How to Apply the Howard and Sheth Model in Your Business

Woman considering a purchase in a store

Marketers have long analysed the numerous influences on buyer behaviour to favourably guide shoppers' decisions through well-crafted marketing strategies. Indeed, given the importance of understanding consumer psyches, several models exist that aim to analyse such behaviour and translate the findings into actionable information.

Among the most prominent of these methods is the Howard and Sheth model, which examines the effect of psychological, marketing and social elements on a consumer’s actions. Despite being over 50 years old, companies today can still learn from this model, use it to positively impact their marketing strategies, and, therefore, increase both their customer breadth and business growth.

So, what exactly does this model of buying behaviour tell you, and what can it reveal about consumer decision making in your business sector? 

What is the Howard and Sheth Model?

A consumer behaviour model devised by professors of marketing John Howard and Jagdish Sheth, the concept first gained traction with the publication of their 1969 book, The Theory of Buyer Behaviour.

At its core, it is an analysis of the collective effect of several key variables on consumer preferences and behaviour towards a brand. These variables include conscious and subconscious perceptions, as well as social and marketing elements.

In order to break down the causes of consumer behaviour and evaluate how each changeable element may impact customer outcomes, Howard and Sheth described the three major decision-making stages that shoppers go through when determining which company to buy a product from. These are defined by the model as extensive problem solvinglimited problem solving and routinised response behaviour.

Stage 1: Extensive Problem Solving

According to Howard and Sheth, the first stage of the decision-making process describes a consumer’s efforts to obtain the information they need to differentiate between the many brands offering their desired product. This stage is most prominent when a shopper has not purchased the product in question before, and thus has zero or limited knowledge of the options available. Here, customers actively and independently search for the details required.

Stage 2: Limited Problem Solving 

The second level involves the customer comparing the many businesses offering the product prior to making a purchasing decision, having already obtained information about what is available in the market. At this stage, shoppers are as yet undecided and may be swayed by powerful marketing content that directs their preferences towards a certain company. 

Stage 3: Routinised Response Behaviour 

The final significant decision-making stage is deemed routinised response behaviour. It describes the process of a consumer taking a repeat purchasing decision, having already had a past, positive experience with a particular brand. This action often requires very little conscious decision-making, as the behaviour becomes habitual. This stage is particularly influenced by brand recognition and customer satisfaction.

Model variables

During these stages, the main variables that can impact a consumer's decision-making processes are psychological, perceptual, societal and marketing factors.

While your business cannot impact most of these elements (such as the motivations behind the shopper's desired purchase), their interpretations of brand information, the context of their social environment, and your marketing approach certainly can. This allows you to exert influence on buyer behaviour.

The marketing elements that may sway consumer decisions – defined by Howard and Sheth as input variables – include any and all sources of information regarding your brand and its products. These can include company personnel, the messages shared through promotional campaigns, the physical properties of the product itself, or even your perceived brand reputation among general consumer communities.

The Impact on Marketing Strategies

A careful consideration of the Howard and Sheth model should impact your marketing strategy and help you to tailor your promotional approach. This will help you to more effectively appeal to buyers and influence their purchasing decisions at each stage. 

Stage 1

To attract attention during the extensive problem-solving stage – where potential customers seek information about products and the various companies that sell them – you can adopt targeted advertising techniques.

As buyers are predominantly searching online during this process, paid search engine optimisation (SEO), social media and pay-per-click ad activities will help your brand stand out from the crowd. These activities should be consolidated into a well-constructed digital marketing plan, that aims to consistently bring buyers to your online platforms and allow them to learn about your business – effectively leading them to the second decision-making stage.

Stage 2

In order to accurately address the limited problem-solving stage – during which customers compare brands and select one to purchase from – you must work to clearly communicate your competitive advantages. Marketing content should focus on sharing your company's core values, leveraging your mission statement, and telling a compelling story. This approach aims to influence customers by controlling the perception of the brand on a wider scale and inspiring an emotional connection with prospective buyers.

To deliver gripping storytelling, you can adopt both online and offline marketing techniques. Whilst offline options such as television broadcasts and print ads offer limited targeting options, online practices can adopt behavioural retargeting, whereby advertising material is displayed to consumers based upon their previous actions taken.

Stage 3

Finally, successful consideration of routinised response behaviour dictates that you should adopt a particular marketing strategy – one that convinces customers to continue purchasing after they have already completed a series of preliminary buying decisions. Your organisation must also enhance customer satisfaction post-sale in order to affect habitual repeat purchases.

Now fully aware of your brand – including its principles, offerings, and product experience – consumers may be stimulated by an attractive sales promotion to make another purchase. In addition, continued brand recognition and perceived product value will entice shoppers to demonstrate routine buying behaviour. Therefore, long-term communication tactics such as email marketing, promotional leaflets, personalised marketing and press relations are fitting to adopt. 

At this stage, referral marketing may also be introduced into the promotional mix, to incentivise individuals post-purchase to recommend the brand to new customers and trigger incremental sales. In addition to benefiting customer acquisition, referral schemes and activities also improve consumer retention rates and, therefore, routine response behaviour.

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The Howard and Sheth model of consumer behaviour is a highly acclaimed approach that examines the effect of psychological, marketing and social elements on consumers, and evaluates their resulting decision-making processes. 

Assessing this model can help you make important changes to your marketing strategies, as well as modify your adoption and delivery of promotional techniques to better cater to the stages of extensive problem solving, limited problem solving and routinised response behaviour.

Therefore, you should closely examine this consumer decision-making approach, before assessing your current means of addressing buyer behaviour. This will allow you to affect the necessary changes to be able to take advantage of the often-invaluable insights of this classic model.

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