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Sample Research Proposal on Perception and Purchasing Behavior

Part One. Perception and Purchasing Behavior


In the mini case study, Barbara’s decision to purchase a wine for her boss was influenced by the distinctive gold lettering on a rich burgundy background, the slim and sophisticated “feel” of the bottle and its French label. She also bought the white wine because she associated it with elegant dinners. Moreover, Barbara evaluated the quality of the wine based on its expensive price. Clearly, Barbara, not a wine drinker, is affected by her perception in purchasing wine to impress her boss.


This decision process is influenced by the information available to the consumer and the way in which the consumer processes that information. The decision process is also influenced by the consumer's beliefs, attitudes, and intentions as well as many other individual characteristics. Two stages in the decision process are particularly relevant to this study: search, that is whether the consumer seeks label information when selecting products and alternative evaluation, that is, whether or not the consumer uses label information in considering product alternatives.


Whether consumers will search for and use label information will be influenced by both characteristics of the product and of the buyer. Product characteristics include the extent to which the product's probable performance can be assessed by visual inspection and its complexity, that is, the number of decisions the consumer is required to make about it. Consumer characteristics include experience with purchasing the product, and the kinds of criteria the consumer uses in judging the product. The evaluative criteria are shaped by the consumer's beliefs, attitudes, and perception of risk in the purchase.


Research on sensation and perception, attention, categorization, inference making, information search, memory, attitude and behavior, attitude formation and formation, conditioning and satisfaction have been undertaken to understand consumer behavior (Jacobi, Johar & Motrin, 1998). In the area of sensation and perception and attention, most works are confined primarily to visual or auditory processes. Barbara’s attention may have affected her decision-making process. Attention refers to the momentary focusing of processing capacity on a particular stimulus. Among the studies on this area include those of Russo and Leclerc (1994) who examined attention to packages on store shelves, as measured by eye fixations. In Barbara’s case, her gaze directly falls on a group of bottles displayed at eye level. These bottles immediately caught her attention. 


Barbara’s attitude toward white wine further validates her choice of wine. According to the most frequently used definition offered by Allport (1935), attitudes are a learned predisposition to respond to an object or class of objects in a consistently favourable or unfavourable way. Although an attitude is a complex construct, in simple terms it represents the kind of things people like or dislike (Allport, 1935). For example, Barbara’s negative attitude toward sweet wines is due to her experience in college when she when drinking too much sweet wine made her sick. As stated by Cobanoglu, Ekinci & Park, 2001, attitudes towards purchase behaviour are believed to be shaped by many factors such as direct experience with the product, information acquired from others, exposure to mass media etc.

Another factor that affects Barbara’s decision is her memory. Research on memory suggested that memory plays an important role in consumer decision processes. Specifically, research on memory and advertising states that consumer memory remained steady or improved as number of ads increased, although it is generally thought that advertising clutter reduces recall Brown and Rothschild (1993). Moreover, Singh et al. (1994) found that it is better for ads to have been spaced with a significant time lag when memory is measured after a long delay.

The name of the wine label which is French and the elegance of its form suggest that for Barbara, the brand that she is about to purchase is of high quality. According to Tibetts (2003), brand equity reflects the good things and positive associations that accrue because the brand has delivered on its stated promises. Brand valuation, on the other hand, attempts to attach a measurable value to that asset. Brands that have created equity command a price premium in the marketplace. Most equity research tries to assess the strength of a brand through price premium or market share. Moreover, strong brands build emotional attachments; they attempt to develop a relationship. 

The ways in which consumers retrieve or compute personal brand ratings play an important role in the assessment. A certain product conjures up certain associations that may not only be about the product. Such associations can be about the merchandise, the setting, or the social ambience (Tibetts, 2003). The strength of the brand of the white wine relies on the associations built in Barbara’s mind.

Researchers on consumer behavior are increasingly turning to the study of the use of metaphors. In the French label, Barbara sees the distinct gold lettering. She thinks that the color gold represents wealth or anything that is associated with expensiveness. She immediately purchases this because she thinks that this will impress her boss. In line with Barbara’s purchasing behavior, Jacobi, Johar and Motrin (1998) state that the interest in metaphors and analogies is likely to increase as advertisers of ever more technological products seek ways to communicate product features in an easily understandable manner. The advertisers of the wine in Barbara’s decision making are successful in this matter. Barbara is under time pressure so part of her decision to purchase lies in the effective, simple and easy communication (shape and form of the bottle, color of the lettering, price, position of the bottle, and its label).

For more than four decades, advertising and marketing researchers have been intrigued by the symbolic properties of products (e.g., Umiker-Sebeok 1987). During that period, it has become increasingly clear that the consumption of any product is richly embroidered by the symbolism of the practices, rituals, and texts surrounding it and, further, that the meanings associated with products are crucial to understanding their exchange value in the marketplace (Hirschman, Scott and Wells, 1998).


One of the dominant areas of consumer theory rests on the notion of the consumer as `chooser' (Gabriel and Lang, 1995: 26). Those objects with which one chooses to surround oneself in the home setting are more often than not products of careful choice and selection and may also be freely discarded (Csikszentmihalyi and Rochberg-Halton, 1981: 17). Time plays a significant role in purchasing behavior. In Barbara’s case, she could have chosen a wine more practically only if she was not in a hurry.


Part Two. Consumer Loyalty and Satisfaction


Coca-Cola Company


                According to Coca-Cola’s Annual Report (2002), the Coca-Cola Company in 2002 achieved worldwide unit case volume growth of five percent; the growth rate was 4.5 percent. Cash from operations was a record $4.7 billion, a 15 percent increase over 2001. Reported earnings per share were $1.23 after a reduction of $0.54 resulting from accounting changes and several other items, including $0.11 per share impact from stock option expense.


                Supported by strategic investment and innovation, brand Coca-Cola products achieved 3 percent volume growth in North America, led by the introduction of Vanilla Coke and the continued rollout of diet Coke with lemon. Vanilla Coke brought in eight million new consumers who were not drinking
Coca-Cola; in addition, diet Coke with lemon attracted over three million consumers to diet Coke.

Such a pace of innovation around the Coca-Cola  brand is unprecedented. It was nearly 100 years before the company launched the first extension of Coca-Cola—diet Coke, in 1982. It took another ten years to build diet Coke into a worldwide brand. It’s now the number-three soft drink in the world, and number-two in some markets.

Responsibility for the world’s most beloved and valuable brand requires extreme care in how, when, and why we extend it. The company does not risk consumer loyalty to the brand or seek an artificial bump in volume by spinning out product after product to chase the latest fad. By staying close to the brand’s identity, Coca-Cola has created new products such as Vanilla Coke, diet Vanilla Coke, and diet Coke with lemon. These products have lasting appeal that are expected to generate equally lasting value for share owners. Further, the quality and reliability of Coca-Cola products, the unparalleled brand appeal and distribution, combined with valuable consumer insights and strong customer relationships have generated sustained profitability for Coca-Cola, Fanta, Sprite and our other carbonated soft drinks for many years.

Over the past three years, Coca-Cola has grown internally and through strategic acquisitions to become the world’s largest producer of ready-to-drink juices and juice drinks. Outside the United States, its share of sales for the sports-drink category is one of the largest in the world. Across 70 countries, POWERADE grew 25 percent and increased its share of the category. Moreover, the company has been successful in strategically building a water business that enhances our offerings to our customers. Together with Dasani, which grew volume 40 percent last year as the number-two bottled water brand, we have become one of the leading players in the water category in North America, both in terms of share of sales and dollar value.

            Coca-Cola is a classic example of a brand with long-term consumer loyalty. Coca-Cola has revolutionized the way people think about soda. Through proper brand building and the introduction of related offerings such as Diet Coke, Fanta, and Sprite, the Coca-Cola Company made worldwide impact. It catapulted beverage sales to more than one billion servings per day. What separate Coke from other brands are its name, identity, and loyal following--all of which are marketing creations. The company's comprehensive business strategy revolves around the fact that the Coca-Cola brand is the core, and that consumer demand drives all.


Consumer Loyalty


            A better appreciation of the underlying forces that influence the loyalty of customers--particularly their attitudes and changing needs—helps the Coca-Cola Company develop targeted efforts to correct any downward migration in their spending habits long before it leads them to defect. Such an appreciation also helps the company improve its current efforts to encourage other customers to spend more.


            Differentiating and measuring degrees of loyalty is an evolving craft. Companies first tried to measure and manage their customers' satisfaction in the early 1970s, on the theory that increasing it would help them prosper. In the 1980s, they began to measure their customers' rates of defection and to investigate its root causes. By measuring the value of the customers themselves, some companies also identified high-value ones and became better at preventing them from defecting. These ideas are still important, but they are not enough. Managing migration--from the satisfied customers who spend more to the downward migrators who spend less--is a crucial next step.


            Service delivery is an interactive and dynamic process, that from the consumer's point of view is much more than a passive exchange of money for a particular service. Characteristics of services often require customers to be actively involved in helping to create the service value -- either by serving themselves or by cooperating and often working collaboratively with service personnel (Claycomb, Inks & Lengnick-Hall 2001). In high-contact systems customers can influence the time of demand, the exact nature of the service, and the quality of service (Lovelock & Young 1979). If consumers somehow become better customers -- that is, more knowledgeable, participative, or productive -- the quality of the service experience will likely be enhanced for the customer and the organization (Bowers, Martin & Luker 1990).


            Organizations that capitalize on customers' active participation in organizational activities can gain competitive advantage through greater sales volume, enhanced operating efficiencies, positive word-of-mouth publicity, reduced marketing expenses, and enhanced customer loyalty (Reichheld & Sasser, 1990). Customers who actively participate in organizational activities can directly increase their personal satisfaction and perceptions of service quality (Bowers, Martin & Luker 1990).


Brand and Consumer Loyalty


            More businesses are considering the importance of building and managing brand names because of the intense competition within the globalized economy, emerging trends in marketing, brand extension, acquisitions, and many other activities that cause confusions in the business (Laforet & Saunders, 1999). Consequently according to Balmer and Wilson (1998), researchers in marketing, public relations, and corporate communications are concerned with corporate identity management and the benefits branding bring to the business. Moreover, building brand names means announcing the identity of a company (Asher, 1997). The focus in building brand names therefore is to develop an intuitive and memorable image of the firm, services or products by presenting what is unique and special about the company.

            When it comes to the buying preferences of today's consumers, a major new business study reveals that what keeps Americans buying a particular brand has less to do with pricing and merchandising than with how well the company treats its customers (Kara, 1998). Conducted for SOCAP by The Center for Client Retention, the study finds a direct correlation between buying intent and a customer's experience with a company's consumer affairs department. Specifically, 90 percent of those consumers who were delighted with their experience say they will continue to buy the product/service while only 37 percent of the customers who were dissatisfied with their experience say they will remain brand loyal.

            Underscoring the importance of these "relationship" factors, the study charts the influence of these attributes on brand loyalty and finds a direct association. Specifically, 88 Percent of respondents who gave "ability to demonstrate concern and interest" the highest ranking said they would be very likely to repurchase a company's products, while only 3 percent would be very unlikely to repurchase. The reaction to representatives who "show enthusiasm" was the same: 88 percent would be very likely and only 3 percent very unlikely to repurchase a company's products.

            In fact, the SOCAP study finds that when customers are satisfied with the way a company handles their questions or complaints, they sometimes become more loyal than customers who never experience a problem. Another way that customer service impacts sales is through the "word of mouth" factor, whereby consumers tell their family and friends about their positive and negative experiences with a company. In this study, 58 percent of all respondents told others about their experience with a consumer affairs department, with most telling three or more people.

Consumer Satisfaction

            In today’s business world, the value and importance of customers is not something that should be set aside by companies. Marketing plans and strategies would be incomplete without paying much consideration to the customers. Customers will and should always be a part of the agenda in any marketing plan of any company. Because of the implications for profitability and growth, customer retention is potentially one of the most powerful weapons that companies can employ in their fight to gain a strategic advantage and survive in today's ever increasing competitive environment (Lindenmann, 1999).

            Nowadays, companies’ concern does not only evolve around managing finances and operations. Companies have realized the importance of managing reputational risk. Business image and reputation are considered as intangible assets which are as equally important as tangible assets. These assets are founded on the companies’ relations with their customers. Integrity, transparency, and accountability are important elements in this foundation. Hence, it is important for companies to be able to secure this relationship by being able to keep the degree of these three elements high (Sercovich, 2003).

            The companies’ commitment to further improve on their accountability, transparency, and integrity should not be considered merely as an effort to serve Public Relations purposes. Instead, this commitment should be regarded as an effort to maintain the long-term sustainability of these companies. As the customers demand for higher standards, any shortcomings on the part of the companies to deliver would jeopardize the life of their respective company. Hence, it is really important for companies to not only maintain and protect these intangible assets. It is also a must that they increase these assets for future benefits (Sercovich, 2003).

            The customer-company relationship is based on a continuum wherein both “always-a-share” and “lost-for-good” relationships occupy the two extremes of the continuum. In an “always-a-share” relationship, transactions are arms-length and discreet. Customers are valuable and at the same time, replaceable. On the other hand, in a “lost-for-good” relationship, the probability that the customer will purchase again from the same company is extremely low when the customer decides to terminate the use of a product due to product defects or problems (Jacobs, Latham, & Lee, 1998).

            The disconfirmation paradigm has been the dominant model used in explaining the customer’s satisfaction or dissatisfaction. There are actually 3 possible reactions that may come from the customer. Two of them are positive reactions while the other one is a negative one. A customer shows a positive reaction either when the product is able to perform as what he/she has expected (zero positive index) or the product is able to exceed its expected performance (positive disconfirmation index). On the other hand, a negative reaction (negative disconfirmation index) is expected when the product performs below the expectation of the customer (Jacobs et al., 1998).

Customer satisfaction refers to the consumer’s positive subjective evaluation of the outcomes and experiences associated with using or consuming the product or service. Satisfaction occurs when the product has been able to meet or exceed the conceived expectations that the customer has (Padilla, 1996). Furthermore, customer satisfaction may also be considered as the measure of the high degree of quality of the product (Jacobs et al., 1998).        

Consumer satisfaction may be considered as the measure of quality of a particular product (Jacobs et al., 1998). However, it should not be limited to the traditional concept of quality. In its traditional concept, manufacturers view quality as inherent in the product or service. Once a product or service has been delivered or sold, its quality is believed to have been established (Leon & Crosby, 2003). However, Leon and Crosby (2003) argued that a product’s quality still has some other dimensions that are under the manufacturer’s control. These dimensions may still be modified and enhanced even after delivery.






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