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To What Extent Does Operant Learning Theory Offer a Model with Which to Understand and Manage Consumer Behaviour in the Design of Marketing Communication

NAME:AJAYI, FRANCIS IFEDAYO TAA CODE:214 BBMC TOPIC:To what extent does operant learning theory offer a model with which to understand and manage consumer behavior in the design of marketing communication? INTRODUCTION Operant learning theory is one of the learning theories in Consumer Behaviour. From marketing perspective, consumer learning is the process by which individuals acquire the purchase and consumption knowledge and experience that they apply to future related behavior.

The term consumer behavior is the behavior that consumers display in searching for, purchasing, evaluating, and disposing of products and services that they expect will satisfy their needs. Marketing communication on the other hand is the tool that marketers use to persuade consumers to act in a desired way such as when making a purchase. There are two schools of thought as to how individuals learn – behavioral theories and cognitive theories. Both contribute to an understanding of consumer behavior. There is a relationship between operant learning theory and management of consumer behavior.

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This paper is aimed at exploring the extent of which operant learning theory offer a model with which to manage the behavior that consumers display in searching for, purchasing, evaluating, and disposing of products and services that they expect will satisfy their needs in the design of marketing communication. The write up is divided into seven sections namely introduction, general overview of consumer learning, operant learning theory, strategic application of operant conditioning, research issues emerging from behavioural learning theory, conclusion and references.

GENERAL OVERVIEW OF CONSUMER LEARNING From the marketing point of view, consumer learning can be thought of as the process by which individuals acquire the purchase and consumption knowledge and experience that they apply to future related behavior (Leon G. S. and Leslie L. K 2009). Learning can be defined as the process leading to relatively permanent behavioural change or potential behavioural change. As we learn, we alter the way we perceive our environment, interpret the incoming stimuli and therefore the way we interact or behave (http://allpsychology101/learning. html)

Behavioral theorists view learning as observable responses to stimuli, whereas cognitive theorist believe that learning is a function of mental processing. There are three major types of behavioral learning theories: classical conditioning, operant conditioning, and observational learning. Contemporary behavioral scientists view classical conditioning as the learning of associations among events that allow an organism to anticipate and represent its environment. Operant learning theorists believe that learning occur through a trial – and – error process in which positive outcomes (i. e. rewards) result in repeat behavior.

Cognitive learning theory on the other hand holds that two kinds of learning most characteristics of humans is problem solving. They are concerned with how information is processed by the human mind: how it is stored, retained, and retrieved. OPERANT LEARNING THEORY Operant conditioning is a process by which humans and animals learn to behave in such a way as to obtain rewards and avoid punishment. Operant learning theorists believe that learning occurs through a trial – and error process, with habits formed as a result of rewards received for certain responses or behaviors. This model of learning applies to many situations in which onsumers learn about products, services and retail stores. For example, consumers learn which stores carry the type of clothing they prefer at prices they can afford to pay by shopping in a number of stores. Once they find a store that carries clothing that meet their needs, they are likely to patronize that store to the exclusion of others. Operant conditioning was coined by behaviorist B. F. Skinner which is why it is sometimes referred to as Skinnerian conditioning. As a behaviorist, Skinner believed that only internal thoughts and motivations could not be used to explain behavior.

Instead, he suggested that we should look at the external observable causes of human behavior. Thus, he used the term “operant” to refer to any active behavior that operates upon the environment to generate consequences. According to him, most individuals learning occur in a controlled environment in which the individuals are “rewarded” for choosing an appropriate behavior. Skinner developed his model of learning by working with animals. Small animals such as rats and pigeons were placed in his “Skinner box”, if they made appropriate movements (e. g. f they depressed levers or pecked keys), they received food (a positive reinforcement). Skinner and his many adherents have done amazing things with this simple learning model, including teaching Pigeons to play ping-pong and even to dance. In a marketing context the consumer who tries several brands and styles of jeans before finding a style that fits her figure (positive reinforcement) has engaged in instrumental learning. Presumably, the brand that fits best is the one she will continue to buy. This model of instrumental conditioning is presented below. Unrewarded: Legs too loose Try Brand A

Unrewarded: Tight in seat Stimulus situation (need good looking jeans) Try Brand B Unrewarded: Baggy in seat Try Brand C Reward: Perfect fit Try Brand D Table 1: A Model of Operant Conditioning STRATEGIC APPLICATIONS OF OPERANT CONDITIONING Marketers effectively utilize the concepts of consumer operant conditioning when they provide positive reinforcement by assuring customers’ satisfaction with the product, services, and the total buying experience. Below are three components of the behavioral learning paradigm that are relevant in understanding and managing consumer behavior in the design of marketing communication.

Shaping Shaping is relevant marketers in understanding and managing consumer behaviour while designing marketing communication because the purchase of any new product involves a complex set of behaviours. To elicit repeat purchase behaviour is very complex. One way to reach the final behaviour is through a series of successive approximations. Shaping increases the probabilities that certain desired consumer behaviour will occur. For example, retailers recognize that they must first attract customers to their stores before they expect them to do the bulk of their shopping there.

Many retailers provide some form of preliminary reinforcement (shaping) to encourage consumers to visit only their store. By reinforcing the behaviour that is needed to enable the desired consumer behaviour to take place, marketers increase the probability that the desired behaviour will occur. Reinforcement Schedules Reinforcement is used increasing the rate or probability of a behavior by the delivery or emergence of a stimulus immediately or shortly after the behavior, called a “response,” is performed. In operant conditioning, schedules of reinforcement are an important component of the learning process.

When and how often we reinforce a behavior can have a dramatic impact on the strength and the rate of the response. Certain schedules of reinforcement may be more effective in specific situations. There are two types of reinforcement schedules: 1. Continuous Reinforcement In continuous reinforcement, the desired behavior is reinforced every single time it occurs. Generally, this schedule is best used during the initial stages of learning in order to create a strong association between the behavior and the response.

Once the response if firmly attached, reinforcement is usually switched to a partial reinforcement schedule. 2. Partial Reinforcement In partial reinforcement, the response is reinforced only part of the time. Learned behaviors are acquired more slowly with partial reinforcement, but the response is more resistant to extinction. However, the concepts of intermittent schedule work very well in situations where there is an imbalance of power and or lack of competition. For example, when pigeons are starved to 80% of their normal body weight, they work very hard on an intermittent schedule.

In a simultaneous choice situation (such as generally exists in marketing) it is incumbent upon a marketer to maintain continuous reinforcement. If reinforcement becomes intermittent, consumers will shift behaviour to the purchase of a competitive product providing continuous reinforcement. Not acknowledging this situational difference may lead, in turn, to the development of an in appropriate reinforcement strategy. Extinction as a Behaviour Reduction Strategy Extinction is one of the basic behavioral principals of applied behavior analysis that may be used to reduce or eliminate an unwanted behavior.

Extinction reduces behavior by abruptly withdrawing or terminating the positive reinforcer that maintains an inappropriate target behavior. This abrupt withdrawal results in the stopping or extinction of behavior. Extinction procedures have been used to decrease the occurrence of a variety of problem behaviors, including disruptive behavior, tantrums, swearing, whining, and aggressive, self-injurious behavior. Extinction is a procedure that gradually reduces the frequency and/or intensity of a target behavior by withholding reinforcement from the previously reinforced behavior.

For instance, extinction requires the marketer to ignore behaviour that, under previous circumstances, were typically reinforced. Thus, when the marketer withholds the reinforcement, extinction is used to eliminate the connection between the undesired behavior and the positive consequences that follow it. It is crucial for the marketer to know what is reinforcing the customers’ undesired behavior and then withhold the reinforcer or reinforcing event in order for extinction to occur. RESEARCH ISSUES EMERGING FROM BEHAVIOURAL LEARNING THEORY

There are some questions that have not been formally raised by marketers but should be explored before there can be wholesale adoption of behavioural principles. * Is shaping through successive approximation an efficient/effective method for inducing new product trial and long-term purchase behaviour? * Are premiums and other promotional devices more effective when based upon primary versus secondary rein forcers? Are premiums and other promotional devices more effective when based upon immediate versus delayed reinforcement? Is there an interactive effect between types of reinforcement and the delay between behaviour and reinforcement?

CONCLUSION Behavioral learning theory offers a framework within which to organize and structure marketing and promotional activities, and a simple but elegant model of the generic concept of marketing. In marketing, the desired end is appropriate behavior manipulation and control to further the goals of the organization. Shaping, reinforcement schedule and extinction have been identified as the components of behavioral learning paradigm that are relevant in understanding and managing consumer behavior in the design of marketing communication.

However, these theories have a limitation to which they could offer a model with which to understand and manage behavior in the design of marketing communication because of the issues highlighted above (Research issues emerging from behavioural learning theory). Behavioural learning only works well in the laboratory because the environment can be controlled by the experimenter. In the competitive market place, the marketer has less control; hence research is needed to assess the impact of the low degree of control the marketer can exercise on the predictions of behavioural learning theory.

Extinction on the other hand is only effective in reducing behaviors that are motivated by some form of reinforcement. Extinction may not be effective with behaviors that are intrinsically reinforcing Work count: 1,686 REFERENCES Leon, G. S. and Leslie, L. K (2009), Consumer Behavior, 9th Edition, Pearson Prentice Hall Gordon, R. F. (2007), Explaining Consumer Choice, Palgrave Macmillan Houston, M. J. and M. L. Rothschild (1978), A Paradigm for Research on Consumer Involvement, working paper, University of Wisconsin

Michael, L. R. and William, C. G. , Behavioral Learning Theory: Its Relevance to Marketing and Promotions in The Journal of Marketing, Vol. 45, No. 2 (Spring, 1981), pp. 70-78 Buyer Behaviour and Marketing Communications, study material from Durham Business School. John, E. R. S. and Yael, N. (2008) in Scholarpedia, 3 (9): 2318 Website http://allpsychology101/learning. html http://psychology. about. com/od/behavioralpsychology/a/introopcond. htm http://tip. psychology/org/skinner. html


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