Understanding consumer behaviour by going to the gemba – Interview with Michael Solomon


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Today’s interview is with Michael Solomon, PhD who is Professor of Marketing in the Haub School of Business at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia and the author of one of THE books, if not THE original book, on consumer behaviour. He joins us today to talk about the 12th Edition of that book: Consumer Behavior: Buying, Having, and Being and to share some insights into and trends in consumer behaviour.

This interview follows on from my recent interview – An agile manifesto for customer success – Interview with Todd Eby of Success Hacker – and is number 214 in the series of interviews with authors and business leaders that are doing great things, providing valuable insights, helping businesses innovate and delivering great service and experience to both their customers and their employees.

Here’s the highlights of my interview with Michael:

  • He recently published the 12th Edition of Consumer Behavior: Buying, Having, and Being.
  • The first edition came out in the late 1980s.
  • The book was the first to capture and address all of the different influences and trends that are relevant to better understanding consumer behaviour.
  • Whilst the book is primarily a university textbook and one of the most widely used books of its kind in the world, it has relevance for everyone who would like to improve their understanding of consumer behaviour.
  • The new edition includes a greater focus on the influence and use of behavioural economics.
  • Michael was one of the authors that invented the term ‘service encounter’ back in the 1980s.
  • Michael explains and highlights a few elements from the book:
    • The positivist vs interpretivist perspective on consumer behaviour
      • Positivism is takes a rational, arms length and “scientific” view of behaviour whilst an interpretivist perspective takes a different view inspired by disciplines like anthropology and ethnography, where the observer/researcher immerses themselves in the situation and becomes part of the lived experience.
      • Both approaches suffer in different ways from the Observer Effect and, as such, both approaches need to adjust for this.
    • Ethics surrounding consumer behaviour
      • Ethics are very important for the millennial generation
      • CSR is a huge element in building trust with the millennial generation.
      • Ethics is good business.
    • Semiotics
      • Semiotics is the study of symbolism.
      • Many of the studies on semiotics come from French theorists.
      • A symbol, like a logo, has great power and meaning and we ignore this at our peril.
      • The more intangible your offering the more important semiotics (symbols) becomes. A good example is life insurance and their use of symbols and the meanings that they imply. A great example from an insurer is LV in the UK and their symbol LV=, implying love.
    • Cross-cultural differences
      • Culture is a huge factor in consumer behaviour.
      • When we look at consumer behaviour is is important to recognise the many unseen but incredibly powerful cultural differences that shape us all. For example, look at cultural differences when it comes to eating times.
      • The marketing graveyard is full of dead bodies that have tried and failed to clone themselves everywhere.
      • Customisation is expensive but worth it.
      • However, we are seeing a lot homogenization in services around the world e.g. Starbucks.
      • The perception of what good service is can differ markedly across different countries.
      • You cannot adopt a homogeneous approach and expect things to work across different countries.
  • One of the biggest challenges that marketers have today is engaging customers.
  • ROI (Return on Involvement) is a great way of thinking about this i.e. how customers are involved with your brand.
  • A resonant brand is the ultimate goal, where the brand becomes part of a consumers identity.
  • Companies should do an interesting vs interested relationship audit to help them better understand how they can build engagement with their customers.
  • Research shows that consumers do form relationships with brands that are similar to those that they have with other people.
  • The Japanese have an expression that says ‘going to the gemba’, which means that the true understanding of something can only be achieved by going to the place that it occurs.
  • That means that every manager and leader should spend more time understanding what their customers go through by being their own customer. And, they should do this on a regular basis.
  • The use of mystery shoppers is lazy.
  • Wow service/experience for Michael is over delivering and surprising the customer in a pleasant way. One of the best ways to do this is through personalisation or customisation.
  • A service encounter is essentially a theatrical performance and it is possible to do that without sacrificing any efficiency.
  • Check out the courses that Michael has developed at his website here as well as his book: Consumer Behaviour.

About Michael (taken from the bio on his own website)

Michael R SolomonMichael literally “wrote the book” on understanding consumers — his textbooks on Consumer Behavior, Social Media Marketing, Advertising, Fashion Psychology and Marketing are required reading in hundreds of business schools around the world. He holds a Ph.D. in Social Psychology and is currently Professor of Marketing in the Haub School of Business at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia.

He has advised numerous companies on consumer research and lifestyle marketing issues. Michael is in demand as an acclaimed lecture-series Speaker to business groups around the world; in recent years he has delivered keynotes in South Korea, Brazil, Peru, Japan, Germany, Mexico, the United Kingdom and Poland.

Michael’s focus is on the importance of studying and understanding how products and services are experienced by consumers. He has published research on such topics as consumer behavior, fashion psychology, branding, retailing, and marketing research in numerous academic journals, and he has been recognized as one of the ten most productive scholars in the field of advertising and marketing communications. Michael is passionate about the extraordinary world of the ordinary consumer. The marketing guru Philip Kotler summed it up when he stated, “Solomon has the mind of a scientist and the writing flair of a journalist.”

Michael’s book, Consumer Behavior: Buying, Having, and Being (now in its 12th edition by Pearson Education), is the most widely-used textbook on the subject in the world. His book Marketing: Real People, Real Choices 9th edition (Solomon, Marshall and Stuart, Pearson Education) is one of the top five Principles of Marketing texts in the U.S.A. In 2012 he co-authored the first textbook on Social Media Marketing, which is now in its second edition (SAGE). His trade book, Conquering Consumerspace: Marketing Strategies for a Branded World was praised by marketing expert Philip Kotler as “The best book I have read for deciphering today’s new consumers.” His newest book, The Truth about What Customers Want, was published by FT Press.

You can found out more about Michael at his faculty page here and at his own site here.

Don’t forget to check out his book: Consumer Behaviour, connect with him on LinkedIn here and say Hi to him on Twitter @mikesolo.


Photo Credit: erokism Flickr via Compfight cc

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Adrian Swinscoe
Adrian Swinscoe brings over 25 years experience to focusing on helping companies large and small develop and implement customer focused, sustainable growth strategies.


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