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4 Ways an MBA Prepares You to Analyze Consumer Behavior

A man in a striped sweater, glasses, and jeans sits at a wooden desk in front of a window, looking at his computer screen.

The best product or service in the world will go nowhere without effective marketing, and effective marketing is impossible without a thorough understanding of consumer behavior. It all comes down to a simple, irrefutable argument:

  • You can’t operate a business without generating revenue
  • You can’t generate revenue without selling something
  • You can’t sell something without a customer who wants to buy it
  • You can’t attract customers if you don’t understand consumer behavior

Where can you learn about consumer behavior? If your career goal is to become an effective business manager or executive, consider exploring this and other essential subjects in a Master of Business Administration (MBA) program. MBA degree programs come in many different formats – full-time or part-time, on-campus or online – making it easy to find one that suits your lifestyle. And they pay off: The Graduate Management Admission Council 2021 corporate recruiter survey reports a median MBA salary of $115,000, 77%higher than the average salary of someone with a bachelor’s degree. Over a 35-year career, that represents an additional $3 million in income.

What you’ll learn about consumer behavior with TU’s MBA

When you pursue an MBA – like the online MBA at The University of Tulsa – you undertake graduate-level general management coursework covering all essential business disciplines, including financial accounting, business analytics, entrepreneurship, managerial economics, operations, supply chain management, international business, organizational behavior, business communications and consumer behavior. MBA programs fashion business leaders who understand all aspects of managing a business. Many programs also offer areas of specialization to enable students to build expertise in a business sector or function. TU, for example, offers a specialization in energy.

The 37-credit online MBA from TU covers an ethics-driven management curriculum that can be completed in 12 months by full-time students and 24 months by part-time students. Part-time students typically remain in their full-time jobs, meaning they continue to earn as they learn and can immediately apply what they learn in the program to their work. The curriculum consists of 25 core-course and 12 specialized-course credits.

TU’s specialized course offerings include “Consumer Behavior,” which applies behavioral science to consumer activities. Students explore relevant research and current theories in the field, emphasizing anthropology, economics, psychology and socio-cultural influences. Students approach real-world problems from a marketing management perspective, using quantitative and qualitative data to understand market trends and project future markets.

“Consumer Behavior” delivers four critical lessons in how to analyze and use consumer behavior.

1 - How consumer behavior is observed and measured

The first step in understanding consumer behavior is to learn how it is studied. Given the immense profits derived from understanding what makes consumers tick, it should come as no surprise that considerable effort has been devoted to this science.

Psychological principles underlie consumer behavior

Psychologists and other behavioral scientists design experiments to develop and test conceptual models of human behavior. They examine need recognition: The process by which consumers identify a need and start the search for a product to fulfill that need. From there, they attempt to determine how consumers form attitudes toward products and services. How and why do they develop preferences? To what extent can advertising and other promotional messaging influence this process? How many times do consumers need to see an advertisement before they remember it?

Many social scientists recognize a five-stage process by which consumers decide to make a purchase:

  • Problem recognition: Consumer realizes that they have an unfulfilled need that can be satisfied by a purchase.
  • Information gathering: Consumer researches options to determine their cost and efficacy.
  • Evaluating solutions: Consumer weighs the relative benefits and drawbacks of all alternatives.
  • Purchase phase: Consumer makes a decision and completes the purchase.
  • Post-purchase phase: Consumer evaluates their choice to determine satisfaction with their decision.

Understanding how consumers make choices enables marketers to try to influence the process at various stages.

How culture impacts consumer behavior

“Culture is the sea we swim in,” Eric Weiner observes in The Geography of Bliss, describing culture as “pervasive” and “all-consuming.” As a result, we often aren’t aware of how it shapes our attitudes and beliefs.

Social scientists seek to discover how culture molds consumers’ core values and impacts their choices. They seek to tease out the influential strands within American culture and determine how cultures differ from one country to another and how those differences impact consumer behavior. Effective marketing strategies must understand these differences and take them into account.

The most effective consumer behavior research methods

Digitization has opened new opportunities to examine consumer research. Big data tracking online navigation, television watching habits, travel patterns and numerous other behaviors provides an avalanche of insights into how consumers discover, research and decide on purchase options.

These quantitative data provide numerous advantages, but they are hardly the only research options. Surveys, focus groups and scientific studies all produce qualitative and quantitative consumer behavior research. In TU’s “Consumer Behavior” course, you’ll learn which research methods are most effective for various situations.

2 - How to develop and implement strategies based on consumer behavior

Once you understand consumer behavior observation and measurement, you can begin to use those insights. Market segmentation – the grouping of consumers by, for example, age, race, ethnicity, religion and shared norms and values – plays a critical role in formulating strategies. Individuals within different populations tend to compare themselves to members of other groups, called reference groups; these comparisons can substantially impact consumer behavior. Influencers constitute a conspicuous modern-day example of a persuasive reference group.

Marketing to individuals involves different techniques than marketing to organizations, businesses and other groups. “Consumer Behavior” delves into the appropriate methods for each scenario. It also considers the various methods for pricing goods and services to optimize sales and profits. Strategic pricing sometimes requires counterintuitive measures, such as pricing a product below cost when competition and inadequate market demand drive prices lower.

MBA programs explore various aspects of consumer response to advertising. You’ll learn the science of persuasion, the methods for communicating how a product meets consumer need and all the different advertising channels used to reach consumers, from traditional print and broadcast media to digital marketing, discounts and other promotions. Finally, you’ll learn strategies to maximize customer retention and satisfaction and the importance of customer service and optimized retail environments.

3 - How to identify and address potential risk areas surrounding consumer behavior

Understanding consumer behavior isn’t only about optimizing sales and maximizing profits. Providing useful products and services and delivering consumer satisfaction constitute the sunny side of marketing and consumerism; the flip side – the dark side – emerges when consumerism approaches pathology.

Compulsive buying, shoplifting and product tampering are just a few examples of aberrant consumer behaviors. Because they constitute part of the marketing landscape, business professionals need to understand them as well as the regulations and corporate policies implemented to curtail them.

4 - How to put your education to work

Finally, you’ll apply what you’ve learned to real-world situations through case studies and a hands-on consulting project with a for-profit or nonprofit organization of your choice. Case studies run the gamut from success stories to major failures precipitated by a poor understanding of consumer behavior. In past years, Tulsa MBAs have engaged in consulting work with Tulsa Hope Academy, JA King, and Volkswagen parts manufacturer MST.

Choose The University of Tulsa Collins College of Business online MBA to learn about consumer behavior

You want an MBA program that provides a thorough grounding in general management principles and concepts, including consumer behavior. The online MBA at The University of Tulsa delivers that through a comprehensive core curriculum and supplementary specialized courses. The online format facilitates distance learning, allowing you to enroll from anywhere in the world and complete the program without ever visiting campus. Students may enroll full time and complete the program in one year or pursue a part-time degree that typically takes two years to complete.

No matter where you live, your TU MBA exposes you to top-level employers in Oklahoma and throughout the United States, thanks to the university’s CaneCareers office (where you’ll work one-on-one with a personal advisor) and alumni network. TU alumni include industry leaders in oil and gas, among other industries. The program boasts a 100% job placement rate for those who complete the MBA; on average, students receive a 39% salary increase one year after graduating.

TU offers other deep dives alongside its course in consumer behavior. Specialized courses in supply chain management, business analytics and risk management complement the core curriculum to provide a rich, productive MBA experience. You can also specialize in energy through coursework in sustainable energy, energy economics, energy law and renewables. No matter which pathway you choose, a TU online MBA can bolster your credentials, enhance your skills and introduce you to a robust alumni network. Sound appealing? Then why not apply today?

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