Unconscious mental processes in consumer choice: Toward a new model of consumer behavior

Abstract

Theories of consumer behavior often posit that consumers are rational agents making conscious decisions about the branded products and services they purchase and use. It is assumed that consumer decisions are preceded by an explicit formation of attitudes and needs that determine the brand of choice. However, research from the domain of automaticity proposes that the majority, if not all, of human behavior either begins as an unconscious process or occurs completely outside of conscious awareness. These automatic processes, including behavioral mimicry, trait and stereotype activation, and nonconscious goal pursuit, also impact attitudes, beliefs and goals without engaging consumers’ conscious minds. Habits, a special type of automaticity, are behaviors completely controlled by contextual stimuli; habits occur outside of goals and intentions. In light of the evidence for the primacy of unconscious behavior, this article proposes a new model of consumer behavior that dynamically incorporates both conscious and unconscious mental processes to represent how consumers make brand decisions in the context of their daily lives.

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Acknowledgements

The authors acknowledge and are grateful for the cooperation and encouragement of clients including Procter & Gamble and Campbell Soup in the development of this article and accompanying model. The authors alone are responsible for all limitations and errors that may relate to the study and the article.

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Correspondence to Neale Martin.

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Martin, N., Morich, K. Unconscious mental processes in consumer choice: Toward a new model of consumer behavior. J Brand Manag 18, 483–505 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1057/bm.2011.10

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Keywords

  • consumer behavior
  • habits
  • unconscious behavior
  • marketing
  • branding
  • consumer behavior model