Personal Factors

Learning Objectives

  • Describe personal factors that influence what and when consumers buy

In addition to situational factors, there are also individual traits and characteristics that can shape purchasing decisions. These include things like demographics, life stage, lifestyle, and personality.

Demographics

Demographics are an important set of factors that marketers should not overlook when trying to understand and respond to consumers. Demographics include variables such as age, gender, income level, educational attainment, and marital status. Each of these can have a strong influence on consumer behavior.

Historically, marketers have made much of generational differences—focusing on the best ways of reaching different cohorts such as Baby Boomers, Generation Xers, Millennials, and so on. Many of the distinctions between these groups are related to  the groups’ ages and related needs at any given point. For example, as Baby Boomers head into their retirement years, marketers target them with messages about prescription drugs and other health care products, insurance, home and financial security—all issues of growing concern for people as they age. Generational differences can also be factors in they ways people use media and where they go for information to inform their consumer choices. A 2013 study found that Millennial moms (birth years 1981–1997) were online “followers” of 22.5 brands, on average, while Generation X moms (birth years 1965–1980) followed just 13.7 brands online.[1] Understanding differences like these can be essential to developing the right marketing mix whenever age is an identifying factor in market segmentation.

Gender is also a defining characteristic for many consumers, as is the marketing that targets them. You have only to watch TV ads during an NFL game and the TV ads during the women-oriented talk show The View to see how the different needs and wants of men and  women are translated into marketing messages and imagery.

Photo of diamond ring

DeBeers Limited, which has commanded an 80 percent share of the market for diamonds used in engagement rings, employs a consumer demographic profile in the development of its promotional programs. Their primary target market for engagement rings is single women and single men between the ages of 18 and 24. The company combined this profile with some additional lifestyle-related factors to develop a successful promotional program.

The demographic marker of economic status is another strong influencer in consumer decisions. Not surprisingly, people in different income brackets tend to buy different types of products, shop in very different ways, and look for different qualities. Many designer clothing shops, for example, aim their marketing at higher-income shoppers. Meanwhile, a retail chain like Wal-Mart sticks closely to its “lowest prices” positioning in order to maintain its appeal for middle- and lower-income shoppers.

Life Stage

Linked to demographics is the concept of life stage: consumer behavior is tied to the significant life events and circumstances people are experiencing at any given moment. Moving out of your parents’ home, going to college, getting married, buying a house, starting a family, sending children to college, retiring: all of these are life events that shape consumer attitudes, behaviors, and decisions.

A photo of a young boy literally up to his neck in LEGOs.

Life stage has a big enough impact on consumer decisions that many marketing organizations develop proprietary segmentation schema to help them better understand this dimension of the consumer experience and better target products and services to individual needs. A representative example is the set of lifestyle segments developed by the consumer data company Experian. Experian’s life stage segments include Independent Youth, Young Families, Maturing Couples & Families, Elderly Singles, and six other segments it uses to encompass the entire U.S. adult population.[2]

American consumers experience life-stage marketing when offers relevant to their life events appear in their in-boxes, mailboxes, and even in the checkout line. Producers and sellers of baby products like Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, and Target send a barrage of product samples, coupons, and other promotions to expecting and new parents. Families of young children are invited to sign their kids up for LEGO’s free quarterly magazine and become part of the Toys-R-Us Rewards program for frequent shoppers. Financial services companies target new college students and their parents with credit card offers and banking plans. Home Depot, Lowe’s, and even the U.S. Postal Service send promotional welcome packets to new homeowners, hoping to win their business as they settle into a new residence.

Lifestyle

One of the newer and increasingly important set of factors that’s being used to understand consumer behavior is lifestyle. In this context, “lifestyle” refers to the potential customer’s pattern or being or living in the world combined with his or her psychographics (a set of attitudes, opinions, aspirations, and interests). The variables determining lifestyle are wide-ranging:

  • Activities and interests (e.g., hunter; fitness enthusiast; fashionista; foodie; lawyer; musician; pet lover; farmer; traveler; reader; homebody; crafter, etc.)
  • Opinions about oneself and the world (e.g., politically conservative; feminist; activist; entrepreneur; independent thinker; do-gooder; early adopter; technophobe; populist; explorer, etc.)

Lifestyle variables reveal what consumers care about, how they spend their time, what they’re likely to spend money on, and how they view themselves. Inevitably these individual characteristics impact consumer decisions—and brand preference in particular. The criteria that determine lifestyle are often things consumers feel passionately about. When a consumer identifies your brand as consistent with his interests, attitudes and self-identity, it paves the way for building a long and loyal customer relationship. It is the multifaceted aspect of lifestyle research that makes it so useful in consumer analysis. A prominent lifestyle researcher, Joseph T. Plummer, summarizes the concept as follows:

. . . lifestyle patterns combines the virtues of demographics with the richness and dimensionality of psychological characteristics . . . Lifestyle is used to segment the marketplace because it provides the broad, everyday view of consumers lifestyle segmentation and can generate identifiable whole persons rather than isolated fragments.

Marketers are often attracted to lifestyle as a segmentation schema because it helps reveal a deeper, more vivid picture of consumers and what makes them tick. As marketers try to create strong emotional connections between the brands they promote and the consumers they serve, they are selling more than product features. They are selling a sensibility, an attitude, a set of values they hope will resonate strongly with the target segments they want to reach.

Photo of an elegant chocolate cake with the words "Martha Stewart's Cakes" printed above it.Oprah Winfrey and Martha Stewart are interesting comparative examples of extremely successful marketing that uses a lifestyle orientation to attract and keep devoted consumers. Both brand empires are built around strong, successful, self-made women, and they both target women consumers. Oprah Winfrey’s brand is architected to appeal to women who are socially conscious seekers, readers, idealists, self-helpers, working women, striving for balance and self-fulfillment. Martha Stewart’s brand, on the other hand, is carefully curated to appeal to women with a passion for fine food, design, beautiful surroundings, cultural experiences, arts and crafts, and the creative act of doing it yourself. The strong lifestyle-oriented identity of each brand makes it relatively easy for individual consumers to recognize which one is most consistent with their own identity and values.

Personality

Personality is used to summarize all the traits of a person that make him or her unique. No two people have the same personalities, but several attempts have been made to classify people with similar traits. Perhaps the best-known personality types are those proposed by Carl Jung, which are variations on the work of Jung’s teacher, Sigmund Freud. His personality categories are introvert and extrovert. The introvert is described as defensive, inner-directed, and withdrawn from others. The extrovert is outgoing, other-directed, and assertive. Over the years, several other more elaborate classifications have also been devised.

Personality traits may also include characteristics linked to they ways people view themselves and calibrate their behavior in the world: for example, sincerity, self-confidence, empathy, self-reliance, adaptability, and aggression.

Various personality types are likely to respond in different ways to different market offerings. For example, an extrovert may enjoy the shopping experience and rely more on personal observation to secure information. In this case, in-store promotion becomes an important communication tool. Knowing the basic personality traits of target customers can be useful information for the manager in designing the marketing mix. Marketers have found personality to be difficult to apply in many cases, primarily because it is not easy to measure personality traits. Personality tests are usually long and complex; many were developed to identify people with problems that needed medical attention. Translating these tools into useful marketing data is no small feat, and marketers have turned to lifestyle analysis instead.

Where personality does come into play more prominently is in the notion of brand personality. Brand managers strive to cultivate strong, distinctive, recognizable personalities for the brands they promote. The personality gives dimension to the brand, opening the door for consumers to connect with the brand emotionally and identify its personality as consistent with their own values and self-identity. In this case there is a blurry line between the use of lifestyle and personality to understand and appeal to target customers. If you run down a list of super-brands, though, it is easy to recognize the power of brand personality at work: Apple, Coca-Cola, Walt Disney, Star Wars, Google, and Nike, to name a few.