Consumer Psychology:

Buyer Perceptions and Self Concept

By James Atkinson, LLB

Consumer Psychology - Buyer Perceptions and Self Concept: Buyer Perception and Buyer Self-Concepts are two closely allied marketing ideas. People buy products and brands because it allows them to say something positive about themselves - because they use that product or brand.

Buyer Perception in the Market - how the buyer sees him or her self in particular aspects of the market is determined by:

- External influences

- The particular market as a whole

- How the buyer perceives him or herself in a particular segment of a market.

Buyer Self Concept - Looking at the factors affecting consumer behavior are important. The buyer's 'self concept' is determined by:

- How the buyer feels as a person

- Who or what the buyer would like to be

- The buyer 'exposed' as he or she woould like to be seen by the world

- The buyer's intentionally hidden personality.

Positive statements about a product reinforces both perceptions of a product and a consumer’s self-concept. Self-concept is how a consumer sees and feels about him / herself, both the actual self and the ideal self he or she would like to become.

Self-concept also relates to how consumers want others to see them. Self-concept is a self-image or identity made up of a subjective collection of thoughts, perceptions, and feelings. It includes personality, abilities, occupation, and the various personal and professional roles the consumer takes on.

Consumers use products to support their self-concepts. Products and brands are an important way consumers reflect and shape their identities.

When prospects perceive that a product reflects an aspect of their self-concept, they form an emotional, personal connection with that product. An emotional connection with a product is the foundation of lifetime customer relationships.

Self-concepts fall into two categories:

  • Actual self – How the consumer actually is. This is less subjective than the other types of self-concept and includes facts like occupation, age, gender, income, etc.

    Marketing to the actual self involves showing that you understand the consumer and “where she / he’s at.” You target your marketing messages based on facts about your prospects. What are the facts of your consumer’s life, and how does he see and feel about them? How does your product fit into his life?

    Where do your prospects live? Do they have lots of disposable income, or is money tight? Are they single or married? Do they have kids? Does their age mean they are concerned about acne, or dentures?

  • Ideal self – The consumer’s perception of who she would ideally like to be.
    Prospects measure their actual self against their ideal self. They want to achieve the ideal self. The gap between the actual and ideal self can create strong motivation to buy products to bring the actual self closer to the ideal self.

    How do your products help prospects achieve their ideal selves? Does your market want to be wealthier, thinner, and more attractive? How will you help them feel that buying your product brings them closer to their ideal selves?

Self-concepts of the actual and ideal selves also fall into two further categories:

Private self

Who the consumer is or wants to be for him/ herself (for example: adventurous, friendly, happy), rather than how he or she wants others to see them.

Your marketing messages can appeal to the private self with internal benefits like happiness, health, and spirituality.

Public self

How the consumer thinks other people see him, and how he wants to be seen (for example: intelligent, attractive, and successful).

Your marketing can appeal to how prospects want others to see them by portraying the benefits they want to achieve, and showing other people’s reactions.

Thus ask: What is your target market’s self-concept? How do they see themselves? What is their ideal self? What is their Private self? What is their Public self?

Your market research survey will help you uncover hidden self-concepts. This will allow you to position your company and products to support consumers’ self-concepts so they connect with your product emotionally and develop loyalty.

Here are some ways that self-concepts affect buying:

  • Every market has different self-concepts
    Use market research to find out how your prospects see themselves so you can position your product to support their self-concepts. Do they feel successful, or like failures? Are they more focused on parenting, career, or romance?
  • Self-concept is a work in progress
    Self-concepts are always developing and consumers are always striving to achieve them. The drive to support self-concept is always active.
  • Support, rather than change, self-concept
    People tend to oppose change to their self-concept, and a conflict or inconsistency with self-concept can be seen as threatening. The more important a belief is to a prospect’s self-concept, the more he will resist changing it. Position your product to support self-concept, rather than try to change it.
  • Self-concept defends self-esteem
    When a product supports a consumer’s self-concept, she feels understood and validated, and that she has gained some control over her emotions by buying the product.

Your market research survey is an incredibly valuable tool for uncovering the self-concepts that drive your market to give you a blueprint for how to support your prospects’ identities.

Consumer Psychology > The Buyer's Mind > Buyer Emotions > Emotional Benefits > Emotional Benefits And Buying > Prospect Attitudes and Buying > Groups Influence Buying > Buyer Perceptions and Self Concept > Goal Of All Marketing >