Consumer involvement theory is the idea that products and services differ in terms of the amount of time and energy that a consumer puts into the purchase decision (McNamara, 2014). There are different levels of involvement, but for marketers it is important to know what level a given product is. For the most part, involvement level reflects the category of product, rather than the individual product itself - there is not much difference between one car and another in terms of involvement, but there is a big difference between the level of involvement between a car and a pack of gum. While involvement is on a continuum, it can roughly be divided between low, medium and high involvement products.
A low involvement product is an impulse purchase, one to which is given very little thought. These are typically products with low differentiation between attributes and low costs. An example would be that pack of gum. Consumers might think for a second about flavor, but otherwise if they need a pack of gum they put it in the cart. A medium involvement product involves little bit more thought. For some consumers, dinner out might be a medium involvement product -- deciding what type of restaurant you want to go to is not a big decision, but it can sometimes take a while to figure out what type of dining experience you want and what type of food. A high involvement purchase involves a significant amount of research. These are usually the biggest purchase decisions -- a car, a house, a university, and some electronics.
McNamara (2014) notes that involvement reflects a balance between desire and logic, reason and impulse, emotional and rational. Emotions can play an important role in the final decision making even with a high involvement purchase -- you buy the house or car that feels right, even after accounting for all rational considerations. However, the amount of thought and time that goes into the decision reflects the level of involvement.
Low involvement purchases are usually marketed on an emotional basis, mainly because it can be a challenge to get consumers thinking about products they are not used to thinking about. The Rossiter-Percy grid is a good way to think about how to change the way people buy a low involvement product. This grid is a matrix where the axes are involvement and motivation. For many low involvement products, motivation for the purchase is transformational -- the consumer believes that the product will improve their lives so they are willing to purchase. That can be an entirely emotional response. Switching to an informational approach asks the consumer to given greater consideration to the product.
A great example of this is in the beer business. Normally, beer is a low involvement product, where consumers have brand preferences but have never really been provided information about the product. Most ads for low involvement products contain very little actual product information (Shaw, 2011). Microbrewed beers, however, provide all kinds of information. They present themselves as fitting a wider range of needs, too. So all of a sudden, a beer buyer is asked to think about what level of bitterness, what style, what types of hops he or she wants. He or she is asked to think about why they want a beer -- is this to quench thirst, as a nightcap, an aperitif? Marketers have increased the involvement level of the beer buying decision by providing more information about the product -- that action has spurred an increase in the likelihood that the consumer will search for information. Over time, this has resulted in a culture change surrounding beer so that people today are accustomed to seeking out information. The consumer's desired state now is to find the perfect beer for the exact situation -- a beer to pair with grilled salmon is not the same as the beer to drink at the ballpark, and especially not the same as the one to drink by the fire in January. The problem the consumer is trying to solve now with regards to beer is substantially different from what it used to be.
This principle can be applied to medium and high involvement products as well. The difference is that the consumer is likely to already think about the product at least a little bit, so more information is only asking the consumer to think more about the product. The key action that marketers can take with medium-involvement products is to frame the way that the consumer thinks about the product. A good example is the smartphone. People think about a lot of different things, but ultimately there are different ways to think about the smartphone. Apple often asks consumers to think about the benefits they will get from their devices. Other companies focus on features, or price. Ad copy often contains arcane technical details, asking consumers to think about types of processors, pixel counts and that sort of thing. Most consumers know little about this, but companies that feel they have a technological competitive advantage want consumers to seek smartphones in that light. The result is that there are different marketing messages, trying to frame the way the consumer thinks about the product in a manner that will lead the consumer to purchase a particular product.
Marketers of high involvement purchases frequently move beyond the rational and focus on emotional. This is because high involvement purchases will often have a dizzying array of information, and consumers are driven by the need to process a high level of information (Riley,2012). This can create difficulty for many consumers, who may then use emotion to choose between similar alternatives. This is especially the case where they may be many candidates that are different but offer similar benefits -- houses and vacations are two great examples of this. Just choosing between vacations of a specific type can be a challenge. There are a lot of nuanced elements to a decision between Cozumel, the DR, the Maldives, Bora, and Hawaii -- all attractive tropical beach destinations. If all offer great resorts, and the luxurious beach vibe you want, then the consumer might face analysis paralysis. The strongest action a marketer can take with high involvement purchases is not to provide more information and get the consumer to think more, but to provide a compelling emotional case and get the consumer to think less -- help make the decision for them (Business Week, 2011).
For low involvement products, the information needs to be presented at the point of purchase. Even when you ask consumers to think more, they aren't going to seek out information; you need to give it to them. That microbrew will tell you right on the label why style of beer it is, and probably a few other things that will help with the purchase decision. For medium involvement products, the information can be presented at different parts of the marketing process, but in order to reframe the information search the company needs to present this information at the point of purchase, but allow the opportunity for the consumer to seek out more information. If you are serious about a new smartphone you will probably research it online before you go to the store, even if your final decision comes in the store. So ensure as a marketer that you are framing the information search at the point where the information search begins -- your website or the ads you post. For high involvement purchases, the information search can be quite comprehensive; it is best to have as much information available at the main point of search, and at the fingertips of the searcher. Understand that the search might involve third parties -- TripAdvisor for vacations -- so be prepared as a marketer to control how people search as well. If your resort does better on one website over another, point consumers to the website you do better on. For all marketers, controlling the information search is critical to ensuring that the message the consumer receives is the one that you want them to receive.
Evoked, Inert and Inept
For purchases, there are evoked, inert and inept sets. The evoked are the ones the consumer thinks about first, the inert are ones the consumer might not be thinking about, and inept are those products the consumer has ruled out (Brisoux & Laroche, 1981) . For the beach vacation, the consumer might have their sights set on the Caribbean, so the evoked set might include only Caribbean destinations. For marketers, the key tactic is to identify what the likely evoked sets for consumers are and then differentiate within that. A resort might see that it compete primarily against other resorts in the DR. Or it could see its evoked set as being resorts in the Caribbean in general, and differentiate that way.
For those in the inert set, the objective is to move to the evoked set.…