Consumer Behaviours mcdonalds_2872758b
Influencing Consumer’s Behavior: the Changing Image of ‘Fast Food’

Introduction

Fast foods operators are affecting and changing the consumer behaviors around the world. This can be witnessed by the fast growing trend of fast food operators, particularly in those emerging countries (Gale, 2007). In this article, the marketing techniques used by these fast food operators will be discussed. The theories on consumer psychology and behaviors, particularly on consumers’ perceptions, attitudes, learning and motivation aspects will be used to analyze the effectiveness and rationales of such marketing techniques. Firstly, we will discuss the relevant theories in the context of consumer behaviors. Then we shall investigate the various strategies and techniques employed by fast food operators in changing consumers’ behaviors and thinking. Examples will be provided, and the rationale and discussion on the effectiveness of these strategies will be illustrated. The article is conclude that an accurate understanding on consumer behaviors as well as implementation of effective strategies to change or influence the consumers thinking and decision making process is vital for business success in the competitive world.

Literature Review

Consumer behaviors is becoming an important subject cannot be ignored by marketers in the competitive business world. This as the business landscape is becoming more competitive, more effective marketing strategies is required to persuade or entice the consumers to buy from a firm, rather than a competitor. However, effective marketing strategies can only be formulated after an innate understanding on the consumer behaviors is obtained. Generally speaking, the term consumer behavior is often defined as the processes where by the consumer or consumers select, buying, using or disposing of a products or services in satisfying his needs and desires (Solomon, 2011; Schiffman & Kanuk, 2010).

Various theories and researches on the topic of consumer behaviors have been carried out. A large portion of the studies are focusing on identifying and understanding how the consumer makes decision in buying products from the seller. A typical consumer decision making model often involves three basic components, namely (a) input, (b) process, and (c) output. Under the first component, ‘input’ often referred to the external factors that can affect the consumer decision making process. Such factors include the marketing mix structure of the firm, as well as the social-cultural factors (such as influences from family members, relatives, friends, social media, culture and other non-economical reasons) affecting the particular consumer. In contrast, under the second component, the ‘process’ is referred to the specific consumer decision making process used by the consumers. Such decision making process often involve three basic steps or stages, namely (a) need recognition by the consumers, (b) conducting pre-purchase search by the customers, and (c) evaluation of alternatives by the consumers. Two key factors will significantly affect the consumer decision making process. The first factor in such context is the consumer experiences on the purchasing decision in the past. The second factor is the psychological set-up of the particular consumers. There are many psychological issues that will affect consumer behaviors and the decision making process, and researchers have been focusing extensively in learning the relevant psychological issues to understand how a consumer truly make choices in his buying decision. Lastly, the third component is about the ‘output’ of the consumer decision making process. This is related to the post-purchase evaluation process by the consumers that will ultimately affect the consumer experiences associated to a particular products or service (Solomon, 2011; Schiffman & Kanuk, 2010).

In the following section, the discussion will be concentrated on how consumer’s perception, attitudes, learning and motivation can be formed. An in-depth understanding on such psychological factors affecting consumer decision making process is definitely crucial for us to understand how these psychological factors can be manipulated in order to entice the consumers to purchase a particular product or service from a firm.

Consumer perceptions are about how the consumer choose, analyze and interpret information related to the products or services marketed by business organizations. Once a consumer believes in something, he may interpret and perceive the event or thing differently. And once the consumer perceives something in a particular way, the actions and potential behaviors of the consumer towards an event may be changed. For this, marketing messages can be targeted to alter the belief system of the consumers, to provide different situation or stimuli that may potentially affect the consumers’ decision making process, and to guide the consumer to perform certain behaviors as desired by the marketer. It is argued that consumer perceptions towards something or a business entity are critical, as they may affect the belief system and actions of the consumers, even the reality may not be similar to what the consumers perceive. (Solomon, 2011; Schiffman & Kanuk, 2010)

Consumers’ attitudes are about the responses or reactions of the consumers towards a brand, products, services or the business organization. Consumers’ attitudes are important because that will affect the consumers purchasing decision. When consumers have negative attitudes towards an organization, they may not buy from that organization, but also talking badly about the organizations to others around him. Such word-of-mouth impacts are powerful, and are to being managed properly before the reputation and the profitability of the business is affected. Various issues may affect the consumers’ attitudes towards a brand, for example, the wrong doing of the corporations in the business arena, the product quality offered by the corporation to the society, the corporate social responsibilities activities launched by the corporation and many others (Solomon, 2011; Schiffman & Kanuk, 2010).

Consumers’ motivation is about the research into what consumers perform what they perform. Motivation is very important subject in marketing because it is the source of power to drive a person to perform something in order to achieve something desire by the particular person. In designing the marketing mix of a corporation, marketer will seek to understand the various needs, demands and requirements from the consumers, and by offer something to fulfill the needs and desires of the consumers; they will be able to motivate the consumers to buy into the value proposition offered by the corporation. There are various needs on behalf of the consumers that if successfully fulfilled, the consumers may be induced to purchase from a corporation. Different types of needs that if fulfilled, can create tremendous motivation within the consumers to act include: innate needs, acquired needs, biogenic needs, psychogenic needs, utilitarian needs, and hedonic needs (Solomon, 2011; Schiffman & Kanuk, 2010).

In the world bombarded with various marketing messages, advertisements, and promotion activities, consumers are learning new messages every day. Technically speaking, learning can be defined as the changes in a particular consumer’s behaviors arising from his understandings, interpretation and experiences on the surroundings and himself. In the learning theory, it is argued that marketers can build up demand for the products or services offered by their company through cultivation of strong desires, provision of motivational clues as well as to provide positive reinforcement messages to the consumers. Under such proposition, consumers will learn through acquiring the relevant knowledge related to the purchase and usage of the products or services offered by the marketers. Thus, it is critical for a marketer to teach the consumers on the following issues, such as (a) where to buy the product, (b) how to use the product, (c) how to maintain the product, and (d) how to dispose of the products offered by the company (Solomon, 2011; Schiffman & Kanuk, 2010).

‘Fast Food’ Operators Efforts to Change Consumers’ Behaviors

There are many marketing strategies employed by fast food restaurants to change the images of their operations in the recent years. Many of the marketing strategies are successful as they have huge impacts towards the consumers’ perception, motivation, learning and attitudes. The various marketing strategies developed and conducted by the fast food operators will be presented in the following paragraphs, and the discussion on how such marketing strategies affect consumers’ learning, motivation, perceptions and attitudes will be articulated as well.

Offering of fast services to enhance consumer perception on the businesses. It is not hard to observe that fast food operators are achieving great success and growth in the world in the last decades due to the high quality of services offered by the corporations in the industry. With good services, a corporation able to leave great impacts to the consumers experiences on the organization. Such idea is supported by empirical research. Browska (2011) found that the most critical factors affecting the consumers’ attitudes and perceptions on an organization in the catering business is the level of services offered. Besides, it is found that many fast food operators are spending huge resources in training the employees and development of the system to continuously shortened the time required to serve a customer at the counter, while at the same time training friendly workforce to communicate and interact with the consumers. For example, successful fast food operators such as Mc Donald, KFC and Burger King are continuously stressing on smiling and friendly cashiers to ensure that consumers are treated respectfully and nicely. This will ensure the consumers to learn more about the organization, to perceive that the organization is friendly, sincere and well-managed. It will also deliver a sense of professionalism towards the consumers’ perception and experience. Besides, the fast service level offered by the fast food operators will also guide the consumers to believe that these organizations are efficient, properly controlled, and the quality of foods offered by the businesses are clean and hygienic (Eagle, 2007).

Layout design to become appealing to consumers. From time to time, the fast food operators are found to change the layout of their restaurants, as they believe that this will affect the consumers’ perceptions, attitudes and ultimately the decisions to dine in the restaurants. For example, Burger King is reportedly to spend a lot of money on overhauling its restaurant layout, to become a more contemporary, edgy, futuristic and upscale. The management believes that this will enhance the consumers’ desires to consume the food in the restaurant, but some analysts doubt if that is true (Heher, 2009). However, it is not hard to observe that such a marketing technique is also employed by other fast food restaurant. Often, the fast food operators will revamp the layout, to convey fresh and modern images to the consumers, so that the consumers are induced or motivated to try out dining in these restaurants. Besides, it is also argued that newly designed layout may positively affect the consumers to consume the foods served in these restaurants, as people instinctively love to try out something new (Qin & Prybutol, 2008).

Use of coupon to enhance brand images and profitability. Laroche et. al. (2005) had conducted a research and found that coupons offered by corporation had strong effects against the consumers’ brand categorization and choice among fast foods restaurants in China. Specifically, the presence of fast food coupon will enhance the brand positively and ultimately affect the consumers’ attitudes and intentions towards the brand. By offering discount, consumers think that they are getting something in value, and this will often motivate the consumers to reap the value by capitalizing on the discount offered in the coupon. Not only that, the coupon will also change the consumers attitudes, whereby without the promotional coupons, the consumers may think where to eat; but with the coupon presented to the consumers, they are more likely to think when to realize the benefits offered by the respective fast food restaurant (Laroche et. al., 2005).

Proactively displaying calorie information in the menu. In America, there are many arguments that the consumption of excessive fast foods among the public is the key culprit responsible for high obesities issues in the country (Dumanovsky et. al., 2010). Realizing that the development of such perceptions among the public will serious damage the brand name of the fast food operators, the operators are taking proactive measures to alter the perceptions of the public by proactively displaying the calorific value of the food served on its menus. Mc Donald and Subway are the leader in such marketing techniques. Not only these restaurants display the calorie value of the food serve, they are also reportedly to be using nicely designed vegetables picture to decorate the restaurants, to subconsciously affect the perceptions of the consumers that the food served in these restaurants are fresh, healthy and hygienic (whereas, in reality, the food served are largely still fattening, unhealthy and may cause illness to those who consume it too often). The consumers’ perceptions are manipulated, and this in turn motivate the consumers to take actions unconsciously, which could be in direct contrast to the conscious decisions made by the consumers under a rational and logical scenario (Knight et. al., 2007; Tangari et. al., 2010).

Offering snacks at a cheap pricing after consumers have bought a set of meal. It is also found that fast food operators are selling additional snack at a cheap pricing to persuade consumers to buy that additional snack. The cashiers at the counters are trained to ask if the consumers want to try some snack, and this is likely to entice the consumers to take up the offer, as the snack are priced at a low price. For example, in the recent years, many fast food operators such as KFC and Mc Donald are offering consumers the chance to purchase ice cream or other small items for fun after the customers had already purchased a value meal or set lunch. Such marketing technique is powerful, as the lower priced items are suggesting a no harm trying proposition to the consumers. As these items are positioned and marketed as having fun, people would tend to perceive as consuming these items as fun, happy and enjoyable. This will further increase the consumer motivation to consume such items. Combined with the polite and smiling faces of the cashiers, the attitudes of consumers towards these ‘snacks’ are manipulated. Furthermore, as more variety of snacks are being offered, such as Apple Dippers, fresh apple slices with caramel sauce, ice cream and others, consumers learn that they have a lot of choices to choose from; and gradually being guided to simply choose one of the snacks offered, in contrast to considering if they really need any of these snack (Jennings, 2010).

Currently, the eating habits are found to be changing fast – i.e., the development of snaking behaviors among consumers in cities. Besides, according to Jennings (2010), the offering of snacks are causing the Americans to snacking between meals more often than ever, but also that the snack definition has been broaden to include a wider range of items, such as sandwiches, burgers, chicken strips and drinks. Mc Donald is responsible and pioneering for such a trend, whereby the company is leading the trend to introduce sandwiches as a snack in 2006 through the offering of Snack Wraps (i.e., a type of sandwiches wrapped in flour tortilla). Apparently, the marketing techniques, which initially introducing the purchase of ‘add-on’ snacks by the fast food operators are reaping great success, as people are found to flocking the restaurants even from 3pm to 5pm, which are traditionally supposed not to be lunch or dinner hours in most countries around the world (Seubsman et. al., 2009; Eagle & Brennan, 2007). On and off, fast food operators are capitalizing on such a trend, and introduce Happy Hours, Fun Hours and pricing promotions activities for the food offered in these hours, to entice and motivate the consumers to ‘have fun’, to ‘reduce boredom’ and simply to ‘release stresses’ during these hours in the restaurants. It is no wonder that customers are gradually become so loyal to these fast food chains, as they unconsciously learned that having small snacks at these restaurants can be happy, refreshing and enjoyable, and all these comes with a small price (Sharpe & Staelin, 2010).

Exercising corporate social responsibilities. Fast food operators such as Mc Donald, Pizza Hut and KFC are the leading organizations in conducting various activities in reducing poverty around the world, taking good care of the environment, as well as to enhance standard of living around the world (Garrison, 2011). Such actions are likely to affect the consumers’ perceptions towards these organizations. As they witnessed how these corporations are helping others around the world, the trustworthiness and reputation of these corporations are enhanced. Not only that, people will be leaded to believe that these corporations are sincere in doing business, for the benefits of mankind, and ethical. Consumers may soon learn and believe that the foods offered by these corporations are healthy and hygienic. They may even be unconsciously believe that as they consume foods in these restaurants, they are also doing good to the world (as the money earned by these fast food operators may be spent to help others around the world). Overall, when the CSR activities from these organizations are published, consumers can be more motivated to spend money on these fast food operators.

Use of social media marketing to get in touch with the consumers. According to William (2010), it is found that fast food chain such as Chipotle, Mc Donald, Maey and etc. are catching on a trend to launch Facebook Deal promotions around the world to enhance consumer loyalty through personalized services and promotional activities. According to the author, Facebook deal will enable the retailers to offer customer promotions specific to a location by enabling the consumers to check-in through Facebook Places Application with their smart phones in order to receive specially tailored deals. It is also argued that such applications are powerful, as they may help to build a brand name online, with close and frequent interaction with the customers, through social media networks. From the consumers’ behaviors’ perspective, this is not hard to comprehend. What consumers need is personalized services, as when the marketing messages or promotions are more personalized, they are more motivated to consider the promotions being offered (Sharpe & Staelin, 2010). They will also slowly learn that they corporations offering such personalized services are serious in business, care for them, professional and offering great value to the customers. This will motivate them to take up the promotion, to react positively to the corporation, and ultimately to become a loyal customer to these organizations with highly personalized services. Not only that, the close and frequent interaction of the corporation with the consumers will also serve as suggestive element to induced the desired of consumers to dine in these restaurants (Williams, 2010).

Conclusion

The success of the fast food chain, such as Mc Donald, KFC, and Pizza Hut are not without reasons. As discussed above, the marketing strategies implemented by these corporations are smart, powerful and pretty effective in affecting the consumers’ behaviors. It is noted that these marketing strategies have strong influences against the consumers’ psychological elements (Eagle & Brannan, 2007), such as the consumers learning, motivation, perceptions and attitudes in the marketplace. These fast food chain are growing fast, and often, able to duplicate their success in other part of the world, primarily due to an accurate understandings on what the consumers needs, capability to fulfilled the requirements of consumers and the ability to use indirect and subtle forces to manipulate the consumer decision making process in conducting businesses. Any other businesses that wish to achieve great success in the competitive business landscape today should learn from these fast food operators.

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