Consumer involvement refers to the amount of time, though and energy that a consumer puts into a particular purchase decision (McNamara, 2014). This can be categorized along the emotional/rational scale. So many small purchases like impulse purchases are low involvement. At the very low involvement end of the scale is something like fries with your burger -- you might not even want them, and accept the suggestion for them almost reflexively. At the high involvement end of the scale would be something like the military bidding process, or for consumers buying a house or car. A medium-involvement purchase involves at least some thought. An example might be new headphones -- it's not an impulse purchase but unless you're ad audiophile there is only so much energy you will put into that purchase.
For marketers, the optimal situation for a low involvement purchase is to reduce the search for information to nothing. You can see this at the supermarket -- a pack of gum costs almost nothing to produce, but they want to charge $1.50 for it. So they first try to create some brand awareness so there is instant recognition while you're in the supermarket line. They play to the emotion when you do this -- fear of bad breath. Or they sell you candy or a trashy magazine, in either case based on a pleasure-seeking response. If you thought about it, you would realize that there is no lasting pleasure to be derived from crappy candy or knowing which celebs have the best bikini bods, so in order to capture that quick emotional response product placement is essential. You can't put that stuff at the back of the store or nobody would buy it. Don't give people time to think, and you have a classic low-involvement purchase. Attached in Appendix A are images of low involvement products.
For a medium-involvement purchase, let's use the headphones. You like music, but unless you're a nerd about it you just want something that sounds good. You probably have a price point, and you might also want to impress your friends. So there is a list of attributes you seek, but you are not going to take the time to become an expert. Brand awareness feeds into that -- your short list is probably a handful of well-advertised brands that your friends also have. Explanations of attributes are in non-technical language, and probably at the point of purchase or on the box, which is where you'll be doing your research. When the few ticks you need are found, then you decide if you want the low end of your range (to save money) or the high end (to impress your friends). Attached in Appendix B are images of medium involvement products.
For a high involvement purchase, you'll probably start with online research. Say you're buying a vacation -- you spend hours researching where you might want to go, why you want to go, prices, what times of year are best and a number of other factors. You're spending a lot of money and your boss only gives you two weeks a year, so you take this decision quite seriously. As a marketer, you first want brand awareness. You want to be one of the first searches that somebody does on Expedia or Trip Advisor. Ad placement can help with that -- if someone searches Playa Mujeres, show them an ad for your resort at Playa Chicas because you want in on that conversation. Then, have a sales pitch ready with your value proposition. Try to match up with the attributes your customer wants -- the more you know about the customer the more effective your pitch will be for high involvement purchases. That's why realtors and car salesmen talk to you first. Big data can be good at this for high involvement sellers online. It's a more intimate selling experience because you have a lot of needs to meet and the customer might have a lot of questions. Relationships are more important in high involvement products than in other types (Martin, 1998). Attached in Appendix C are images of high involvement products.
Online advertising carries with it unique dynamics with respect to impact. Cauberghe & Pelsmacker (2008) noted that levels of interactivity in advertisements online affect consumers differently. Some ads stimulate brand recall but not attribute recall -- these might be better for low or medium-involvement purchases, while more interactive ads generate positive brand attitudes as well as better brand recall.
It is worth considering that many factors are common to the marketing of products of all involvement levels. Lin & Chen (2006) showed that factors like country of origin perception and product knowledge both are correlated with consumer purchase decisions under all levels of involvement. With the former, country of origin is simply an emotional response in many cases, but it nevertheless can contribute to high involvement purchases. When we think of cars, this is not hard to understand, because in many cases some countries have just proven to be more competent than others in automobile design and manufacturing. The other finding is also interesting, because product knowledge is not known to be a significant factor in low involvement purchases. This implies that at some point the consumer has taken a little more involvement -- perhaps over the course of several months they have determined that they do in fact prefer one type of gum to all the others. None of the individual decisions were given much thought but over multiple purchases knowledge was acquired that now informs purchase decisions.
The category we will choose is vacations. There are a few different strategies that can be used here, if you are a resort trying to win vacation business. The first strategy seeks to take this high involvement decision and turn it into a medium-involvement decision. The reason is simple -- it is hard for people to make vacation decisions. Once your resort is on someone's radar, you want to make the decision easy for them. So the first strategy is bundling. Work with a travel agent and bundle your hotel with transport. You save the consumer a lot of energy by doing this. By reducing their level of involvement, you do a few things. You send a signal that you will take care of them, which is something they want; you reduce price elasticity so retain more of your margins; and you get them to stop thinking about finding a better deal.
The second alternative is also designed to reduce the level of involvement. In this case, offer a deal. You don't have as much pricing control, but you get the sale. Convince the consumer that there is no benefit to continuing their research by offering them a deal they cannot refuse. Even if they still need to work out other details, a lot of vacation buyers enjoy researching their trips.
The third alternative is to build the marketing pitch around rewarding the high involvement buyer. Under this alternative, make a lot of information available that ensures your product is viewed as high end, and back it up with claims on a number of levels. Be in a place where you are the best, and you can sell that to people. Accept that the consumer will shop around, and then through a combination of knowing the right selling points and knowing your competition, make a pitch that will stand up even if the customer looks at a dozen similar resorts. This is a challenging approach, but it can work if your value proposition is sufficiently distinct. This approach is not effective for a mid-range place, but if you genuinely offer the best experience this approach can work. It is important to remember that for vacations, consumers review resorts online so your marketing claims need to be ones that are supported in those reviews if you want to win over the high-involvement purchaser.
A perceptual map helps to outline the different options in terms of how they are perceived. The usual axes are price and quality, and for a vacation maybe the latter will reflect the overall resort quality and cultural experience. For someone looking for fun in the sun, the perceptual map might look like this:
This map illustrates some of the tradeoffs that a buyer might make. Staying in the U.S. Or in a big Mexican resort will keep the price down, but offer a fairly ordinary, American experience. More exotic and luxurious locations, however, will cost more. The key for resorts in lower-end areas to the left of the quality meridian is to reduce the involvement of the buyer, whereas for places at the high end, the involvement should be increased. Buyers are more willing to accept higher prices if they know that there are compelling reasons why a sunny beach experience in the Maldives is better than a sunny beach in Florida. The more they research, the more they can be sold.