Goal-Directed Consumer Behavior

Like all other behaviors, consumer behavior has a goal. People make decisions based on the various goals they are trying to achieve when choosing which goods and brands to purchase in what quantities, what to eat for breakfast, what sort of soda to drink, and whether to drive or take the bus to work. Almost all fields of consumer behavior study, including advertising, consumer decision-making, product preferences, and brand loyalty, have covered motivational and goal-related topics.

What are Consumer Goals?

A goal can be defined as a desired outcome or end-state that a person aims to achieve through their actions. Goals provide a mental representation of the desired outcome, which serves as a guide for decision-making and action. In other words, goals help people express what they want, how they plan to achieve it, and why it is essential. Goals also play a motivational role by determining the intensity of behavior. The level of motivation is influenced by the perceived desirability of the goal and the belief that the goal is attainable. People who are highly motivated to achieve a goal often devote more significant effort and resources.

Studying customer goals and how they relate to behavior is significant for marketers because many consumer actions are goal-directed. Understanding customer goals and motivations can help marketers design products, services, and marketing messages that align with consumer needs and desires. By appealing to customer goals and motivations, marketers can increase consumers' likelihood of engaging in behaviors that support their business objectives.

Goal-Directed Consumer Behavior

Motives have both direction and strength. They are goal-oriented in that particular objectives are sought to meet a need. Most goals may be attained in various ways, and marketers' purpose is to persuade customers that their option gives them the highest chance of success. For example, suppose a customer needs a pair of jeans to help him achieve his objective of being accepted by others or presenting a suitable image. In that case, he can pick among Levi's, Wranglers, Flying Machine, and other brands, each of which promises to provide certain benefits.

The valence, also known as the direction of the aim or purpose, can be positive or negative, resulting in consumer objectives that are both negative and positive. A positively valued objective is one that customers focus their behavior towards; they are driven to pursue the goal and will seek out products that will help them achieve it. A consumer, for example, may utilize the Allegro exercise equipment to assist him in attaining the excellent aim of enhancing his body and social attractiveness.

Motives have both strength and direction. They are goal-oriented in that specific goals are sought to satisfy a need. Most goals may be reached in various ways, and marketers' job is to persuade clients that their choice has the maximum probability of success. Suppose a consumer decides he needs a pair of jeans to help him reach his goal of being accepted by others or presenting an acceptable image. In that case, he can choose among Levi's, Wranglers, Flying Machine, and other brands, each of which promises to deliver specific benefits.

Goal-Systems Theory and Consumer Behavior

Consumer behavior is only sometimes consistent or predictable, as various chronic or momentary goals influence it. Although brand loyalty research suggests that consumer behavior can be repetitive and stable, it can sometimes be inconsistent with one's values and preferences, as seen in phenomena like impulsive buying, variety-seeking, and shifting preferences. Traditionally, consumer psychology has portrayed behavior as static, where consumers pursue isolated motivations and goals sequentially.

Any fluctuations were seen as a result of bounded rationality or preferences constructed based on the context. However, recent research suggests that contextual features can automatically trigger a variety of goals that can influence people's judgments, emotions, attitudes, and behaviors, even outside of conscious awareness. This possibility was ignored mainly before, as previous approaches focused on a limited set of general concerns, such as maximizing decision accuracy or minimizing negative emotions.

The new perspective recognizes that different contextual cues can automatically activate an open-ended variety of goals, influencing consumer behavior in previously unrecognized ways. This understanding of the dynamic and complex nature of consumer behavior can help marketers better understand and predict consumer actions, preferences, and decision-making processes.

Goal Hierarchy

Different authors have tried to define the various levels in the goal hierarchy. Carver and Scheier (1981) identify three levels, namely the program, the principle, and the system level. Programs are like scripts that specify the sequence of events in situations, such as buying a present for a spouse. They provide rules and standards for behavior in specific situations. Programs are regulated by principles, which are underlying qualities of specific acts and provide general norms for behavior. For example, "being considerate" can be a principle underlying buying a present for one's spouse.

Finally, at the highest level, system concepts contain information about a person's idealized self-image or sense of relationships, constituting the ultimate goals or standards for behavior. These levels define the values guiding a person's behavior in different situations.

Dimensions of Goal

Goals have various features that make them meaningful and differentiate them from one another. These features include goal content, desirability, importance, and feasibility. Goal content refers to the specific things that individuals strive to achieve. Different classifications of goals or goal categories have been proposed by various authors, including those related to different life domains such as career, family, social/community, leisure, and material/environment. Other classifications include general categories of goals such as achievement, affiliation/intimacy, power, independence, and self-presentation. Some authors distinguish between intrinsic goals related to personal growth and affiliation and extrinsic goals related to materialism and power. Goals can also be approach-oriented, meaning individuals strive to achieve them, or avoidance-oriented, meaning individuals strive to avoid them. Dimensions of Goals are −

Goal Desirability

The level of desirability of a goal is a crucial factor in motivating individuals toward its attainment. Even goals that avoid undesirable outcomes can still be highly desirable if achieved successfully. In theories of motivation that focus on expectancy-value, the terms value, utility, valence, or incentive are often used to describe the level of desirability associated with a goal. An individual's emotional association with a goal is a crucial factor affecting its perceived desirability, which will be explored in greater detail later.

Goal Importance

The importance of a goal is distinct from its desirability, as a goal can be highly desirable but not very important in the grand scheme of things. This distinction is similar to attitudes' valence and strength dimensions. Goal importance and commitment are essential factors in determining the amount of effort and persistence in pursuing a goal, and they are linked to consumer involvement. Importance can be seen as the discrepancy between the current and desired states, with a more significant discrepancy leading to a higher perceived importance of the goal. Commitment to a goal is essential when the goal is assigned rather than freely chosen and when pursuing the goal is challenging and time-consuming. Examples include work-related goals or goals related to weight loss or saving money for a new home.

Goal Feasibility

Feasibility refers to a consumer's belief that they can achieve their desired goal. This belief includes factors such as their expectation of success, confidence level, sense of control, self-efficacy, and how easy or challenging they perceive achieving their goal.


Although consumer behavior is frequently portrayed as planned and goal-oriented, more research needs to be done on goals. Goal concepts should be addressed in models that attempt to explain consumer behavior. This neglect is evident in the underdeveloped treatment of this subject in most consumer behavior textbooks.

Updated on: 30-Mar-2023


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