Neesha Mathew
Neesha Mathew

Do you remember the last thing you bought? More importantly, do you remember why you bought it? For her master’s thesis in marketing and consumer studies, Neesha Mathew wanted to find out how a product’s attributes influence a consumer’s decision to buy it. She found that marketing tactics were more effective if they promoted a product’s credibility.

In any retail transaction, she says, the seller has the advantage of knowing more than the consumer about the product. To make the product more enticing and increase the chances of making a sale, she says, the seller needs to provide positive and truthful information about the product. The consumer then uses that information to decide whether or not to buy it.

Mathew looked at marketing tactics used by the beef industry because “I love food and I knew I wanted to do some kind of consumer research based on food or consumer choice.” Consumers are more educated than ever before, she adds, especially when it comes to food, and they’re more likely to read food labels before buying a product.

Marketers appeal to consumers’ hunger for information by including positive attributes of the product on its packaging. “Consumers are becoming more aware of what they’re eating, and they like to make informed choices about what they purchase,” says Mathew.

For her research, she surveyed participants to find out how they were influenced by different product features. She says consumers are influenced by three types of attributes. Search attributes are based on the consumer’s predetermined preferences, such as the colour of the product. Experience attributes are determined by the consumer’s familiarity with the product. If they have tried the product before, they already know about its attributes, and if they liked it, they’re more likely to buy it again. Credence attributes are based on a product’s credibility, which is often marketed as benefits to the consumer.

“By signalling these attributes, is there a higher influence on consumer choice or consumer purchase behaviour, and are they willing to pay more for these attributes?” she says. “It’s about communicating the right information to consumers.”

After reviewing literature on the beef industry, Mathew picked 18 attributes associated with beef and then picked the top two attributes in each category: search-based, experience-based and credence-based. Participants were then asked to choose between two beef products with attributes in one of each category.

She found that credence-based attributes had the greatest influence on consumer choice, followed by experience- and search-based attributes. Statements that enhanced the credibility of the product, such as “grass-fed” and “hormone-free,” were more important to consumers than more superficial qualities, says Mathew.

“These are the factors that are really important to them, and probably they feel it’s more beneficial to them than something like the colour of the product.” Experience-based attributes such as meat tenderness and taste, and search-based attributes, such as grade, colour and marbling, were less effective.

Credence-based attributes also affected how much consumers were willing to spend. “When you increase prices, consumers are less willing to pay for a product,” says Mathew, but she found that consumers were willing to pay more for products that had credence-based attributes. “They were less price-sensitive when we included these attributes.”

She said her research could help marketers increase sales by advertising the right attributes to consumers. However, she cautions against exaggerating a product’s benefits. “It should be truthful and credible information,” she says. “There needs to be some form of trust with the information being provided.”

Her thesis was supervised by Prof. Vinay Kanetkar.