Self-Concept and Consumer Research

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Consumer behaviour is one of the important considerations in making a marketing strategy. It involves processes that consumers use to select, secure, use, and dispose of products, services, experiences, or ideas to satisfy needs and the impacts that these processes have on the consumer and society (Askegaard et al., 2007). However, marketers should take note that behind each consumer’s behaviour are different motivates and decisions strategies that will make a consumer say “yes” to a product.

Under the idea of consumer behaviour, each consumer has a self-concept that he considers when choosing a product. John Hattie defines in his book, Self Concept, that self concept is defined as the totality of the individual’s thoughts and feelings having reference to himself as an object (Rosenberg, 1979). It is important to note that self-concept denotes the subjective thoughts and perceptions about oneself rather than an objective evaluation of the person. People have a strong need to act consistently with whom and what they think they are and therefore they would purchase products and services to build their self-image and to express themselves to others.

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A consumer’s self concept may be seen in how he chooses a brand or even his own style of clothes. It can vary if the consumer is a masculine or a feminine or a consumer’s status in the society might also affect his overall self concept. The idea of the self concept actually branches out from a person’s personality, which we can say that it is also affected by patterns of behaviour, including thoughts, and emotions, that characterize each individual’s adaptation to the situations of his or her life (Schlenker, 1980).

In consumer research, it is must be considered that one’s self-concept can serve as a driving force in shaping attitude and behaviour.  However, it must be known that that a person has more than one self concept. A consumer can embody an actual self concept, an ideal self concept or a social self concept (Rosenberg, 1979). It is further expounded, as follows: (1) actual self is that an individual does or does not have a special characteristic; (2) ideal self is that an individual wish to have a special characteristic, and that is how other people consider oneself; and (3) social self is that an individual expects others to accept his or her characteristic. This is also saying that one really cares about how his or her friend’s view on him or her characteristic. A consumer will patronize a product depending on what he wants to project internally (to himself) and externally (to the society).

Self concept is much related to brand personality. It is hypothesized to be generalizable across brand categories that it broadly reflects consumer personality characteristics (Aaker, 1997). Aaker’s research on brand personality tells us that consumers select brands that are congruent with their needs and personality characteristics. Brand characteristics tend to be similar with consumer’s self-concept and personality traits, therefore behaviour choices are predictable if marketers identify consumer’s self-images and brand perceptions. It is also found out that brands with strong personalities are likely to generate positive attitudes with consumers, which are likely to result in evaluations that are more favorable.

Materialism has also a known to have a direct effect on the self-concept of consumers. Most of consumers believe that “you are what you buy”. The process of good possession depicts an individual’s satisfaction or dissatisfaction towards life. It is a strong predictor of self concept. For people with acquisition centrality often see properties and possession as the center of their life; for those who perceive acquisition as happiness see possession as pursing happiness and they believe that these properties will bring satisfaction and fortune to their life; and some sees possession success use asset possession and quality of assets to evaluate both their success and other people’s success (Richins and Dawson, 1992).

            It must be also taken into consideration that self-concept congruity with an external entity is a multi-stage process (Sirgy, 1982). Therefore, the process begins by an individual separately assessing one’s own self-concept and the image of the external entity. Sabrina Hegner argues in her literature that the more capable an individual is in creating a more clear and unified image of an external entity, then the easier and more accurate will be the assessment of the level of similarity between one’s own self-image and the perceived image of that entity. Conversely, if an individual is unable to form a clear and unified image of an external entity, then the process of this comparison may be much more cumbersome and inaccurate.

            This is an important consideration in developing marketing strategies. It is important to note that a product or brand must be associated by the consumer to his self image. These studies have provided evidence supporting the notion that consumers tend to be most loyal to brands that are congruent with their own self-concept, which was earlier conceptualized as being based upon what one is aware of, one’s attitudes, feelings, perceptions, and evaluations of oneself as an object (Grubb and Grathwohl, 1967).

Consumer self theories gives managerial implications to marketed product and services. It is important to position and differentiate product based upon the dominant personality target market. Cultural understanding can also be a powerful tool to know the characteristics of prospective consumers. Having a clear picture of a target market’s self concept, effective promotional and marketing tools can be developed in congruence to the market’s personality  and would yield a company brand loyalty from its customers.


Askegaard, S., Bamossy, G., Graham, J. F., Hogg, M. K., & Solomon, M. R. (2007). Consumer Behaviour: A European Perspective: AND Critical Thinking in Consumer Behaviour, Cases and Experimential Exercises. Upper Saddle River: Financial Times/ Prentice Hall.

Grubb, Edward L, & Grathwohl, Harrison L. (1967). Consumer Self-Concept, Symbolism and Market Behavior: A Theoretical Approach. Journal of Marketing, 31, 22-27.

Hegner, S. (2008). Self-Concept and Consumer Behaviour – A Meta-Analysis. Unknown: Vdm Verlag Dr. Mueller E.K..

Rosenberg, M. (1979). Conceiving the Self. New York: Basic books.

Schlenker, B. R. (1980). Impression Management: The Self-Concept, Social Identity, and Interpersonal Relations. Huntington, New York: Krieger Pub Co.

Sirgy, M. J. (1982). Self-concept in consumer behavior: A critical review. Journal of Consumer Research, 9(3), 287-300.


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