How Conditioning Influences Buying Habits

Conditioning, a concept borrowed from psychology, involves provoking a specific response, typically through repetition and reinforcement. In the spectrum of marketing, it involves generating a desired consumer response such as repeated purchase or brand loyalty.

Understanding Conditioning in Marketing

Defining “Conditioning” in Marketing

“Conditioning,” a term that might sound fascinating if you’ve ever wondered why you automatically reach for the same soda brand, is an integral part of marketing strategy.

Simply put, conditioning in marketing is a type of consumer learning process where a response to a particular product or brand becomes automatic over time due to repeated exposure or experience.

Types of Conditioning

Let’s explore two basic types of conditioning in marketing:

  1. Classical Conditioning: This concept originates from famed psychologist Pavlov’s conditioned reflex experiment with dogs. From a marketing perspective, a brand (like the sound of Pavlov’s bell) becomes associated with certain emotions or experiences (like the dog’s salivation). Over time, the brand alone triggers these feelings.For instance, think of Coca-Cola and holiday cheer. The company’s annual holiday-themed ads create a subconscious association between Coca-Cola and festive feelings.
  2. Operant (or Instrumental) Conditioning: This type of conditioning is defined by a reward or punishment system. Rewards could include discounts, loyalty points, or a free product after multiple purchases.For example, Starbucks’ reward program where you earn points (stars) with every purchase which can then be redeemed for a free drink.
Influencing Buying Habits

Now, how does conditioning specifically influence buying habits?

  1. Loyalty Formation: As customers become conditioned to respond to specific brand cues, a sense of loyalty is often built. This loyalty tends to direct their buying habits towards a particular brand even in the face of alternatives.
  2. Habitual Purchasing: With operant conditioning, customers often make repeat purchases without explicit thought due to the rewards received from the brand for previous purchases.
  3. Emotional Association: In classical conditioning, a strong emotional response, good or bad, can influence buying habits. Positive emotions lead to repeat purchases, whereas negative feelings lead to the opposite.
Apple: A Case Study

Now, let’s take a glance at a real-life example. Apple Inc. has effectively used conditioning to influence buying habits. The distinctive chime when an Apple device turns on (a conditioned stimulus) evokes emotions associated with quality, innovation, and status (the conditioned responses).

The company further facilitates operant conditioning by offering unique features and a proprietary operating system that rewards continued brand loyalty.

Illustration depicting the concept of conditioning in marketing. The image shows a brain with arrows connecting the conditioned stimulus, the conditioned response, and the unconditioned response.

Psychology behind Conditioning

Now, let’s dive deep into the psychological basis of marketing conditioning. The foundation of it lies in the principles of psychology, revolving around how people learn behaviors, patterns, and habits.

Pavlov’s Connection

We’ve all heard about the renowned Russian physiologist, Ivan Pavlov, right? His experiments with dogs led to an understanding of what he called ‘conditioned reflexes’.

This concept is vital to the psychological basis of marketing conditioning. Here’s how it works – when customers are continuously exposed to a certain element, like a jingle or a logo, they naturally associate it with the brand.

This connection is solidified over time, and after a while, just hearing the jingle or seeing the logo triggers a purchase impulse.

Immediate Gratification

Another psychological aspect that marketers leverage is our need for immediate gratification, which stands at the core of operant conditioning.

People tend to repeat behaviors that are immediately rewarded. This principle is applied in loyalty reward programs, where purchases are instantly followed by rewards, increasing the likelihood of repeated purchases.

The Zeigarnik Effect

Have you ever started a task and felt the need to complete it? That’s the Zeigarnik effect in action. It suggests that people remember uncompleted tasks better than completed ones.

Marketers use this principle in strategies like limited time offers and countdown timers where consumers feel an urge to complete the ‘task’ of purchasing before time runs out.

The Power of Social Proof

Our last psychological concept for today is social proof – the tendency to see an action as more appropriate when others are doing it.

Ever found a product more appealing when you saw a large number of positive reviews or ratings? That’s social proof! Marketers often use testimonials, celebrity endorsements, and user reviews to tap into this psychological principle.

Practical Examples

There’s no better way to understand these concepts than through real-life examples, so let’s look at a few:

  1. Starbucks Rewards Program: Every time customers make a purchase, they get stars, which can be redeemed for drinks or food items. This reinforces continuous purchasing behavior for the immediate reward or gratification.
  2. Nike’s Swoosh Logo: The simple, unmistakable swoosh of Nike has become a symbol of athletic excellence and prestige. Over time, consumers have come to associate the logo with high quality – a perfect example of Pavlov’s conditioned reflex.
  3. McDonald’s Happy Meal: McDonald’s creates a powerful emotional association with their Happy Meals, especially for kids. The inclusion of toys with meals means children often pester their parents for a repeat visit.
  4. Amazon Prime: With its one-day delivery feature, Amazon Prime leverages consumers’ need for immediate gratification, increasing the probability of the next purchase.
  5. Coca-Cola’s Christmas Campaign: Coca-Cola’s iconic Christmas ads featuring a jolly Santa Claus along with their product has led to an emotional association between the festive season and the brand.

All these examples highlight how marketers use the principles of psychology to drive consumer behavior. Understanding the psychological basis of marketing conditioning can help marketers formulate effective strategies and campaigns, leading to higher consumer engagement, loyalty, and ultimately, sales.

Image illustrating the psychological basis for marketing conditioning

Photo by campaign_creators on Unsplash

Strategies for Implementing Conditioning

Let’s continue our look at marketing conditioning strategies by exploring the various methods marketers can use to influence consumer buying habits and practical examples of these methods in action.

Incentive-based Conditioning

Incentives significantly shape consumer behavior. Marketers often offer rewards or incentives to encourage repeat purchases, following what’s known in Psychology as operant conditioning. Essentially, the customer carries out a particular action (e.g., making a purchase) to gain a reward.

One stellar example of incentive-based conditioning is Best Buy’s Reward Zone program. Customers earn points for every dollar spent, which can then be redeemed for discounts on future purchases. This clever marketing strategy encourages customers to shop at Best Buy repeatedly to gain rewards, forging habitual buying behavior.

Sensory Marketing

Sensory marketing is another potent strategy where marketers appeal to consumers’ five senses. This method is a good use of classical conditioning, as repetitive exposure helps build strong brand-consumer relationships.

For instance, consider Bath & Body Works’ candle and body product scents. The distinct smells remind customers of the store even after they’ve left, conditioning them to associate the scent with the brand itself. This powerful sensory experience can subtly influence customers’ buying habits, nudging them toward repeat purchases.

The Use of Color

Effective color use plays a critical role in consumers’ buying behaviors. Each color arouses certain emotions and responses, influencing clients’ perception of a brand.

Fast-food chains present at nearly every corner, like KFC and Burger King, frequently use warm colors like red and yellow in their logos and advertisements, that spur impulsive eating and create excitement.

Frequent Communication with Customers

Frequent, well-crafted communication keeps your brand at the top of consumers’ minds. Customers are likely to get back to you if you regularly update them about new offers, deals, and changes in your business.

Take note of how Sephora does it: the beauty retailer sends personalized emails based on customers’ previous purchasing behaviors, creating a sense of exclusivity, which lures clients to return and make more purchases.

Applying Principles of Reciprocity

The principle of reciprocity works wonders in influencing purchasing habits. When a company offers something of value for free or as a gift, customers tend to feel obligated to make a purchase in return, even if they didn’t initially intend to.

Consider Google Drive: Google offers its users free storage up to a certain limit. As users reach their limit and begin to see the benefits of the service, they are more inclined to purchase additional storage, propelling Google’s revenues.

Implementing Scarcity Tactics

Utilizing scarcity tactics can also condition customers to make quicker purchase decisions. Providing limited edition products, time-based offers, or highlighting low stock levels can create a sense of urgency to buy.

See Zara, an international fashion company. Zara’s strategy includes producing limited quantities of each style, creating a sense of scarcity. Customers are conditioned to buy on the spot because they understand that styles are frequently updated and certain items may not be replenished.

Marketing strategies for influencing consumer buying habits

Photo by campaign_creators on Unsplash

Sources and External Reading

  • Behavioural psychology, marketing and consumer behaviour: a literature – – This article discusses how behavioural psychology, including classical and operant conditioning, has influenced consumer and marketing research over the past 50 years.
  • A critical review of classical conditioning effects on consumer behavior – – offers a critical review of how classical conditioning has been integrated into consumer behavior literature, particularly in advertising effects and persuasion.
  • A Critical Review of Classical Conditioning Effects on Consumer Behavior – – This paper from Sage Journals reviews research in classical conditioning effects in consumer behavior and advertising contexts, assessing their real or illusory impact.
  • Effects of Conditioning in Advertising – Oxford Academic – Oxford Academic explores the relationship between conditioning and marketing, particularly the development of classical conditioning research in consumer behavior.
  • INSTRUMENTAL LEARNING: ITS APPLICATION TO CONSUMER SATISFACTION – – provides an overview of instrumental learning and its application in marketing, particularly in the context of consumer satisfaction.
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