Think about the last time you bought a car or perhaps a computer. Now, think about the next time you’ll buy one of those items. Are you going to do it exactly the same way as before? If you’re like most consumers, the answer is probably not. That’s because you learned some things from the first experience that will improve your purchasing behavior on the next experience. That's especially true with new, innovative products.
As a marketer, you need to understand how people learn about being a consumer and what they do with that knowledge once they learn it. Marketers can play a key role in helping consumers be better at it. After all, we’re not born to be consumers. Consumer behavior is something we have to learn if we ever want to buy products and services.
Let’s look at what consumers have to learn. First, they need to have at least general product knowledge before they’ll buy it. Think about buying a car. Most people have no idea how a car’s engine works, but they certainly know how to drive a car, what kinds of features they might expect, and how a car handles on the road. Over time, they gain more knowledge about cars and how they work, how to maintain them, and so on.
Consumers also need to have brand knowledge. The starting point for learning about brands is basic awareness. That means that you’ve heard of it and may recognize its logo, but you don’t know much about it. But over time, as you learn more about it, you begin to associate certain characteristics with it. Eventually, you know a lot about the brand and its core brand promise. Try this. Write down on a piece of paper all the brands of automobiles that you can recall. Now, beside each brand, write down what it stands for and write at least one characteristic about it. You should see pretty quickly that your knowledge of brands varies quite a bit. That’s typical of most consumers.
Next, consumers have to have purchasing knowledge. That means they have to know how to buy the product, where to buy, and what it’ll cost in terms of the pricing and other factors like financing. It may seem obvious, but the first time you buy something, you have to learn these factors. If I told you to go out and buy a piece of medical equipment for treating gall bladders, you’d have to do a lot of research unless you’re a medical professional now.
Once a consumer buys something, they have to have consumption knowledge. That means they have to learn how to use a product to get the full benefits from it. It also might include learning how to maintain the product or even dispose of it. Think about buying a new car. If you’re like me, it takes quite a while to learn all about the new features and benefits of today’s cars. With an owner’s manual this thick, I still don’t use many features of my new car. For marketers, this is important because it may lead the consumer to think they’re not getting their money’s worth if they’re not using a product to its fullest potential. You want your customers to be satisfied, so you have to make sure they learn the right way to consume your product.
Finally, consumers need to have self-knowledge. It may sound obvious, but the more a person knows about their personal tastes, their preferences, and their strengths and weakness, the more effective they’ll be at buying products and services that satisfy their needs.
As a marketer, you’re really an educator. And your students? Those are your customers. The more you can help them learn these factors, the more successful you’ll be at satisfying them.