A buyer’s decisions also are influenced by personal characteristics such as the buyer’s age and life-cycle stage, occupation, economic situation, lifestyle, and personality and self-concept.
Age and Life-Cycle Stage
People change the goods and services they buy over their lifetimes. Tastes in food, clothes, furniture, and recreation are often age related. Buying is also shaped by the stage of the family life cycle—the stages through which families might pass as they mature over time. Table 5.2 lists the stages of the family life cycle. Marketers often define their target markets in terms of life-cycle stage and develop appropriate products and marketing plans for each stage. Traditional family life-cycle stages include young singles and married couples with children. Today, however, marketers are increasingly catering to a growing number of alternative, nontraditional stages such as unmarried couples, couples marrying later in life, childless couples, same-sex couples, single parents, extended parents (those with young adult children returning home), and others.
Family Life-Cycle Stages
Sources: Adapted from Patrick E. Murphy and William A. Staples, “A Modernized Family Life Cycle,” Journal of Consumer Research, June 1979, p. 16; © Journal of Consumer Research, Inc., 1979. Also see Leon G. Shiffman and Leslie Lazar Kanuk, Consumer Behavior, 6th ed. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1997), pp. 360-69.
A person’s occupation affects the goods and services bought. Blue-collar workers tend to buy more rugged work clothes, whereas white-collar workers buy more business suits. Marketers try to identify the occupational groups that have an above-average interest in their products and services. A company can even specialize in making products needed by a given occupational group. Thus, computer software companies will design different products for brand managers, accountants, engineers, lawyers, and doctors.
A person’s economic situation will affect product choice. Lucy can consider buying an expensive Nikon if she has enough spendable income, savings, or borrowing power. Marketers of income-sensitive goods watch trends in personal income, savings, and interest rates. If economic indicators point to a recession, marketers can take steps to redesign, reposition, and reprice their products closely.
People coming from the same subculture, social class, and occupation may have quite different lifestyles. Lifestyle is a person’s pattern of living as expressed in his or her psychographics. It involves measuring consumers’ major AIO dimensions—activities (work, hobbies, shopping, sports, social events), interests (food, fashion, family, recreation), and opinions (about themselves, social issues, business, products). Lifestyle captures something more than the person’s social class or personality. It profiles a person’s whole pattern of acting and interacting in the world.
Lifestyle classifications are by no means universal—they can vary significantly from country to country. When used carefully, the lifestyle concept can help the marketer understand changing consumer values and how they affect buying behavior. Lucy, for example, can choose to live the role of a capable homemaker, a career woman, or a free spirit—or all three. She plays several roles, and the way she blends them expresses her lifestyle. If she becomes a professional photographer, this would change her lifestyle, in turn changing what and how she buys.
Personality and Self-Concept
Each person’s distinct personality influences his or her buying behavior. Personality refers to the unique psychological characteristics that lead to relatively consistent and lasting responses to one’s own environment. Personality is usually described in terms of traits such as self-confidence, dominance, sociability, autonomy, defensiveness, adaptability, and aggressiveness. Personality can be useful in analyzing consumer behavior for certain product or brand choices. For example, coffee marketers have discovered that heavy coffee drinkers tend to be high on sociability. Thus, to attract customers, Starbucks and other coffeehouses create environments in which people can relax and socialize over a cup of steaming coffee.
Many marketers use a concept related to personality—a person’s self-concept (also called self-image). The basic self-concept premise is that people’s possessions contribute to and reflect their identities; that is, “we are what we have.” Thus, in order to understand consumer behavior, the marketer must first understand the relationship between consumer self-concept and possessions. For example, the founder and chief executive of Barnes & Noble, the nation’s leading bookseller, notes that people buy books to support their self-images:
A lady may see herself as outgoing, creative, and active. Therefore, she will favor a camera that projects the same qualities. If the Nikon is promoted as a camera for outgoing, creative, and active people, then its brand image will match her self-image.