Basic psychology concepts like learning, memory and conditioning can play a big role in dictating what we decide to buy. Watch this video to see how they work together.
Associations and Consumer Psychology
How does a store like Target go from a standard, big-box discount retailer to a high-demand place to get everyday goods? When you think of the 'discount store,' 'national chain' or 'big-box retailer' category, what comes to mind? Likely a bland image of massive stores with products more focused on price and function. You might even think of specific stores like Wal-Mart, K-Mart or Costco.
But what about Target? To you, it may be associated with this category, but what makes it different? How has Target made itself appear more chic and on-trend than the others?
Target's marketing team has done a lot of work to carve out their niche in the big-box retailer category. By creating wider aisles, inviting designers or celebrities to develop collections exclusively for their stores and insisting on a higher level of cleanliness and quality at each store, they've positioned themselves as 'premium' compared to other retailers in that category.
What Target has done is a perfect example of how learning, memory and conditioning work to impact our purchase decisions.
How a brand is seen in the consumer's eye is completely dependent upon the mental associations the consumer creates. Learning, memory and conditioning can help to build and reinforce these associations.
Learning and Consumer Behavior
Consumer behavior is learned behavior. Just as we learn to walk, feed ourselves, tie our shoes or drive, we also learn how to shop. Although the learning associated with consumer behavior comes from more sources than Mom and Dad, we still acquire preferences, habits and other internal information that we apply to purchase decisions from the moment we're born through all of adulthood.
Think back to your younger school days. Remember when that one specific brand of backpack was the coolest, and you had to have it? When you think about it, that need to have the coolest backpack was learned. Your friends who also wanted one, the cool kids who already had it, and the commercials or TV shows showing other kids with the backpack all taught you that the backpack was cool and that you should have one too.
Trying to define learning can be challenging. Simply put, learning happens when we encounter new information through stimuli and somehow it impacts our thinking, memory or behavior. With this broad definition, you can begin to see how almost all consumer behavior involves some kind of learning.
You may recall consumer behavior is the process consumers go through to satisfy needs, from problem recognition and product search to purchase and post-purchase behavior. When you look at how learning fits into consumer behavior, you can begin to see that the two are extensively intertwined. Our attitudes, values, tastes, behavior, preferences, feelings and more are all learned, and all of these factors come into play in consumer behavior.
Memory works very closely with learning. It's the collection of all the information we've perceived and stored. There are two parts to memory: long-term and short-term.
Short-term memory is the part of our memory we're currently using. It's the active part of our storage bank. In fact, it might not even be considered 'storage' at all. Short-term memory is basically what we're thinking, perceiving or analyzing at that moment in time.
In our active, short-term memory, we retrieve stored information from our long-term memory and use it to interpret and evaluate any new stimuli, then turn the stimuli into information. These interpretations are called elaborative activities. This information goes into long-term memory, where it can later be recalled to interpret new stimuli.
A diagram of elaborative activities
Looking back at our learning definition (the encounter of new information through stimuli that impacts our thinking, memory or behavior), elaborative activities qualify as part of learning, too. See how memory and learning work so closely together? All of the things you've accumulated over time - that you've learned - are now part of your memory.
More specifically, they've been recalled from long-term memory into short-term memory, where they are currently helping you interpret new stimuli and turn that into information, which will also be stored in your long-term memory.
Like I mentioned, long-term memory is where things are permanently stored. We keep all of our information there, waiting to be moved into short-term memory when the time is right. Our long-term memory is vast and unlimited, storing everything from our moods to our basic understanding of concepts to complicated decision rules and processes.
Long-term memory is stimulated and then associated with certain products or companies.
To marketers, our long-term memory can be a goldmine. Once brands secure a more prominent spot in our memory, they are more often recalled when it's time to make a purchase decision. Here's how: information is stored in our long-term memory in a web-type pattern, with concepts linked to each other by association. The more associations one concept has, the more likely it will be recalled into short-term memory. In addition, the more often a concept is retrieved into short-term memory, the stronger the associative links become. Frequent recall and strong associative links help bring a brand to our attention for purchase decisions more often.
Building Brand Associations
To get an even clearer understanding of how learning, long-term and short-term memory all work together, let's revisit our Target example from the beginning of the lesson.
Target founded its stores with a more upscale image in mind. Although discount retailing and high-end merchandise might seem contradictory, its marketers and management have made it work through unique product offerings, store atmosphere and its advertising campaigns.
To build their niche, not only in the discount retailer market, but also in the minds of their consumers, Target's marketing team relied on associations built in each consumer's memory. One way they capitalize on the associations stored in our long-term memory is through their unique product offerings.
They often partner with well-known, modern designers or celebrities to produce exclusive lines of goods. These designers are stored in your long-term memory with links to concepts like 'cool,' 'upscale' or 'unique' because you've previously made these associations during elaborative activities in your short-term memory. In other words, you've learned to associate these concepts with those designers.
Now, this entire web becomes associated with Target, since Target is selling the exclusive line. During new elaborative activities in your short-term memory, Target builds or strengthens any existing associations to 'cool,' 'upscale' and 'unique.' The more often these associations are recalled from long-term to short-term memory via ads or other environmental stimuli, the more these associations are strengthened.
Companies use advertising to reinforce associations in our minds.
This is also a great way to see our last concept, conditioning, in action. When you hear the word conditioning, visions of drooling dogs might immediately come to mind, which is actually a great demonstration of what conditioning is.
Simply put, conditioning is the action marketers take to reinforce associations between two stimuli in our minds. In our Target example, by creating advertising that includes their unique designer lines, Target reinforces the associations its consumers create between those designers and their store, along with any other related concepts. The more often the consumer sees this advertisement, the stronger the relationship becomes.
The same goes for the atmosphere in their stores. The more times a consumer enters a Target store and sees the wider aisles and cleaner, more organized layout, the stronger these upscale characteristics become associated with the Target brand.
To wrap up, learning, memory and conditioning all work to build associations between brands and their characteristics. Within memory, long-term memory and short-term memory work together to interpret, organize and store these associations.
How a brand is seen in the consumer's eye is completely dependent upon these mental associations. They can help improve a brand's image, allow it to stand out from the competition or even introduce new concepts.
After watching this video, you will be able to explain how the psychology concepts of learning, memory and condition affect consumer purchases and brand recognition.