Why Consumers Buy: The Cultural Factors That Affect Buyer Behavior

It is imperative that marketing messages strike a chord with their intended targets. Doing so is made easier by thinking about the influences of buyer behavior - culture, society, individuality, and psychology. Of these four influencers, the cultural influence is the strongest; if you intend to attract and keep clients of the highest quality, you will benefit from understanding how cultures, subcultures, and social class affects buying decisions.


Culture is the single largest factor in shaping desires and thus behavior. As a child grows up the culture in which he lives impresses his mind with a general set of values and preferences. According to Leon Schiffman and Leslie Kanuk in their book Consumer Behavior, American children receive the following values: achievement and success, activity, efficiency and practicality, progress, material comfort, individualism, freedom, external comfort, humanitarianism, and youthfulness. Much of these values are taught in the American school system - both public and private - where children spend a majority of their waking hours.


Each culture consists of smaller subcultures that include nationality, religion, and geographic regions. The subculture often reinforces the values instilled by the culture at large. For instance, children are taught in the culture, either deliberately or covertly, that youthfulness is a higher value than old age. When they enter their subculture (in this case their general neighborhood) and compare their quality of life to the quality of life in the local nursing home, the value of youthfulness is reinforced. This is a general example; I am not using it to make a statement of any kind against nursing homes. I am only making the point that Americans clearly value youthfulness.

When subcultures gain power and wealth, companies customize marketing messages and campaigns to serve them. This is known as diversity marketing, and has proven to be an effective marketing strategy. Think about the consequences of a group of consumers who feel ignored by your message. They may fit your definition of a dream client, but if your campaign ignores the subculture they identify themselves with, the message will fall on deaf ears.

Social Class

Almost all societies have a social class system. The clearest example of this is in the Indian caste system where members of different castes are brought up and trained for specific roles within society. Americans experience a class system, from lower to upper class and all the levels in between. Each class is defined by a shared set of values and behavior. Class is not defined solely by wealth. Other factors include occupation, education, and values. Unlike in India, Americans may move up and down class systems throughout the course of their lifetime.

The application for marketers and salespeople is that your target market demands some sort of customization in your marketing message. Your communication needs to be tailored to your target market at least to some extent. Budget demands will always limit the amount of customization any company can afford, so carefully select the images and verbiage of your marketing materials and your sales presentations to have the maximum impact within your market.


Bill Tamminga is an SEO expert and website designer in Denver, CO. He is the founder of TM&C, a web design and Denver SEO company that specializes in helping service businesses establish and grow their client base using action-oriented WordPress websites and unsurpassed search engine optimization. To date every TM&C client has at least one listing on the front page of Google. Visit Denver WordPress design

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