store, a television program or a product. Thus an attitude can be summarised as an overall evaluation. (Neal, Quester, Hawkins 2006, p.333) There are three main attitude components, these being cognitive, for example beliefs, affective, also known as feelings and behavioural component, which are our response tendencies. The cognitive aspect of an attitude consists of a consumer’s beliefs and knowledge about the object in question. An important thing to remember about a person’s beliefs of an object is that they need not be true or correct; they simply need only to exist in the mind of the beholder. The cognitive response is a cognitive evaluation of the entity to form an attitude. Many beliefs about attributes are evaluating in nature. Attractive styling and reliable performance are generally seen a positive, the more positive beliefs that there are relating to a particular brand then the more positive each belief is presumed to be.

The more components that you see as being favorable then the more you will see the object as a whole in a favorable light. The distinction between the affective and cognitive component of an attitude has attracted much attention in research on attitude structure and attitude change. (Insko & Schopler, 1967; Rosenberg & Hovland, 1960; Breckler & Wiggins, 1989) The affective component of attitude includes feelings, emotions, or drives associated with an attitude object. (Breckler, 1984; McGuire, 1969; Zanna & Remple, 1988) A consumer who uses the words, “I like” or “I hate” with reference to an object is expressing the results of an emotional or affective evaluation of a product. This overall evaluation of the product maybe a result of several evaluations of the objects performance over a number of attributes, or simply a first impression that was developed without any cognitive information at all. The behavioural component of an attitude is the tendency of the attitude holder to respond in a certain manner towards an object or activity.

It’s why we chose to purchase or not to purchase a product, or why we recommend it or another band to our friends. The link between attitude and behavior exists but depends on human behavior, some of which is irrational. For example, a person who is in favor of blood transfusion may not donate blood. This makes sense if the person does not like the sight of blood, which explains this irrationality. (Katz 1960.) It is argued that perceived behavioural control, self-efficacy, can have an impact on behavioural intention or directly on behaviour itself. The theory of planned behaviour states that behavioural control provides a role for past behaviour, for example, if you’ve tried several times in the past to give up smoking, you’re less likely to believe you can do so successfully in the future and less likely to try (Ogden 2000). However, both theories assume that attitudes are rational and that socially significant behaviours are intentional, reasoned and planned and this may not always be true. Nor does it account for people’s irrational decisions (Penny 1996).

One further problem with attempting to predict behaviour is that the model may tell us a lot about the person’s attitude at that moment but does not permit inferences about progress over time or future changes in consumer attitudes. To accomplish this, an attitude-tracking programme would be required. This helps to increase the predictability of behaviour by analysing attitude trends over an extended period of time. For example, the Henley Centre measured Europeans’ attitudes regarding the process of moving towards a European Union. Their study highlighted how attitudes can shift over time. The results showed that amongst 16-24 year old UK citizens there was a significant shift over the last 5 years towards feeling as much European as they felt a citizen of their own country. This study also focuses on how changes can occur in the attitudes of different age groups. This programme is useful in identifying change agents and scenarios about the future which may more accurately predict actual behaviour than TRA and TPB. (Greenwald 1987)

Although the Theory of Reasoned Action has successfully predicted a wide range of behaviours including dental hygiene and family planning and has provided a framework for consumer research, attitudes and behaviours are only weakly related: people don’t always do as they intend to (Edwards, 1999) There are many limitations, the model lacks heuristic value and ignores differences in cultural values and attitude trends over time. Current models are still rather poor predictors of actual behaviour. (Turpin and Slade 1998) The most direct way to change somebody is influence. Change their behaviour. Behaviour is the real deal, the main point, the focus, so why diddle around with things like attitude. Well, a lot of the time, you don’t have control over other people’s actual behaviour. People do have free choice and pretty much do as they please. And we can’t make them do what we want by merely stomping our foot or asking pretty please with sugar on top (Fazio1990)

There might be times when we do have very direct control over someone’s behaviour, but the influence lasts only as long as we maintain that control. As soon as we exit the scene, our controlled receivers will revert to prior form and do pretty much as they please. Therefore, if you cannot directly control another person’s behaviour, then you have to find a better way for getting that behaviour, through influence, manipulation and persuasion. There are many ways in which marketers can attempt to change the attitudes of consumers. They can try to change certain components of an attitude, they may chose to target the affective component through classical conditioning, and the typical procedure for inducing classical conditioning involves paired presentations of a neutral stimulus along with a stimulus of some significance. The neutral stimulus could be any event that does not result in an overt behavioral response from the consumer. Pavlov referred to this as a Conditioned Stimulus (CS). On the other hand, presentation of the significant stimulus necessarily evokes an innate, often reflexive, response (Lavond and Steinmetz 2003)

Other ways in which the affective component maybe targeted is through mere exposure to the product, which is simply saying that presenting the same brand over and over to an individual could make the individual’s attitude towards the brand more positive. In other words the continued repetition of advertisements for low involvement products may well increase consumer liking. In an attempt to change the behavioural component marketers will have to use operant conditioning as the weapon of choice, the key task here is to induce the consumer to purchase or consume the product, and ensuring that the purchase and or consumption is rewarding to the consumer is were it is won or lost. Coupons, free samples, point of purchase displays, tie in purchases and price reductions are the most common techniques for inducing trial behavior. Operant conditioning is the use of consequences to modify the occurrence and form of behaviour. Operant conditioning deals with the modification of “voluntary behavior” through the use of consequences. (Neuringer, 2002)

In changing the cognitive component marketers can have a crack at changing beliefs about the attributes of the brand, changing the relative importance of these beliefs, adding new beliefs, and changing beliefs about the attributes of the ideal brand. The first strategy involves shifting the beliefs that are held about the performance of a brand on one or more attributes of the product. Different people sort their beliefs in different ways. For example, they might be sorted in terms of how solid they are – solid beliefs are held more strongly than wispy ones. Alternatively, they might be sorted by brightness. A bright belief might be stronger for that person than a dull one. If you change the key sub modality of a belief then that belief will become stronger or weaker. For example a person who sorts beliefs in terms of brightness, would make a belief less certain by making it more dull and dark.

For another with solid beliefs, making a belief less solid might make is less certain. (DeRose, 2000) Adding a new belief to the mix is another way in which markets may try to change the cognitive component of an attitude. It includes the introduction of new and favorable facts and or figures relating to the product, these new enrichments are used to give their product the edge. In endeavoring to change consumer attitudes other commonly used tactics are appeals and messages, the different appeals that are used by marketers included fear appeals, humorous appeals, comparative appeals and emotional appeals, also used are value expressive and utilitarian appeals, one sided and two sided messages as well as non verbal components. The most common of all these appeals and messages would be the fear appeal; these appeals use a threat or negative consequence if attitudes or behaviours are not altered.

The appeal to fear in sales or marketing in which a company disseminates negative information on a competitor’s product. The term originated to describe misinformation tactics in the computer hardware industry and has since been used more broadly. FUD is “implicit coercion” by “any kind of disinformation used as a competitive weapon. FUD creates a situation in which buyers are encouraged to purchase by brand, regardless of the relative technical merits. Opponents of certain large computer corporations state that the spreading of fear, uncertainty, and doubt is an unethical marketing technique that these corporations the appeal to fear in sales or marketing; in which a company disseminates negative (and vague) information on a competitor’s product. The term originated to describe misinformation tactics in the computer hardware industry and has since been used more broadly.

FUD is “implicit coercion” by “any kind of disinformation used as a competitive weapon. FUD creates a situation in which buyers are encouraged to purchase by brand, regardless of the relative technical merits. Opponents of certain large computer corporations state that the spreading of fear, uncertainty, and doubt is an unethical marketing technique that these corporations consciously intentionally employ. (Snyder, 1982) In this piece we have looked at the level to which attitudes can be used to predict consumer behaviour and we have discovered that while there is a connection between the two and that this connection has been used in some predictions the relationship is a weak one at best. We have also looked at the many ways in which marketers use attitude change strategies as well as influence, persuasion and manipulation of attitudes and the components that they are made up of to make the difference to potential consumers when they make their final decision on what product to purchase.

Reference page
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