The Howard Sheth Model is a sophisticated integration of the various social, psychological and marketing influences on consumer choice into a coherent sequence of information processing. It aims not only to explain consumer behavior in terms of cognitive functioning but to provide an empirically testable depiction of such behavior and its outcomes (Howard 1977).
The logic of the Howard Sheth model of consumer behavior summarize like this. There are inputs in the form of Stimuli. There are outputs beginning with attention to a given stimulus and ending with purchase. In between the inputs and the outputs there are variables affecting perception and learning. These variables are termed ‘hypothetical’ since they cannot be directly measured at the time of occurrence.
The Howard Sheth model of consumer behavior suggests three levels of decision making:
- The first level describes the extensive problem solving. At this level the consumer does not have any basic information or knowledge about the brand and he does not have any preferences for any product. In this situation, the consumer will seek information about all the different brands in the market before purchasing.
- The second level is limited problem solving. This situation exists for consumers who have little knowledge about the market, or partial knowledge about what they want to purchase. In order to arrive at a brand preference some comparative brand information is sought.
- The third level is a habitual response behavior. In this level the consumer knows very well about the different brands and he can differentiate between the different characteristics of each product, and he already decides to purchase a particular product.
According to the Howard Sheth model of consumer behavior there are four major sets of variables; namely:
- Inputs: These input variables consist of three distinct types of stimuli (information sources) in the consumer’s environment. The marketer in the form of product or brand information furnishes physical brand characteristics (significative stimuli) and verbal or visual product characteristics (symbolic stimuli). There are impersonal sources like mass media communication and advertising, over which the firm has no control. However, the information sources also include sales and service personnel who can add and help the marketing efforts of the firm. The third type is provided by the consumer’s social environment (family, reference group, and social class). This social source is personal and the company/marketer has no control over this source. All three types of stimuli provide inputs concerning the product class or specific brands to the specific consumer.
- Perceptual and Learning Constructs: The central part of the model deals with the psychological variables involved when the consumer is contemplating a decision. Some of the variables are perceptual in nature, and are concerned with how the consumer receives and understands the information from the input stimuli and other parts of the model. For example, stimulus ambiguity happened when the consumer does not understand the message from the environment. Perceptual bias occurs if the consumer distorts the information received so that it fits his or her established needs or experience. Learning constructs category, consumers’ goals, information about brands, criteria for evaluation alternatives, preferences and buying intentions are all included. The proposed interaction In between the different variables in the perceptual and learning constructs and other sets give the model its distinctive advantage.
- Outputs: The outputs are the results of the perceptual and learning variables and how the consumers will response to these variables (attention, brand comprehension, attitudes, and intention).
- Exogenous(External) variables: Exogenous variables are not directly part of the decision-making process. However, some relevant exogenous variables include the importance of the purchase, consumer personality traits, religion, and time pressure.
The decision-making process, which Howard-Sheth Model tries to explain, takes place at three Inputs stages: Significance, Symbolic and Social stimuli. In both significative and symbolic stimuli, the model emphasizes on material aspects such as price and quality. These stimuli are not applicable in every society. While in social stimuli the model does not mention the basis of decision-making in this stimulus, such as what influence the family decision? This may differ from one society to another.
Most scholars agree that the study of consumer behavior was advanced and given an impetus by Howard Sheth Model. The major advantage and strength of the model lied in the precision with which a large number of variables have been linked in the working relationships to cover most aspects of the purchase decision and the effective utilization of contribution from the behavioral sciences.