Consumer behaviour is a dynamic field and marketers need to closely track the environment to ensure that they apply the relevant concepts to the changing context. The important aspect of applying consumer behaviour to the changing environment is that the concepts are derived from classical literature but the analysis of a given context requires a blend of these concepts that are appropriate to the situation: and these are not solutions to problems faced by consumers — they are triggers that provide a useful insight to marketers and brands.

A blend of concepts

It has been interesting to observe in recent times the intense competition in a number of consumer product categories. The new launches are associated both with the product lines of existing brands as well as new offerings from brands that are relatively new to the Indian context.

Titan's Purple watch, the memory–proposition from a variant of Complan, Forever Glow from Fair & Lovely and Saffola Oats from Marico are just a few examples that indicate the importance of blending concepts associated with lifestyles, consumer rituals and consumer roles.

As the environment becomes cluttered with brand communication and the fragmented preferences of consumers, the combination of these concepts provide more perspectives on how brands fit into a consumer's life.

Elaborating on the conceptual blend

A lifestyle, in simple terms, describes how a consumer spends his money and time. Consumer ritual is associated with a repeated, interrelated sequence of activities that a consumer performs during his/her daily life (for instance) and consumer role refers to the role or multiple roles played by a consumer at a period of time in his life. If the typical day of a middle-class housewife is considered, she has the ritual of waking up, preparing her kids for school, helping her husband get ready for work, attending to household chores, relaxing for a while in front of the TV, getting back to the evening grind of doing the shopping, spending time with her children, helping them with their studies and getting the dinner ready.

The roles she plays are those of a wife, mother, friend and teacher to her children, caretaker of the home and, perhaps, sometimes a host to her visitors. She spends her time and money on the various activities concerning the household members, with a small fraction on herself.

Brands in the consumer's lifestyle

What are the various factors that are of concern to the consumer portrayed above and how do brands matter to her daily roles and rituals in the backdrop of her lifestyle? Value is one factor (being a middle-class housewife, the consumer is likely to be relatively conscious about money), the well-being of children/family members is the second, upkeep of the home is another, making a good impression on the family members (more for the sense of belonging) and making a good impression on others who matter to her (friends, neighbours and guests) is the last factor. Depending on the context and consumer, there may be many more possibilities for expanding the list.

Many concerns, multiple roles

She worries about the breakfast nutrition of her children, considers milk additives that she believes will provide them with greater strength and stamina, takes into consideration the long-term, all-round growth of the children, worries about their snacks when they get home, and prepares a tasty lunch that needs to be appreciated by her children's friends.

What kind of brands would fall into the consideration set of this middle-class housewife? It could be, for instance, Pepsodent with snacking protection proposition (mothers also worry about the snacking habits of their school-going children, and this aspect is almost a cultural activity among middle-class children); Horlicks (with its taller, sharper and stronger proposition); an occasional MTR ready-to-cook/-eat food to make the children feel proud during the snack break at school (as food is often shared at school and compliments from friends on their mother's cooking is a boost for the self-esteem of both the children and the mothers); Maggi noodles for the snack (that the mother herself may have had during her childhood days and also based on the health platform on which the brand had advertised); the brand of Safal green peas or a readymade paste of ginger from Dabur (as she is too hard-pressed to grind the ginger and she had heard that readymade pastes are adequately fresh) as an ingredient whilst cooking dinner.

She remembers Dettol keeping infection at bay that reduces the chances of children missing school, Harpic's germ-killing action for the toilet, furnishings from Big Bazzar available at a discount, the nearby retail store for the brooms and brushes required for home cleaning that she remembers as value-for-money, and Exo soap for cleaning the vessels as she remembers having seen its differentiation about eliminating germs from the plates used for eating. She also recollects the recent Tide detergent advertisement talking about its fragrance and compares it with the Surf Blue detergent she has used all along (with the proposition having been reinforced constantly by the brand's children-stain association).

She is careful about the comparison not just in terms of the proposition but also in terms of the price and the volume. She also remembers her neighbour's word-of-mouth on the quick and effective Vim liquid detergent for vessels and hopes to try it with a view to alternate between Vim and Exo (due to the high unit cost of the liquid variant).

The illustrative scenario would help anyone interested in building up several consumption situations for a given set of consumers. That classics are forever is not only true of De Beers diamonds (as its famous advertisement says), it is also true of consumer behaviour.

(The writer is Professor of Marketing, IIM, Bangalore.)

(This article was published on February 23, 2011)
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