How much do Attitudes Matter in Marketing? S. Shyam Prasad

Marketers, often talk about attitudes and attitude formation. Lots of research has gone into understanding attitude formation. Attitudes are more complex than they first appear. The effect of marketing activities in general and marketing communication in particular, depends on the attitude of the audience who are exposed to it. Target audience characteristics would determine the marketing strategy and its outcome. This write-up examines the role of attitude in consumers’ buying behaviour and attempts to expose the importance of attitudes to the marketers.
Will Modi be a better prime minister? Is Dhoni the best captain? Should capital punishment be abolished? Should prayers be allowed in schools? Should violence on television be regulated? What are your views on the same sex marriages?
Chances are that you probably have an opinion on the above questions. Your opinions on these have led to development of your attitudes towards these issues. Consequently, these attitudes will influence your behaviour. Therefore, attitudes are considered to be important in the field of marketing. Before we discuss how important are attitudes to the marketers, let us understand what are attitudes, how do they develop and how much do they influence the consumer buying behaviour.
The term attitude is used in many different contexts by people. A friend may ask, “What is your attitude towards live-in relationships? A manager may tell his subordinate that he doesn’t like his attitude. An advertisement may say that picking their brand is an attitude and so on. Psychologists define attitudes as a learned tendency to evaluate things in a certain way. For our purpose, attitude is a learned predisposition towards a given thing which may include people (including oneself), objects, advertisements or issues. Such predispositions may be positive or negative and may also be uncertain at times. For example, one might have mixed feelings about, say, reorganizing India into smaller states.  Further, attitudes tend to last over a time and so it is lasting.
An attitude has three components:
1.      An Emotional Component (Affect): How one feels about the object.
2.      A Behavioral Component: The intention to take action.
3.      A Cognitive Component: One’s thoughts and beliefs about the object.
The above model known as ABC model emphasizes the interrelationships among knowing, feeling and doing. Attitudes can also be explicit and implicit. Explicit attitudes are those that we are consciously aware of and that clearly influence our behaviors and beliefs. Implicit attitudes are unconscious, but still have an effect on our beliefs and behaviors.
How do attitudes form?
All of us have lots of attitudes, but have we ever wondered how we got them. Surely, we were not born with conviction that Raymond is better than other brands or fast foods are not good for health. How have we formed these opinions? In this article, due to its size, a detailed discussion on this subject is not possible. However, important points have been dealt with. 
Researchers have found the relative impact of the above three components and have developed the concept of hierarch of effects to explain the attitude formation. Each hierarchy specifies that a fixed sequence of steps occurs en route to an attitude formation. Figure 1 depicts these three different hierarchies.
              Source: Solomon, M. R. (2012). Consumer Behavior-Buying, Having, and Being. (9th Edition ed.). p257.
1. The standard learning hierarchy (Think-Feel-Do) assumes that a person approaches a product decision a problem-solving process. First, a consumer forms beliefs about a product as he accumulates knowledge (beliefs) regarding relevant attributes. Next, he evaluates these beliefs and forms a feeling about the product (affect)[i] and then acts accordingly.
Think →
Feel →
Do →
Cheap detergents are harmful because they use strong chemicals.
They will harm the hands as well as the clothes that are washed with it.
I don’t buy or use the cheap detergents.
2. The low-involvement hierarchy of effects (Do-Feel-Think) assumes the consumer initially doesn’t have a strong preference for one brand over another; instead he acts on the basis of limited knowledge and then forms an evaluation after he has bought the product.[ii]
Do →
Feel →
Think →
Impulsively I buy a chewing gum and consume it.
I find that it tastes good.
I think that it gives a good exercise to the jaws.
3. The experiential hierarchy of effects (Feel-Think-Do) we act on the basis of our emotional reactions.
Feel →
Think →
Do →
I feel the packaging of a product is attractive.
I think the product should be good.
I purchase product.
Attitudes, as we saw earlier, are learned predispositions towards given objects and hence it is learned in different ways. Learning theories espouse that people learn by:
a)  Classical Conditioning: the process of influencing ones attitudes through a positive association.
b)  Operant Conditioning: the process of influencing the attitudes through positive or negative feedback and
c)    Observation: the process where ones attitudes are influenced by observing people around.
Do attitudes matter in buying behavior?
In the light of the above discussion on attitude and its formation, one might tend to believe that consumers behave as per their attitudes. However, in many instance, a person’s attitude may not be in consonance with his behaviour. Indian consumers in particular, may have a good attitude towards a product and yet would buy another product that costs less. Some researchers are so discouraged that they question whether attitudes are of any use at all in understanding behaviour.[iii]
The linkage between attitudes and behaviour has confounded both the marketers and the advertisers alike. Sometimes the behaviour is unintentional such as in impulsive acts, sudden changes in ones’ situation novelty seeking etc. Some studies reveal that people are more likely to behave according to their attitudes under certain conditions:
·         When your attitudes are the result of personal experience.
·         When you are an expert in the subject.
·         When you expect a favorable outcome.
·         When the attitudes are repeatedly expressed.
Some theorists propose different views on the attitude-behaviour connection. Multiple pathway anchoring and adjustment (MPAA) model is one such example which emphasizes multiple pathways to attitude formation.
It is clear from the above discussion that understanding attitude formation is a big challenge though a lot of work has been done in that direction. Even if the attitudes of the consumers are surmised, there is no guarantee that the consumers would behave in accordance with their attitude. Yet, it is important for the marketers to understand attitude formation so that they may influence it and change it favorably towards their products if it is otherwise. It would do good to marketers to realize that attitudes alone do not determine the buying behaviour.

[i]Michael Ray, “Marketing Communications and the Hierarchy-of-Effects,” in P.Clarke, ed., New Models for Mass Communications(Beverly Hills, CA: Sage, 1973), 147-76.
[ii]Stephanie Thompson, “Bad Breakup? There, There, B&J Know Just How You Feel,” Advertising Age January 24, 2005):8.
[iii]Laura Bird, “Loved the Ad. May (or May Not) Buy the Product,” Wall Street Journal (April 7, 1994):B1
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