Marketing is the art and science of presenting goods, services and concepts to people in a way that is expected to elicit a positive or negative reaction from them. One of its most important concepts, the Black Box Stimulus-Response Theory of Consumer Behavior, was first published in 1967 by Philip Kotler in his book "Marketing Management." The book is widely considered one of the world's leading books on marketing and is a standard college text.

Black Box Theory of Stimulus-Response

When a person is given certain input or stimulus, that stimulus affects the person's actions. What happens in the person's mind to cause that behavior has remained mostly a mystery -- hence the name "black box." However, advances in technology and neuroscience have allowed researchers to study the effects of specific stimulus on the human brain and map the neurological response.

Sources of Consumer Behavior

Kotler postulated that in the consumer's black-box of a mind, stimuli including product, price, promotion and place are processed against other stimuli -- economic, political, social and technological -- to arrive at a buyer response. This response governs product choice, brand choice, retail choice, dealer choice, purchase timing, purchase amount and purchase frequency. Kotler's theory stated that the differences in buyer behavior depended on the contents of the black box which included buyer characteristics and decision-making. Characteristics include:

  • attitudes
  • motivation
  • perceptions
  • personality
  • lifestyle
  • knowledge

Decision-making includes problem recognition, information search, alternative evaluation, purchase decision and post-purchase behavior.

Application to Marketing

This theory resulted in marketing tools such as focus groups, market research and testing to determine the hot buttons to use in advertising goods, services and concepts to the public. Marketers strove to find relations between the stimulus and the consumer behavior. In the first decade of the 21st century, neuroscience and biometrics established that brain function recorded in EEGs of subjects given certain visual, tactile and audio stimulation could provide a road-map to probable behavioral response. An example of neurological testing to achieve marketing knowledge is the embedding of advertisement breaks into a basic video presentation and measuring the EEG response.

The Future of Marketing

Television allows visual cues to be transmitted to viewers as part of advertising, but the Internet and its reach beyond the computer into automobiles, phones, connected wearables and future products, allows the presentation of stimuli and the recording of behavioral response. With tracking and accumulation of unimaginable amounts of data from search terms, online purchases, posted comments and other online behavior, this data can be analyzed to isolate stimulus-response on even an individual basis. The result is better targeting of online and offline advertisements -- even to the point of being able to predict human reactions to events. As this science develops, it will take much of the guesswork out of marketing and enable marketers to accurately provide consumers with exactly what they want, when and where they are prepared to make a purchase.