Today I explore how exposure to the study of marketing and society has helped in the understanding of consumption, as well as what influences consumer decisions individually and in society.
Consumer behaviour relates to the actions taken by an individual in purchasing services and products, including the social and mental processes that underlie these actions.
The study of consumer behaviour helps in understanding, for example, why consumers choose specific brands or products over others and the process used to make this choice.
One aspect of consumer behaviour that will be explored in this article is the McDonaldisation process, specifically in relation to how the dimension of predictability influences consumption in a market society.
This dimension emphasises on systematisation, discipline, and routine so that consumables are the same across space and time through replication of settings with the consumers expecting and demanding predictability of service, products, and settings.
Underlying consumer behaviour is the decision-making process, which involves the recognition of needs by the consumer, searching for information about how to satisfy these needs, evaluating alternative means of needs satisfaction, purchase decision, and post-purchase evaluation.
In contemporary consumer culture, green consumerism has become a significant element of the consumer decision-making process, which will be the subject of exploration for this paper.
Green marketing and sustainability are today a major determinant of how environmentally-sensitive consumers decide on whether to buy a product.
Consumption in Market Society: Predictability
The McDonaldisation process refers to the pervasiveness of the fast-food restaurant principles and culture in other sectors of the economy in both the United States and the rest of the world.
Most countries today have adapted to the McDonaldisation concept as a result of globalisation, stating that the McDonaldisation process will become the dominant culture in most markets across the world.
There are four dimensions to the McDonaldisation concept, which are efficiency, calculability, control, and predictability of consumption.
The dimension of McDonaldisation that most applies in my consumption behaviour is that of predictability, where consumers are increasingly getting the same product and the same service each time they interact with McDonaldised businesses.
For instance, every time I walk into a McDonald’s restaurant anywhere in India, I expect to receive the same big Mac and the same service provided by employees in the same yellow uniform using the same basic responses to my questions every time.
For McDonald’s and other fast food chains in India like KFC, Burger King, and Wendy’s, this repetition of tasks allows them to increase efficiency and to consistently offer the same service and products, which makes the staff’s duties predictable.
Predictability has substantially affected the Indian market since the mid-90s as a result of the entry of American companies into the Indian market.
In a McDonaldised society, consumers do not expect or desire surprises and prefer predictable settings with services and products served the same everywhere by scripted employees to ensure a predictable experience for consumers everywhere.
In a sense, this predictability is an advantage for me because it is easier to make choices for my lunch and snacks, as well as which movies to watch and clothes to buy, especially with so much choice in the market.
Indeed, it allows me more time to focus on my schoolwork by enabling a routine, which saves time that would have been spent deciding the best choice.
McDonaldisation and predictability have particularly influenced shopping habits, with most people now preferring to shop in supermarkets or malls that sell the same products across the entire country.
In the context of McDonaldisation, predictability provides assurance to the consumer that services and products will be the same in all locales over time. Indeed, predictability has been used by major corporations in the country and around the world as a tool for uncertainty reduction aimed at influencing consumer behaviour.
As a consumer, I like to avoid uncertainty and prefer highly standardised and predictable outcomes when using routine products. Obviously, movies are different in several ways because I would not watch the same movie over and over again.
However, there are specific characteristics that make the movies that we watch from the domestic market and abroad similar.
Most Indian and Hollywood movies have factors that seek to reduce uncertainty, specifically in the content, meaning that consumers tend to watch sequels and prequels, well-known actors, and use popular characters or historical events as the film’s basis.
This can be explained by the concept of repetition compulsion, which film companies use to predict success, while also maximising their commercial returns.
For instance, most of my friends like films based on romantic comedies and this makes it predictable that film companies would make such films since they have predictable success.
Dimension of predictability in the consumer behaviour
On one hand, I am grateful for this predictability and I think that, in some ways, it is a good thing because I do not have to worry about eating a bad pizza or an unsatisfying burger.
In line with the dimension of predictability in the consumer market, these companies will tend to provide same product in order to reduce uncertainty for the consumer.
Pizza from Pizza Hut, for example, will taste the same at any location and this assures me that the pizza will be just as tasty as the last one at another location.
With many new pizza restaurants opening up in the country, it is important that I know the pizza I am purchasing will not disappoint me, which is an example of the uncertainty reduction function of predictability in the McDonaldisation concept.
It is important to note that most international companies and their products are relatively new in the Indian market, which has meant that their marketing activities have been aimed at influencing consumers to discontinue previous behaviours and to adopt new ones.
Although most consumers have been excited by potential performance of new products, they still want to stay with traditional choices to reduce uncertainties when making their purchasing decisions.
Since I began to buy fast food, my concerns have shifted from performance to switching costs, which means that I am more concerned about effective uncertainties than symbolic uncertainties.
This can be explained by the fact that consumer behaviour has shifted away from benefit-related uncertainties to cost-related uncertainties, supporting the concept of predictability in McDonaldisation.
In short, I am less likely to buy fast food from other restaurants because of issues related to uncertainties that this could cost me my satisfaction in pursuit of different benefits.
Thus, I prefer more predictable products because they will not be disappointing. This is also advantageous with so many programmes on TV because it is possible to choose those that interest me by their story-line and situations.
Moreover, as a consumer, predictability allows me to get what I want conveniently and instantly, while it is also more economical because consumers do not have to spend too much time making decisions.
This is important in a rapidly changing society where consumers have less time and more choice.
However, predictability in McDonaldisation fails to properly reflect the impulsiveness of consumer behaviour and, indeed, if consumers always wanted predictability, they would be unresponsive to targeted advertising and their dynamic environment.
The environment I live in is in perpetual motion and flux, constantly evolving and changing with rapid shifts in preferences and tastes.
Every consumer has varying cognitive capacity as human choice is unpredictable, protean, and fluid, which means that it cannot be conceptualised as a simple pattern.
As a result, one disadvantage of predictability in consumption and its role in marketing is that it limits consumer decision in relation to multiplicity of variables in the environment and availability of information.
Collectively, predictability of consumption in marketing restricts consumer ability to make utility or optimal maximising decisions, which is the ideal consumer behaviour in neo-classical markets.
For example, I would admit to being influenced by carefully targeted ads seeking to convince consumers to accept artificially augmented perceived value of the iPhone in relation to most of its competitors.
Predictability has influenced my subjective value of smartphones through enhanced advertising by Apple, which has led to consumers foregoing Motorola’s longer battery life and Samsung’s better camera for the higher predictable value of the Apple brand.
Consequently, although the iPhone may be less effective in relation to these features compared to its competitors, predictability offered by the Apple brand where the consumer knows exactly what to expect makes consumers more likely to forego more effective options.
Thus, the influence of predictability on consumer behaviour causes consumers not to take all comparable and available products or services on the market during the purchases.
Often, I find that I buy routine products like chips and burgers without considering any viable alternatives, specifically because I do not want to risk not getting value for my money while I know that the burgers at McDonalds are already satisfactory.
This means that, as a consumer, I am missing out on what could be better burgers offered by other establishments.
Predictability, therefore, results in consumers acting on incomplete and imperfect information, as they do not have all the information to make optimal decisions in relation to other alternatives.
Overall, predictability ties in with rationalisation where consumers want to be aware of what to expect in any setting and the acquisition of products or services.
Companies domestically and globally seek to ensure they influence the consumers’ decision-making process in order to leverage their behaviour in seeking predictable products and services more like what they experienced the last time.
In this case, these companies tend to emphasise order, discipline, consistency, and systemisation as a way of leveraging the preference of predictability in the consumer’s mind.
Producers have also set out to ensure predictability, such as with white bread, which is the same, and indistinguishable everywhere and, therefore, ensures that consumers will always look to buy white bread.
Packaged tour operators have also leveraged the preference for predictability among consumers and, as a result, I expect that hotel accommodations, restaurants, and buses will be the same from location to location and it is more likely that I will use facilities where I know what to expect.
Indeed, predictability as a component of McDonaldisation and rationalisation has been leveraged widely in society to change or maintain consumer buying behaviour, specifically by influencing different phases of their decision-making processes.
Green Marketing and Sustainability
One area where predictability is gradually gaining traction is in the marketing of green products, which leverage the expectations of environmentally-conscious consumers that these products are produced in a sustainable manner.
As an environmentally-conscious consumer, I am always on the lookout for services and products that are environmentally sustainable across their entire life-cycle including distribution, packaging, and processing.
This is one of the reasons why I prefer to buy fast food at McDonalds, because I know they use reusable packaging.
For marketers seeking to influence the consumer’s decision-making process, they will seek to go beyond traditional means of marketing through the promotion of core environmental values with the expectation that consumers may associate their brand with these values.
As such, it is possible for a company to cater to new, emerging niche market by engaging in sustainable, green activities.
I am more likely to purchase a product from companies that take my concerns about the environment into account, particularly regarding conservation and preservation of the natural environment.
Thus, green marketing campaigns will highlight a company’s product’s environmental production characteristics, including their levels of toxic emissions and energy efficiency.
Marketers seem to have responded to increasing demands from society and consumers for environmentally-sustainable products in a number of ways that constitute green-marketing.
In the domestic market, some of these strategies include introduction of products that are sold on the premise of waste reduction and energy efficiency, promotion of a product’s environmental attributes, and redesign of contemporary products to appeal to green consumers.
I have particularly been drawn to green marketing campaigns that tout environmental consciousness of specific companies and their products, as well as the advantages these products have in environmental sustainability.
However, I am also aware that some of these businesses only engage in green marketing because emphasising on their products’ green qualities will help improve profits.
As such, I am more interested in identifying companies that conduct environmentally-sensitive operations because of genuine responsibility to preserve the natural environment and its integrity as they satisfy the consumer’s desires and needs.
True green marketing should be more emphatic on environmental stewardship as the core business development and growth responsibility, which, to some extent, extends to the traditional perspective of an organisation’s goals and responsibilities.
Growing public awareness about environmental degradation in the 21st century, specifically as a result of natural resource consumption and population growth globally in the last fifty years, has necessitated the inclusion of environmental sustainability ethic in business operations.
Growing awareness of these environmental issues, in turn, has resulted in a change in consumer decision-making for specific segments of consumers.
As I have stated, I have begun to incorporate sustainability concerns in my personal decisions on purchases and now prefer a hybrid car to SUVs, for example, due to personal concerns about the environmental impact of my purchasing decisions.
It seems that I am not the only one in the country thinking this way, especially given the growth in new marketing campaigns espousing the green and sustainable qualities of products.
Over time, there has been a shift towards marketing messages that are meant to highlight the creation of product lines in environmentally-sensitive ways, which seek to reach consumers who may appreciate these efforts and influence the second and third stage of the consumer decision-making process.
In my case, green marketing has influenced how I look for information on products like apparel and footwear and evaluate the alternatives.
Ironically, despite actively seeking out environmentally-friendly products and technologies, I am also very sceptical about green views claimed by many companies.
As consumers become increasingly knowledgeable on environmental issues and holistic product life-cycles, companies are increasingly being accused of false-advertising in their attempts to portray their products as green and sustainable.
Therefore, corporate reputation has become a tremendous factor in consumer decision-making and the ability of green companies to keep clients.
This supports the idea of predictability in McDonaldisation, where green consumers seeking sustainable products and technologies are more drawn to companies that they expect to engage in sustainable operations.
In this case, as I evaluate the different alternatives among products advertised as green and sustainable, I am unlikely to go for a company with environmentally-harmful or unclear down-stream activities even if they tout sponsorship of environmental remediation.
However, it is likely that green marketing tactics from companies that harm the environment at earlier stages of product life-cycle may prove effective in influencing the decision-making process of less-informed consumers in the market.
Challenges of Green Marketing
Indeed, green marketing faces several challenges in its attempts to convince me and society in general that the companies’ products are the most environmentally-sustainable in the market place.
One of these challenges is that there are no public standards and consensus as to what green; sustainable products and services entail.
This lack of consensus from me as a consumer and from environmental activists, marketers, regulators, and society in general has slowed down the public’s uptake of green products.
Because consumers are increasingly sceptical about sustainability claims from companies, some of these organisations are not willing to promote the green qualities of the products.
Effective green marketing strategies are hindered by lack of trust or credibility by the society and individual consumers, particularly since every consumer, me included, have different expectations of what a green product is.
Moreover, companies that are found guilty of misleading green claims risk their reputation, which has made companies unwilling to market their green qualities.
However, companies that can substantiate their claims through specific actions that offset their environmental impact are more appealing to consumers.
There are several aspects I look for when deciding on the best green alternatives during the purchasing process, one of which is that these products cannot be made through a process that endangers the health of animals or humans, nor should it involve cruelty or unnecessary use of animals.
These claims are easy to verify through the websites of various environmental organisations, particularly by looking out for the origin and production phases.
Green marketing must significantly prove that the environment was not damaged at all stages of their life-cycle, from production, use, or disposal.
This is the responsibility of the company and I would expect to find such information on their website.
It is also expected that green products should not consume disproportionate energy and natural resource amounts during production or use, which has had a significant influence on motor vehicle choices. Moreover, such products should also not cause unnecessary waste due to a short life-cycle or excessive packaging.
Finally, green marketers must also ensure consumers are aware that their products are not derived from endangered environments or species.
In order to leverage their green and sustainability qualities, green organisations adopt a specialised ‘green marketing mix’.
In this case, producers ensure that their products do not contaminate the environment, while also identifying how their products protect the environment and minimise current environmental damage.
Moreover, prices for greener products tend to be higher than other conventional products, although it is important to note that specific green consumer segments are willing to pay more if they are assured that the products are truly green.
Distribution for these green products is also an important aspect of the green marketing mix, specifically due to the focus on packaging in green consumerism.
For instance, I am more likely to believe that vegetables sourced from local farms are green compared to imported vegetables that have to be packaged in batches and transported.
Finally, green marketing claims are more believable if the promotional aspects of the marketing mix emphasise environmental issues, such as awarding of a CP certificate or other awards for environmental sustainability.
My decision-making is particularly drawn to promotions by certified product brands that sponsor environmental events and publicise their activities, while also using profits to re-mediate the environment.
Sustainable consumption and behaviour among consumers in order to have as minimal an impact as possible on the environment has been a major theme of these green companies, in effect influencing consumer decision-making and increasing their likelihood of buying from predictable settings.
In this case, green marketers have targeted consumers and governments alike to expect green products from them, developing predictability in their buying behaviour.
Today, green marketers will ensure that the entire life-cycle of their products is available for evaluation, thus affecting the shopper’s decision making.
Green has become a major brand differentiator, adding social benefits as a value for consumers and tipping the balance in the decision-making process when several purchase drivers are equal.
Marketers are more cognisant of the fact that we as consumers have different value propositions and evaluate different purchasing factors like sustainability, quality, brand, and price.
Thus, they must position their sustainability value relative to other purchase drivers in a way that influences the consumer’s decision-making and, ultimately, consumer behaviour.
Therefore, green marketers normally target consumers by providing information about the product’s sustainability for them to respond more favourably to the producer’s value proposition.
This strongly aligns to my loyalty towards products that consistently prove their sustainable characteristics.
My exposure to the study of marketing has had a tremendous influence on how I now understand how I consume, as well as different factors that influence my decision-making and that of society during the purchasing process.
In the course of studying marketing and society, I have understood how McDonaldisation and predictability influence my consumer behaviour, where I am more likely to purchase a product or service that I am familiar with.
Moreover, studying marketing has also helped me understand how green marketing influences my decision-making process as a consumer, as well as how it has shaped my buying behaviour to only buy products whose green characteristics I am familiar with.