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There are two basic premises to make good films. Firstly, there must be good director. Secondly, there must be good players. A good director knows how to choose players and provide them with good scenarios. A good player knows how to play its role in specific scene. To some extent, the relationship between the director and player is quite similar to that between marketers and customers. A good marketer knows how to set a marketing strategy according to the different customers. Customers would choose different products and services under the influences of marketers.

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Customers also have something in common with players. Players may wear specific costumes and use other props to play the specific role according to the scenarios whist customers may “buy some products for their symbolic value in enhancing their self-concept” (Assael, 1992, p292). In both situations, the objects are not used for their original function. Players and customers all give some specific meanings to them. Furthermore, the meaning that players attach to the props is in accordance to the player’s identity and scenarios’ requirement. The meaning that consumers attach to the products is in accordance to the consumer’s social identity, life style and self-concept (the author would clarify that later).

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In author’s opinion, marketers’ task is simply giving customers a proper prop. Whether the customer accepts the prop depends the meaning attached to it. If meaning that attached to the products match better with the customer’ self-concept, the products would stand out from others. But it’s more difficult to become a good marketer than a director. Marketers are facing different consumers, who might be in different culture. Different consumers would interpret the products differently. Therefore, how to educate consumers effectively and attach meanings, which match with the consumers’ social identity and life style, won’t be an easy task. This must be based on the fully understanding of why and how meaning is attached.

To fully explain that, the author will start with the explanation of the meaning of consumption, the process that people consume products and the types of the meanings people attach to the products and services during that process. Then based on the premise, how marketers use this process to market effectively.

The meaning of consumption

Alan Warde (1996) defined that consumption is a process concerned with the acquisition and use of goods and services. In modern society we could say that it is a process that transfer of the money in exchange of the ownership of, or access to the products or services (Warde. A, 1996). Fuat (1999) points out that during the study of consumption meaning, the economic condition should be consider. Thus, assuming that survival is assured, the means of physical and social reproduction guaranteed, the practices of consumption have become more diverse in their purpose, more expressive in intent (Warde. A, 1996).

What’s more, as a member of society, we learn to agree on shared meanings. Annamma (2001) points out that individual’s consumption pattern are strongly affected by its culture and each individual abides to the same rules to consume. Because each consumer might have many social selves, they are tending to buy groups of products because of their symbolic association. It’s just like that the player may need different props and wear different costumes to play different roles in different scenario

This could be easily understood that under that premise we wouldn’t simply buy the products only for what they do. We buy the products with more purposes. For example, a Rolls Royce would be perceived as a symbol of owner’s social class rather than simply a transportation tool. Therefore products are not used for their own sake, they are seen as part of complex processes of prosthesis additions or subtractions which go with producing and reproducing ‘distinction’: class, status, Membership and other social realities of an adding culture (Munro, 1996).

In attempt to explore the different ways that products and experiences can provide meaning to people, some consumer researcher developed a classification scheme. Based on an analysis of spectators at Wrigley Field who were attending the Chicago Cubs baseball games, a consumption typology were derived (Holts, 1997). This perspective regards consumption as a type of action, in which people make use of consumption objects in a variety of ways. Solomon (2002) identifies four types of consumption activities based on that.

The types of consumption

* “Consuming as experience-an emotional or aesthetic reaction to consumption objects”

As Douglas (1997) found in his analysis, this would include reactions such as the pleasure derived from learning how to mark a scorecard or appreciating the athletic ability of a favourite player. In this situation, people use products or service not in the way what the products and services basically for. In fact, they pay more attention to what kind of emotions these products or services may bring to them. In another word, there is a strong need of emotional satisfaction when consuming the products or services. For example, when going fishing, people may enjoy the process more than the results. When we make the decision of booking a cruise ticket from Auckland to Sydney, we would show great concern about what kind of experience this journey could bring to us instead of this transportation service itself.

* “Consuming as integration-learning and manipulation consumption objects to express aspects of the self or society”

For example, club fans tend to wear their favourite club’s jerseys to express their solidarity with the team when attending the football game. People who work in KFC always wear the clothes with company’s logo when at work. In this way, we could see that people tend to express their ideas and play their roles in these social activities. People tend to be accepted by other members of in that group or there are some kinds of social rules that people need to abide to. Many consumption practices are major sources of social solidarity, entailing joint activities, which, while involving financial expenditure, can scarcely be attributed to consumerist motivation (Warde. A, 1996).

* “Consuming as classification-the activities that consumer engage in to communicate their association with objects, both to self and to others”

Kates(2002) indicates that people tend to consume the same products in order to merge in one group. In this way, products are used as the symbols to differentiate individuals from others and the indication of the belonging to some group. For example, when watching the ball game at the stadium, spectators tend to buy souvenirs to demonstrate to others their loyalty to their favourite club. When celebrating the New Year, Japanese will usually wear their traditional clothes. It implies that people, in order to make them become one member of a group or to make themselves different with other social groups, subconsciously or consciously attached some special meaning, which is association to events and self, to the products.

* “Consuming as play-consumer use objects participate in a mutual experience and merge their identities with that of a group”

For example, when there is a rugby game tonight, some people will stay at home watching the broadcast, some people prefer to go out to watch the game in the stadium. For the latter, they prefer to enjoy the atmosphere when screaming together with others. It implies that when people make the decision about purchasing a product or service, they will consider the environment when consuming. When we go to a saloon, we are not going only for the purpose of having food or drink, but to enjoy the time chatting with friends. Some people tend to go to the same saloon all the time because in that place he could meet the same kind of people, at least he take it for granted, and he prefer to consume in that environment.

The meaning attached under different purposes

From the analysis above, we could see that people would consciously or unconsciously attach meanings to the products and services according to the different purposes when they consume. It is strongly connected with the group, which people are in, the environment where people tend to consume, and which kind of role the consumer want to play in the social activities. Based on those different purposes when they consume the products and services, people might have different types of relationships with that. Solomon (2002) identified the relationships as follows.

* “Self-concept attachment-the product helps to establish the user’s identity”.

In modern society, people are freer to select the set of products, services and activities that define them and, in return, create a social identity that in communicated to others (Solomon, 2002). In fact, one’s choice of goods and services makes a statement about who one is and which kind of people one wants to identity. Naomi (2002) presents a view that people make consuming decision based on their self-concept. The self-concept refers to the beliefs a person holds about his or her own attributes and how he or she evaluates these qualities. As we discussed above consumer attach meanings to the product and service when they consume because it helps to maintain his or her self-concept. That is to say, it helps people create his or her realistic identity or desirable identity.

* “Nostalgic attachment-the product serves as a link with a past self”.

It is related with the self-concept as well. In consumer’s current life stage, they may have conception of his or her ideal self and actual self. Actual self refers to our more realistic appraisal of the qualities we have and don’t have whereas idea self is a person’s conception of how he or she would like to be (Solomon, 2002). Consumer might buy the products because they are believed to be instrumental in helping them achieve some goal. Hereby, the products original function has been neglected. It helps to serve as a symbol for consumer past experience.

* “Interdependence-the product is a part of the user’s daily routine”.

It’s related to consumer’s lifestyle. Consumer often chooses products, services because they are associated with a certain lifestyle (Solomon, 2002). His or her values and tastes are reflected in consumption choices. For this reason, products are the building blocks of lifestyles. In this situation, “each person provides a unique twist to the pattern that allows him or her to inject some individuality into a chosen lifestyle” (Solomon, 2002, p174).

* “Love-the product elicits emotional bonds of warmth, Passion, or other strong emotion”.

Kernan and Sommers (1967) proposed that one’s attitude toward an object is a function of an object’s perceived meaning i.e., of attribute and performance. A consumer’s overall evaluation of a product sometimes accounts for most of his attitude. Consumer, who expects that they would deal with similar situations at a future time, will be more likely to start forming attitudes in anticipation in this event. It is may be a determined factor to a consumer to make his purchase decision in front of two similar products.

Therefore, in conclusion, the meaning we attach to the products and services we consume is an integral component of consumer behaviour. Consumers use these products and services “to say something about the consumer as a member of group or to say something about the consumer as a unique individual” (Hoyer and MacInnis, 2001, p452). It’s so central to our understanding of consumer behaviour because it concerns the attitude, emotion, life-style and personality, which are all related important issues of consumer behavior.

Marketing implications

Analyzing the consumer’s decision-making process, we could find consumer would go through the following stages: need recognition, information search, evaluation alternatives, purchase behavior, and post purchase behavior (Solomon, 2002, p13). This process of decision-making is the result of the interaction between the internal influence and external influence. The internal influence may include people’s perception of who they are or who they want to be (self-concept, life style, social class and personality). The external influence may include the culture, other members of the group, consuming environment etc. All these factors decide what kind of meaning consumer would attach to the products and services. Thus marketers could develop the meaning of the products, charge products or services with the meaning, develop marketing mix to improve the image of the meaning, and/ or help consumers to remove the meaning of the products.

Marketing strategy

Nowadays a trademark of marketing strategy is an emphasis on building relationships with customers (Kolter et al, 2001). The concept of marketing could be defined as managing markets to bring about exchanges for the purpose of satisfying human needs and wants. Marketers may use different approaches to communicate with customers based on the understanding of that relationship. With the understanding of purposes of human’s consumption discussed above, marketers could develop a marketing mix, which might influence the process of consumer’s decision making. The author would discuss how marketers use this to market effectively in the following aspects.

* Market segmentation and product positioning

“A primary reason for studying consumer behaviour to identify based for effective segmentation, and in a large portion of consumer research is concerned with segmentation” (Peter and Olson, 1990, p402). From a marketing point of view, selection of the appropriate target market is paramount to developing successful marketing programs. The first task involved in segmenting markets is analysing consumer/product relationships (Peter and Olson, 1990). As in modern society, on the premises of that the resources is abundant, people choose the products not only for what they do. Consumer may attach different meaning when consuming the products and services. Therefore, to understand these meanings could provide marketers a basis to differentiate their products with the similar and segment the current markets.

* Product strategy

As people may use product or service to identity who they are and who they want to be, marketers may develop the meaning of the products and services to fit consumer’s self-concept. Grubb and Grathwohl (1967) suggest in self-image congruence models that product will be chosen when their attributes match some aspect of the self. For example, marketers may develop the brand personality to send the message to consumers, which may coordinate with the consumer’s identity. The same situation also happens in product packaging and other physical cues. Marketers could integrate all this attributes of products to communicate with the consumers effectively and finally stand out from other competitors’ products.

* Promotion strategy

Solomon (2002) pointed out by identifying the dominant function a product serves for consumers, what benefits it provides, marketers can emphasize these benefits in their communications and packaging. Ads relevant to the function prompt more favourable thoughts about what is being marketed and can result in a heightened preference fore both the ad and the product. So when promoting products and services, marketer should analyse which function of products, what the product basically for and the meaning attached to the product, consumer consider more important. For example, study shows that “people may consider coffee serves more utilitarian-function than a value-expressive function” (Solomon, 2002,p199). Therefore when promoting these products, emphasizing on the taste will work more effectively than on the meaning attached to coffee.

* Pricing strategy

“From a consumer’s point of view, price is usually defined as what the consumer must give up to purchase a product ore service” (Peter and Olson, 1990, p496). Consumer may perceive that the price must be equal to product value, which is the benefit of the products. It also includes the meaning of the products or the services. For marketers, the price is directly related with their purpose-profits. Therefore there is a conflict that how marketers price their products corresponding with consumer’s recognition. Marketers may find some reason in order to raise their price. For example, people are willing to pay more to buy a Benz than a Ford. They think it is worthy to do that. This is probably due to their recognition that the meaning of Benz stands for a higher social class than Ford. Therefore, it implies that marketers could charge a price for the meaning of the products.

* Channel strategy

As the author discussed above, consumers may consume because of emotion explicated by the products. For example, for those impulse consumers, they are easily affected by their emotion connected with the products. They may hold strong perspectives about some products or services. Therefore, when choosing a distribution channel, marketers should consider their target customers’ attitude towards the physical evidence of the location of the distribution channel and try to coordinate with their motions.

Conclusion

Consumers might have different purposes when consuming the products and services due to their self-concept, lifestyle and other environmental influences. The meaning they attach to the products could be a symbol of identity different with other individual, of social class, or a way to support their lifestyles. It is just like that actors and actresses need to be provided with costumes and props in order to play the role they are playing in specific stages. That’s why it is of vital importance to marketers around the world to understand the meaning that consumers attach to the products and services they consume.

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