How to Study Consumer Behavior

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Ever since companies began selling goods and services, they've worked hard to understand their customers. Market researchers have developed numerous methodologies for studying consumer behavior, and the industry pumps billions of dollars into advertisements to reach them. Both marketing and advertising are extremely important to a company, and both carry major costs. To ensure that you're getting the most out of your marketing budget, you need to study the behavior of your consumers.

Consumer Behavior Research

Consumer behavior research is more important now than it ever was before. Every customer that considers your product is also able to consider products like yours all over the world. You're no longer simply dealing with localized competition. Nearly everything plays out on a global stage, so studying consumer behavior is increasingly important.

You're already aware that your customers have other options. How should you focus your attention and marketing dollars, then? Most businesses have flagship products. Large corporations can have whole flagship brands.

As a marketer, you need to focus on flagship customers or a primary consumer that you imagine using your products or services. You don't need to only focus on one flagship customer. Instead, you can have a small selection of these. When making your customer avatars, however, you should generally use more than three examples, unless you're a large-scale company.

Determining Your Core Demographic

Your research should focus on the people you want to use as your core demographic. There are a few things to think about when considering this group. First, if you haven't revisited who defines your core demographic in a few years or more, you must review them.

Oftentimes, large brands fail to revisit their major demographic and find their sales slipping as a result. Say, for instance, the demographic for a particular company was long believed to be women who were in college. Perhaps, though, marketers later found out through their research that the core demographic was less educated and more focused on careers than they thought. In the time they failed to revisit their definitions, sales likely were significantly impacted.

Studying Consumer Behavior

Marketing psychology and consumer behavior can be intimidating if you attempt to analyze the entire market at once. Instead, it’s best to obtain samples in smaller chunks that offer high-quality data gained from each interaction. This is an area where UX research professionals excel. There are a few different types of studies that can be beneficial when it comes to looking at your customers and figuring out how they shop.

Surveys as Customer Research

Surveys are one of the cheapest and easiest ways to get customer data. If you have a populated email list, you can send out a link to a survey directly. It’s also possible to use a survey company to perform this sort of research. That can be a better option at times since it saves you the hassle of organizing a survey and leaves it in the hands of a skilled professional.

Observation as Customer Research

It's also possible to observe sample consumers to see how they react to your product. You can give the participant a task to perform and have them talk you through their thought process as they perform the task.

For example, if you sell dog collars, you want to have the participant navigate to your website or app and then look for a collar to buy their dog. As they shop, encourage them to say if anything annoys them, if they have a problem with any part of the site or to voice opinions as they think of them.

Recording these tests provides a way for you to seek repeated themes amongst your participants. Common issues with websites are that they don't scale for phone use or pages lag or won’t load. Looking at these repeated themes can also give you a good idea of how well you're locked into your core demographic.

Dealing With Consumer Research Results

Sometimes there are problems brought to light in consumer research that you can fix easily, and other times doing so can be a massive undertaking. It's up to you how you want to proceed after obtaining consumer research data. Some feedback may be less useful than others.

For example, if a customer says that what they're shopping for is overpriced, you should check your prices against those of your competitors. If you find that you're not the most expensive on the market, you can choose to lower prices or leave them as they are.

Four Types of Customers

There are four basic types of customers, each with different factors influencing consumer behavior. These customer types have different needs and desires, all of which are important when attempting to understand consumer behavior.

While it's important to understand these consumer types on a base level if you work in retail, it’s also essential that consumer researchers know which types of consumers their test subjects are. This will allow them to view their data through the proper lens. The four types of customers are director/driver, analytical, belonging, and social butterfly. The attributes of these customers are detailed below.

1. Director/Driver Types

Director/driver customers tend to be described as having "type A" personalities. They take charge and aren't afraid to tell you what they want. The demanding personality of the director/driver also means that they want what they want when they want it, and they want it now.

Taken to extremes, these customers are often difficult to please and can intimidate salespeople, either through yelling or threats. In other instances, the director/driver personality is more mellow but is quick and to the point. These consumers want to quickly obtain details on whatever product they're considering and don't want to deal with small talk.

Director/drivers tend to be short on time, so they take a "get in and get out" mentality about shopping. They can also be difficult to please regarding products because they tend to have extremely high expectations but don't comprehend what those expectations should cost.

Dealing With Director/Drivers

Dealing with the director/driver customer requires a direct approach. If you're too demure, they may leave or ask for someone else to help them. Lay out exactly what they want to know in the most direct way possible. Keeping it brief will let them off the hook with small talk that can make them feel put on the spot and defensive.

Because the director/driver is focused, they'll appreciate suggestions, provided that they are logical and make sense. Don't take up too much of their time with a spiel, and train your employees to skip over any greetings and move smoothly with the director/driver. As long as they don't perceive someone as wasting their time, they're easy to handle because they know what they want and have likely done research before they shopped.

2. Analytical Consumer Types

In some ways, the analytical customer type is similar to the director/driver in that they don't like small talk. These customers also tend to be the ones that come in a few times before they purchase. They're looking for facts, data and analytics on whatever they're buying. They tend to be very exacting.

Unlike the director/driver, who only wants a few suggestions and to quickly make their choice, the analytical personality will want as much information as possible. These customers want to see all the fine print and product descriptions. They may even come into your store with their research in their mind or in-hand. They almost always have a pen on their person.

Dealing with an Analytical Consumer

When serving an analytical mind, you should never say something without knowing that it's correct. If they catch you making a false statement, it will damage your reputation with them. If there are detailed descriptions available for a product, provide these to them.

Rest assured, however, that they've already done a lot of research online. Asking them direct questions such as "so what brings you in today?" will get a response that will allow you to help them more easily. Ask them about their thought process as you work with them.

3. Belonging Consumer Types

As the name implies, belonging customers need to be part of a group. They tend to see all transactions as part of their wider network. They're extremely brand loyal and are likely the sort of people to leave a review about their experiences with your company.

They enjoy the feeling of being part of something; this means they're also very interested in loyalty programs, meet-ups and other offerings that are inclusive. Unlike the analytical thinker and the director/driver, belonging customers are typically extroverted people who like to feel welcome.

Dealing with Belonging Types

The best way to handle this type of customer is to include them. Ask them why they're replacing an item or switching brands, and truly listen to their reply. When giving them selections, before you get into the details, ask them what they think.

Belonging types also enjoy a compliment or two when discussing their thought processes. Unfortunately, these customers are also the type who'll request to speak to management if they think that they weren't treated appropriately or someone hasn't done their job. They do this because they see the stores they frequent as an extension of themselves.

4. Social Butterfly Consumer Type

The social butterfly consumer has a wide network, is always busy with something and loves meeting new people and making friends. When a social butterfly comes into your store, they're going not only for what they're buying but also for the social interaction of buying it.

This type of customer loves talking, and if you don't come off as friendly and warm, they'll be turned off by you. In fact, likability is a core reason for this group to buy something. Regardless of how intelligent a social butterfly is, they're uninterested in hard facts or figures. They take the most value out of an interaction with you as a salesperson.

If a social butterfly consumer felt like they made a friend when they were shopping, they'll likely be back in to purchase again in the future. The major drawback to the social butterfly consumer type is that they're time-consuming, and if you're working with one, you're likely to be busy for a while.

Dealing with Social Butterfly Types

When you're dealing with social butterflies, remember that you're part of the buying "experience" for them. Even if you have the very best deals in town, a social butterfly won't care or shop with you if they don't like you.

These customers tend not to be brand loyal, but they're loyal to people. It's not uncommon for them to take a liking to one specific associate and ask for them specifically. The biggest issue with the social butterfly is that they see shopping as a social activity and can have difficulty staying focused.

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About the Author

Danielle Smyth is a writer and content marketer from upstate New York. She has been writing on business-related topics for nearly 10 years. She owns her own content marketing agency, Wordsmyth Creative Content Marketing (www.wordsmythcontent.com) and she works with a number of small businesses to develop B2B content for their websites, social media accounts, and marketing materials. In addition to this content, she has written business-related articles for sites like Sweet Frivolity, Alliance Worldwide Investigative Group, Bloom Co and Spent.