Going With Your Gut Feeling - The Importance and Functional Significance of Affective Cues in Consu

A BMW is the ultimate driving machine and Pontiac builds excitement; Louis Vuitton bags signal who we are or want to be; and Armani suits make us feel like a “million bucks.” When making buying decisions, your feelings are often more engaged than you realize, and sometimes we go with our “gut feel,” even in the face of credible information about better features provided by the alternatives. Professor Peter Darke, Professor Amitava Chattopadhyay and Laurence Ashworth explore the role of affective cues in consumer decision-making, document their impact on long term consumer satisfaction, and draw out the implications for marketing.

by Amitava Chattopadhyay, Laurence Ashworth,Peter Darke
Last Updated: 23 Jul 2013

What shapes your purchasing decisions? Whether you’re buying a new car or a new shade of lipstick, chances are that you consider tangible factors (product features, price, etc.) or intangible qualities (such as how the product makes you feel), or perhaps both.

Indeed, marketing research has shown the importance of affective cues (preferences based on feelings) and informational cues (preferences based on features) in consumer decision making processes, suggesting that affective cues have an impact on judgement primarily when consumers are less motivated to choose accurately or when they have a diminished ability to judge products. Further, affectively-based choices are often perceived as impulse purchases which consumers ultimately regret.

However, in this recent working paper, Peter Darke (Assistant Professor of Commerce, the University of British Columbia), Amitava Chattopadhyay (the L’Oreal Chaired Professor in Marketing-Innovation and Creativity, INSEAD), Laurence Ashworth (Ph.D. student in Commerce, the University of British Columbia) argue for a fuller recognition of the importance of affective experience in consumer judgment and decision-making.

They frame their research within a dual process framework of attitude judgments and ask several key questions: In what manner do consumers weigh qualitatively different decision cues? Under what conditions are informational versus affective cues likely to influence choice? And what types of decisions ultimately lead to greater purchase satisfaction?

Their research demonstrates how affective experience can be influential even, when consumers are highly motivated and fully capable of making decisions on the basis of tangible features. This contrasts with the traditional assumption that affective cues are influential only for low elaboration decisions and lead to poor purchasing decisions and lower satisfaction. The authors assert that affectively-based choices are good ones and can lead to increased satisfaction.

These claims are tested through five studies in the context of buying CD players. The results indicate that affective cues do indeed influence many aspects of the decision-making process, in both high and low elaboration conditions. The findings also show that consumers appear are able to adjust their use of affective cues in choice according to different product categories and are apparently unaware of the influence of affective cues on their decisions. Further, the evidence suggests that affective choice may often be more functional, in that it can lead to long-term purchase satisfaction.

This working paper will be of interest both marketing researchers and students. It adds to the conceptualization of the role of affect in consumer decision making and draws on the improved understanding to offer practical implications for managers and marketers.


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