While it is important for marketers to understand which brands are big and which are small, and to understand the extent to which consumers are committed to each, it is also necessary to understand the overall state of mind that a consumer has when deciding what to buy, according to a recent report by TNS.
Of particular importance, the report said, is the degree of involvement that a consumer has with the brand's overall category. This leads to a better understanding of purchase behaviour patterns and is vital in determining the spread of ideas and in understanding trends.
Levels of involvement in specific categories differ from country to country, TNS found. For example, in South Africa, 39% of people rate the importance of the decision as to which brand to buy in the carbonated soft drinks (CSD) market as "extremely important", compared with only 19% in the USA, 13% in China and 3% in Japan. And in the Middle East, 74% of people looking for new mobile phone handsets are heavily involved whereas, in the UK, the figure stands at only 25%.
According to Amy Cashman, managing director for TNS Technology, "People in different countries approach the decision as to what brand to buy with very different mindsets. However, involvement is not so much a characteristic of a product or service category but rather the characteristic of an individual buyer."
Cashman warned that marketers should no longer be thinking in terms of high and low involvement categories, but about high and low involvement consumers within each category.
Marketers should look at the distribution of consumer involvement in a category, and each level of involvement will need its own marketing approach. The traditional view that "high cost equals high involvement" and "low cost equals low involvement" has been replaced, in Cashman's opinion, as has the old way of labelling entire categories as being either high or low involvement.
Cashman explained: "All markets have a mix of people, and marketers need to understand the mix in their particular category. It is quite possible to have brands that appeal to the less involved (perhaps some of the cheaper ones) and others that appeal to those with higher levels of involvement."
A timely example
The TNS Technology report noted that, when the behaviour patterns in-store for the different involvement groups are examined in the UK market, it is clear that these consumers shop for mobile phone handsets very differently.
'Involved consumers' are more likely to have a "want trigger" for purchasing, such as a desire for new technology or new features. They also tend to do far more research online and in-store and, crucially, are more likely to have made their decision before they reach the point of sale.
Conversely, 'Uninvolved consumers' are more likely to have a need or distress trigger, such as theft or damage. They do not do a great deal of research beforehand, and are more likely to make their decision at the point of sale.
Retail involvement opportunity
As a result, the report suggests that a major opportunity for retailers lies in providing guidance for in-store staff on how to identify the differing levels of involvement in each consumer. This does not need to be particularly complicated and can usually be incorporated into existing staff training frameworks.
Once identified, given that the involved consumer will feel more assured in their decision making, they should be dealt with by more experienced and knowledgeable sales staff. These consumers usually want to be provided with detailed product information or they will quickly turn to a competitor for help. The same applies to e-commerce web sites, where more detailed information can be appended to pages only for those that are likely to be interested.
Stocking the right products is also essential, with involved consumers favouring higher-end niche products with all the latest features. The rewards for capturing these purchases are obvious: involved shoppers spend an average of 30% more on a mobile phone handset than uninvolved consumers.
Handling uninvolved shoppers
The key for handling uninvolved consumers, however, is to provide the necessary support for their purchase decision with the minimum of fuss. Because they are more likely to make their decision at the point of sale, their choice criteria must be cut down quickly.
The major retail opportunity here - regardless of the sector or category - lies in staff being trained to listen to the uninvolved customer's needs and wants, and to quickly recommend the best choice for them. The same can also be done on web sites by simplifying the choices available to these consumers, thereby increasing the chance of a purchase.
In general, TNS reports that high involvement means that consumers tend to research brands more, talk more about them, spend more time thinking about them, and spend longer shopping for them. They also exhibit more passion and emotion for the category, and may even have more expertise and spend more.
In contrast, lower involvement may mean more habitual buying, more emphasis on functional aspects of the product, and greater likelihood of switching between brands if two brands are perceived to be similar. There may also be greater price sensitivity. At this stage, managing market factors becomes a key component of the strategy for low involvement customers. Relationships matter less to them, and keeping the customer comes down to visibility, continuity, and convenience rather than other more emotive factors.