The rising trend of fast food consumptions in the recent decades can be considered as a relatively new social norm in human history. For this, Islam and Ullah (2010) define fast food as the foods that require low preparation time, served to the customer in packages form or take away, and ready for consumption in a convenience manner. The authors argued that the emergence of fast food consumption trend is primarily due to the expansion of economic activities and the fact that more women are working in the modern society, causing the modern people to be lacking of time in food preparation activities. The statistics shown by the authors on fast food consumption is scary. It is presented that about 25% of the adult population in United States consume fast food in a single day. In fact, it is also analyzed that the American expenditures on fast foods exceed the combined expenditures on movies, books, magazines, and recorded music.
The change of societal structure may be one of the reasons contributing to the fast food consumption habits around the world, but the effects of marketing strategies and techniques carried out by the fast food providers, such as KFC, McDonald, Pizza Hut, Burger King, Domino Pizza and the rest are something shouldn’t be ignored by researchers (Bainbridge, 2010). In this article, it is argued that fast food providers are able to influence consumer behaviors through marketing savvy plans and actions. It is illustrated that these fast food providers are able to accurately capture the underlying consumers’ psychological processes, and then to manipulate the consumer psychology to their advantages.
Various theories are available in understanding consumer behaviors in the context of marketing and management. This is because in business, the revenue achieved by the firm is one of the primary contributors of success for an organization. According to researchers, it is found that the marketing and environmental inputs will affect consumers’ consciousness, and combined with the consumers’ personal characteristics, will shape the consumer behaviors (Noel & Hulbert, 2007). There are four key psychological processes in play in affecting consumers’ behaviors, namely motivation, perception, learning and memory (Doyle & Stern, 2009). All of these psychological processes will then shape the consumers’ attitudes and actions regarding to a particular product or service. For this, motivation is the forces influencing the consumers to achieve something or to fulfill his desires or needs in the consumption processes. There are many motivation related theories in the field of business and management, among them includes Freud’s theory, Maslow’s theory, and Herzberg’s theory. Consumers’ perceptions are defined as how a person gathers, analyze, and interpret the data and information collected from the surroundings. How a person perceive the world will influence the motivation and the actions of the person (Solomon, 2010). Yet another psychological process affecting consumer behaviors is the learning process related to the consumers. In fact, it is argued that most human behaviors are learned (Schiffman & Kanuk, 2010). From such perspective, the job of a marketing manager is to teach the consumers on the benefits and advantages offered by the product the company is selling. Lastly, consumers’ memories also play a significant role in affecting their decision making process and behaviors. Based on the past memories, consumers are more likely to avoid negative experiences and to purchase from those businesses that deliver pleasant and beneficial feelings and value to them (Schiffman & Kanuk, 2010; Solomon, 2010). In the following article, these key psychological processes will be used to discuss how the fast food providers have been successfully influencing or shaping consumers behaviors in terms of fast food consumption daily.
According to MacArthur (2010), the key success factor of fast food providers is due to the strategic location of the restaurants. These locations offer great convenience to the mass public. Besides, as the size of the distribution of many of the fast food operators are huge, this enable the operators to lower down the costs through economies of scale and then to cut down the prices charged for the consumers (Bainbridge, 2010). Both of these factors enable the firm to offer fast, cheap, easy, reliable, filling and popular foods to the society. However, that is just part of the picture, as the success of fast food providers are also contributed by the effective marketing strategies being implemented over the years – that has been shaping and changing consumers behaviors around the globe. This section will outline a few critical marketing strategies utilized by fast food providers in the recent years.
In order to change the consumer behaviors, to consume more, or to visit the fast food restaurants more frequently, the various fast food providers have been thinking hard to fulfill the needs and desires of the consumers. One of the good examples in this context is that fast food providers have been increasing the variety of foods or meal offered in their restaurants to satisfy the consumers’ needs to have more options taking their lunch or dinner. For this, Burger King had included beer as one of the options in the restaurant (Horovitz, 2010). Such an example is just a specific case on how fast food providers have been doing to entice more customers to visit their restaurants, by fulfilling the consumers’ needs and desires. Some famous examples and critical success factors that we had discussed above are also outlined in the following table.
Table 1: Strategies to Influence or Shape Consumer Behaviors
|Strategies||Consumers’ Needs Fulfilled||Impacts to Consumer Behaviors|
|Operating in a strategic location.||To get foods from a nearby location.||It is highly convenient and hassle-free to get foods from fast food providers in the city.|
|Offering food at a cheap price.||Consumers are largely price sensitive, and naturally like to purchase any goods at the cheapest price possible.||It is cheap to buy food from the fast food restaurant. Fast food restaurants are great choices to save money.|
|Offering good services at a fast speed.||Consumers never want to wait for long hours for the meal to be served. They prefer immediate services as that would save their time.||It is relatively fast to buy food from the fast food restaurants. Fast food restaurant offer great time savings.|
|Offering drive-through services.||To find a parking is hard, and it is good to pick up some food on the way back home from work.||Fast food restaurants are highly convenient. I simply love them.|
As shown in the table above, the strategies mentioned are implemented by the various fast food providers since the last few decades. It is not hard to observe that by offering what the consumers want and need in the best possible manner, the fast food providers can alter consumers’ perception, learning process, motivation and behaviors. The table is meant to illustrate that in order to alter the consumers behaviors, any businesses must be able to fulfill the consumers need as good as possible in the very first place, before subsequent marketing strategies can be implemented to further enhance consumers’ perceptions, loyalty or attitudes towards the businesses. Other paragraphs in the following section will however, focus on discussion regarding fast food providers’ more advanced marketing strategies in the recent years to influence consumer behaviors.
Fast food providers have been paying great attention to the environmental atmosphere and condition in their restaurant as they believe the environmental factors have great influence towards the consumer behaviors. Generally, the environments of fast food restaurants are clean, hygienic and decorated nicely with bright and inspiring color and design. Besides, many successful fast food providers have been found constantly remodeling the landscape of the restaurant after a few years to positively influencing the consumers. For example, in 2009, Burger King had spent a huge sum of money to redesign the restaurant, to include rotating red flame chandeliers, brilliant TV screen menus and modern looking metal and brick walls (Heher, 2009). Theoretically speaking, consumers would love to dine in a clean restaurant because it is a great pleasure to have lunch or dinner under a nice environment. When a restaurant’s is decorated properly, it would entice the consumers to become motivated to consume foods provided in these restaurants. Besides, nicely designed environment will also likely to affect consumers’ perceptions and attitudes towards the restaurant positively. As the consumers have pleasant experience dining in these restaurants, they are more likely to become repeat customers for these restaurants in the future. However, there are mix evidences and opinion if such strategies will be successful in drawing crowd to the restaurant.
On the other hand, there are also fast food providers who aim to shake away their traditional images. For example, in order to disassociate Pizza Hut from a restaurant serving pizza only, it is reported that some Pizza Hut restaurants are changing their names to ‘The Hut’, with smaller words emphasizing on ‘pizza, pasta and wings’. The objective of Pizza Hut is to teach people to understand that the restaurants are currently also serving others dishes, as to sell pizza alone may no longer sufficient to draw crowds to the restaurant (Kwon, 2010; Hume, 2007). By changing the name, logo and the words outside the restaurant, the fast food providers able to teach consumers new things, and then slowly changing their perceptions towards that restaurant.
The marketing practices of bundling soft drink, French fries and the main meal to form a ‘combo’ or ‘value meal’ practiced by the fast food providers have been successfully affecting consumer behaviors. According to Hume, (2007), such marketing practice swill enhance consumer perceived value of the bundled items, as the bundled items are sold at a discount. The authors also asserted that when ‘value meal’ is offered, consumers can become more sensitive to all the individual items being offered, but nonetheless may consume fast food more as they are easily attracted to take the opportunity to buy the bundled foods at a discount. When the consumers perceive that such discounts are beneficial and money saving, they may become more pleasant in buying foods from these restaurants, and to consume more frequently in these restaurants. Gradually they become loyal customers to the fast food restaurants in the cities (Islam & Ullah, 2010).
One of the brilliant advertisements launched by the fast food providers are to constantly brain wash the public that the restaurants re great places for happy celebration and meaningful events such as family or friends gathering. It is also frequent to observe that the fast food providers often promote the restaurants as the designated places to celebrate children birthday parties (Hayashi et. al., 2009). Such advertisement is pretty successful, as many children are taught to believe that they also deserve to have parties in these restaurants, which are specially designed with children playground and delicious foods for them and their friends. This shows that the fast food providers are smart in manipulating the consumers’ behaviors, primarily targeting towards the children. With specially designed and emotionally appealing advertisement, the children are taught to perceive that the restaurant with playground will be a perfect and fun place to have their birthday party. Gradually, the children will form positive attitudes towards these restaurants, and motivated to urge their parents to bring them to these fast food restaurants for a meal or to celebrate their birthday party. Such effects are not limited to children, as adults are also being influenced by the advertisement and tend to have social gathering in the restaurants (Bainbridge, 2010). One again, it is shown that with accurate understanding and manipulation of the psychological processes of consumers, fast food providers often able to influence the consumer behaviors to visit the restaurants more frequently.
One of the recent techniques used by the fast food providers in motivating people to visit the restaurants more often is through the introduction of ‘economy meal’ to the public. Such meals are offered at a cheaper price, and the advertisement programs on such meals reinforce people belief that the various fast food providers are promoting such value for money meal to save money for the consumers. For example, Pitta (2010) shows that Subway has been using such strategy successfully, to grow the market share in the food and beverages industry, even during the economic downturn from the year 2008 to 2009. Subway is argued to had reduce the prices of its sandwiches, accurately launch a marketing campaign to capture and appeal to the public that are finding ways to save money and cut costs in all aspects of their life. It is noted also Subway is not the only company utilizing such strategies to steal market share from the other restaurants, but other popular fast food chain such as McDonald, KFC and Burger King are also reportedly adopting such marketing tricks to appeal to consumers perceptions, although the price discount offered may not really help to save a great deal of money for the consumers (Pitta, 2010; Teng, 2009).
One of the human characteristics is that we love freebies and free gift, or discount, as we perceive that as something valuable. Fast food providers have been skillfully capitalizing on such human nature to drive revenue growth in their restaurants. According to a survey performed by Glazer (2009), due to the recent recessionary economic environment, people are getting more cost-conscious, and are looking out for high-quality, full-sized meals for little or nothing. Thus, offering of free meal (example, buy 1 and get 1 free promotion), or giving away internet coupon (example, free a cup of coffee for purchase of every single value meal) can easily grip the attentions of the public. Fast food providers understand such trend in the marketplace, and are offering free meal and internet coupon away to consumers. The author found those clipped, ripped or printed coupons are the most rapidly growing deals in the food and beverages industry. This is not surprising, as by offering something free, the fast food providers able to induce the greed emotion among the consumers, as they can now get something free (although that free thing may come with some terms and conditions). Without precise calculation and in-depth analysis, the consumers are easily led to perceive that coupon is something valuable, and may even persuade friends to join them to get that free items by dining together in the designated restaurant. Besides, by giving away free coupons or free meals, the fast food providers may be able to enhance consumers’ loyalty and motivation to revisit the restaurant again in the future (Glazer, 2009; Hume, 2007).
Perhaps one of the most controversial and hotly debated issues is about the topic if the over consumption of fast food by mass public around the world which has led to obesities issues and related diseases is indeed ethical or not. It is a wide known fact that fast food can be highly fattening, but through carefully formulated marketing mix, fast food providers seemingly are gradually changing the public perceptions on their images (Vermeer et. al., 2010). Many of the fast food providers have been trying to position itself as the leader in tackling the obesities issues in the society. Elan (2009) provided some examples on how these fast food providers are doing to change the public perceptions. For example, Dunkin’ Donuts introduced the healthy DD-Smart menu, where the company claim such package of food has 25% lesser fat, sugar, sodium and calories. The famous KFC however, is fast to introduce the “un-fried” series of chicken related menus, namely the grilled chicken series. And it is found that almost all fast food providers start to use vegetables images in decorating the restaurant (Lee & Shavitt, 2009). All these are brilliant marketing strategies, as that different set of marketing mix, that continuously portray the fast food providers as taking care of the health of the public, is slowly changing the consumers attitudes toward fast food consumption, despite the many doctors in the country is urging people to cut down the consumption of fast food (Tiling et. al., 2009; Vermeer et. al., 2010). Imagine you are going to a fast food restaurant, with the entire menu and walls are decorated with tomatoes, vegetables, and fresh fruits, how hard you have to think to believe that the fast food provided are unhealthy?
In short, it is pretty clear that the forcefully implemented marketing strategies and techniques by the fast food operators definitely exerted significant effects to the consumers’ psychological processes and behaviors. Many of the marketing strategies are found to be pretty successful, ad we can see how the growth of these fast food related corporation around the world. In fact, there are many evidences on the success stories of fast food restaurants in the merging countries in the last decade, as recorded in several literatures by Glazer (2007), Hume (2007), Islam & Ullah (2010), Kiley (2009), and Tilling et. al. (2009). The success of the fast food providers are not without reasons. One key reason is the strong and highly effective marketing strategies and techniques implemented by the companies. With accurate, in-depth and comprehensive understanding on the consumers’ needs, demands and desires, the fast food providers often able to utilize that knowledge in the design of the marketing mix of their restaurants. By tapping and sometime, manipulating the psychological processes affecting the consumers’ behaviors, the fast food providers able to appeal, capture and affect the consumers’ attention, perceptions, motivation, attitudes and actions to buy the ‘lovely’, ‘fast’, convenient, and ‘healthy’ food from the restaurant, just strategically located at the corner of the street in a busy city.
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