Often times positive attitudes lead to behavior that mirrors the attitude. For instance, whether you like Obama or you like McCain, you probably voted for them. However positive attitudes don’t always predict behavior accurately. For instance, most American’s think it is important to eat a healthy diet, however two out of every three Americans are overweight (1). Most American’s think it is important to save for retirement, however our national savings rate was recently below zero, while Europe’s savings rate is about 20% and Japan’s savings rate is about 25%.
Why does behavior often contradict attitudes? One explanation is Lewin’s Equation, which describes behavior as a function of the person and the environment B=f(P+E). In other words environment often has a strong influence on our behavior.
For instance, if we personally have the belief that education is important, but all our friends think it’s a waste of time and encourage you not to study, then you may skip school or drop out. You may believe it is important to donate to charity, but you are broke, and so you don’t donate money to the Salavation Army bell ringer.
Often marketing assumes that if we can just improve the attitude of our brand, more people will buy from us. However there may be many environmental influences that make this ineffective. I really like the Geico commercials, but I buy my insurance from Esurance because they cost less. I really like Miller, but all my friends don’t, so I end up buying Coors a lot.
As a result, focusing all your marketing resources on attitudes can be ineffective. Spending lots of money on entertaining television commercials could mean more people have a favorable attitude about your brand, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they will buy from you. If environment is a big factor in the behavior of your consumers, it is smart to invest in improving the environment side of the equation. This can include focusing on only the consumers that are in an environment that is conducive to buying from you. Pay per click ads target people who have the means and the desire to buy. Rewarding existing customers focuses on the people who have already displayed the desired behavior. Word of mouth campaigns can create a favorable environment by using social influences of an individual’s peers.