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Customer Insight: Identity and Consumption Report (Assessment)

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Updated: Nov 11th, 2020

Literature Review

The drivers of consumer behaviors are versatile and multiple. As the major determiners of consumer preferences, these factors have been the focus of scientific and practical interest for a long time now. In terms of the marketing trends, contemporary society is oriented at the customized and personalized goods that are capable of reflecting different individual traits of their owners. In that way, it is possible to notice that the self-concepts and identities of the consumers play a significant role in determining the choices of their preferred goods. This review is focused on the exploration of the theoretical approaches to the degree to which consumer behavior is influenced by the individuals’ identities and the mechanisms of this phenomenon.

The Meaning of Identity

The contemporary world is characterized by the rapid globalization that leads to closer and more frequent interactions between the representatives of different cultures and communities. As a result, the modern world is a mixture of very inhomogeneous societies fragmented into numerous groups based on versatile features and traits. The characteristics of different individuals compose their identities and serve as the basis for the formation of their identities (Oyserman, 2009). In turn, the identities create the foundation for one’s choices, behavioral patterns, and preferences (Toth, 2014).

The role of identities is to direct persons’ reactions and thought processes (Oyserman, 2009). Also, identities are expressed in a variety of ways defining what people choose to do for work, what they wear, eat, with whom they communicate, what they do in their free time, where and how they live. In other words, people’s identities and their expression determine their consumption patterns (Mittal, 2014).

In addition, identities have a rather complex nature and involve numerous layers and aspects, some of which are represented by cultural values, tastes, backgrounds, age, gender, and sexual orientation, to name a few (Ruvio & Belk, 2013). In that way, a single individual may incorporate many different identity aspects, each of which will surface in various situations and circumstances depending on which layer of one’s identity is stimulated by an external factor (Ruvio & Belk, 2013). Reed II, Forehand, Puntoni, and Warlop (2012) named three major types of consumer identity – abstract, individual, and group referent. The first type (abstract referent) is comprised on the roles dictated by the community surrounding an individual and the social constructs artificially created by the societies and cultures; the examples of identities dictated in this manner are the gender expectation and familial roles, and also the preferences of pop-culture items such as films and fictional characters (Reed II et al. 2012).

The second type (individual referent) is dictated by the impact of the other persons on one’s identity; these influences may be known (when one is aware of his or her willingness to affiliate with a certain individual) and unknown (when one has the desire to emulate with someone that remains unrecognized) (Reed II et al., 2012). Finally, the third type (group referent) can be inflicted by groups to which persons belong; these groups can be of different size and composition – small (families, groups of friends, student clubs and cohorts), large (where not all members know each other – LGBT identity, ethnic identity, professional identity), and social collectives (national identity) (Reed II et al., 2012). This classification presents a clear demonstration of the composition of one’s identity and its multiple layers that can exist independently of one another or be tightly intertwined.

The Self in Consumer Behaviour

Due to the need for an identity expression that can be done in a variety of ways, there exists a tight connection between the identities of consumers and their choices of products and services to purchase. In other words, there is a theory that many of the objects and services the consumers pay for are, in reality, dictated by their identities, which means that whatever people buy is purchased not only for the utility characteristics but also as an instrument for self-expression (Toth, 2014). For example, a car can be bought due to its value as a means of transportation, helping one travel long distances more freely. At the same time, there are many different types and brands of cars that have different appearances and prices; and the particular choice of a car may represent one’s need to communicate his or her personality and identity as a wealthy individual, an independent person, or a fashionable and tasteful consumer, among others. The same tendency covers most of the other products and services that are available in modern markets.

Moreover, purchases can be made for a purpose to fulfill the different identity needs of a consumer. For instance, Aghdaie and Khatami (2014) argue that self-confidence is one of the major identify aspects that can be altered with the help of consumption. In particular, self-confidence that represents how an individual appraises him- or herself is expressed through the communication with the world and people around (Aghdaie & Khatami, 2014). Differently put, self-confidence represents how one perceives their status in the society that can be changed by means of purchasing certain objects or services whose meaning is dictated by the communities and social groups. Another factor named by Aghdaie and Khatami (2014) as a significant determiner of a consumer’s preferences and choices is self-concept. Compared to self-confidence, this factor is more individualized and expresses the degree to which one’s current perception of the self matches the desired image (Aghdaie & Khatami, 2014).

In reference to the consumer behavior, Ruvio and Belk (2013) pointed out that there exist two types of cognition – analytic (the one that focuses on the analysis of parts of a whole and their interactions) and holistic (the one that approaches the whole as a bigger picture and reacts to it). In that way, knowing that each product in the market also has a multitude of layers and meanings, the approach to products presented by the consumers is based on the specific features that interest them (Ruvio & Belk, 2013). In other words, for different consumers, the same products can evoke different associations that are experienced under the influence of particular identities.

Brand Personality

Since the perception of products is in direct connection with the consumers’ readiness to purchase it, the marketers and manufacturers tend to take this phenomenon into consideration and use it for the purposes of product and brand promotion. To be more precise, the product developers and the creators of marketing campaigns employ different features of their products in order to establish what is known as the brand personality that served as the medium to express the utility or functional features of products (Ahmad & Thyagaraj, 2015). Developing a brand personality, marketers choose a more implicit way of product promotion. This approach assumes that a set of qualities of a particular product would be expressed using its image and personality instead of verbalizing them (Ahmad & Thyagaraj, 2015).

It is possible to note that this type of marketing can be more effective than the open advertisement as it engages the processes of analytical and holistic ways of thinking and presents the product as a whole with its individual set of features instead of communicating a literal statement of the benefits the product carries. In other words, this approach creates an illusion that the consumers get to analyze a product or a brand, detect certain characteristics they deem useful, and make a purchase based on their own conclusion. In reality, this perception strategy is much more effective than making statements about the usefulness of a product from the TV screen or a billboard (Ahmad & Thyagaraj, 2015). In other words, it is more likely that a consumer would trust their own perception of a brand or a product than the opinions of its manufacturer.

In turn, it is always up to the marketers and product developers which brand personality to choose for their products. Usually, in order to produce the desired effect on the consumers’ decision-making, the personalities of brands are designed in a way that would appeal to the certain traits of the targeted customer segment (Ahmad & Thyagaraj, 2015). Consequently, to achieve success in this mission, the marketers need to conduct research of the customer segment of interest and determine which features, tastes, and interests that products should appeal to in order to become popular (Ahmad & Thyagaraj, 2015).

It is needless to mention that the contemporary consumer bases that are present in a globalized society are very diverse and include individuals with very different needs, tastes, and preferences. It is difficult to choose a point of interest that would not only help a product stand out from the wide range of the other similar ones but also evoke the interest of a number of consumers large enough to create the desired profit. Attempting to address this challenge, many brands engage in the creation of what is known as fashion and influencing the abstract referent on the consumers’ identity, convincing them that they need to have certain objects in order to obtain benefits (Ahmad & Thyagaraj, 2015). Usually, the benefits targeted by brands are quite general and ubiquitous such as social status, health, or beauty. These concepts are universal and tend to cover a very large number of consumers regardless of their gender, age, ethnicity, or culture; and as a result, the brands whose personalities are related to the promotion of such benefits are likely to be the most successful in the market. However, at the same time, they are also going to have the largest field of competitors.

Khare and Handa (2009) noted that for the purpose of gaining success and being recognized by consumers, brands need to help the buyers associate with them, feel that the brand personality matches that of a consumer, and get an impression that the brand’s philosophy corresponds with the values and needs of the customers. This type of affiliation helps to establish a fixed consumer base, attract new buyers, and retain the existing ones. In other words, the consumers are going to evaluate the brands based on their perceptions of selves, the existing identities, and the desired self-images (Khare & Handa, 2009).


The consumer’s identities work as powerful mechanisms that determine the people’s choices of products to purchase. As a result, the brands competing for their positions in the markets and sales need to take into consideration the individual tastes of the buyers as well as the mechanisms that formulate their choices. In response to the complex identities of the consumers, the brand creators began to develop personalities for their products that would help them appall the targeted consumer segments.

Marketing Communications and Government Regulation

The purpose of this part of the paper is to use a marketing campaign and follow the way it communicates with the consumers employing their insights into self. One of the recent campaigns perfect for this type of analysis is Real Beauty Sketches by Dove.

Campaign Overview

Launched in 2013, the campaign based majorly on a video ad on YouTube quickly became viral and was recognized as one of the most actively viewed advertisements of the year (Toure, 2013). The campaign presented a video of a trained forensic artist drawing two series of portraits of several different women; the first series is based on their descriptions of themselves, and the second series is drawn according to the descriptions of the same women provided by strangers. In the end, the two portraits of each woman are compared to each other, and it is seen that the women’s self-image is harsher, more negative, and critical than the way they were perceived by the other people.

The Message

The campaign actually engaged the issue of the consumers’ self-image into the video as if raising awareness of the self-critical attitudes the modern women have. The Real Beauty Sketches was not the first campaign carrying this type of message. In that way, it is possible to state that Dove has built its brand personality on the advocacy for its clients (predominantly women) who are victimized by the demanding and unrealistic beauty standards that persist in the contemporary world.

Interestingly, the brand name of Dove is completely absent from the entire advertisement video. It is specified that the campaign is launched by Dove, but none of its products are mentioned throughout the clip. It that way, it is possible to state that the campaign was created specifically to resemble an awareness-raising video message intended to stand up for the modern women and make them realize how much harm they can do to themselves being misled by the unrealistically high beauty standards promoted by the contemporary fashion. As a result, using this approach, the brand immediately engages with the women dissatisfied with the standards and also creates a significant point of difference that makes it stand out in the beauty industry where sacrifice for beauty is one of the core concepts.

In other words, the marketers of Dove launched a campaign that looked like a social advertisement empowering women and embracing their unique beauty without attempting to measure it according to some universal requirements. In turn, by means of the repetitive association of their brand with this message, Dove promoted itself as a brand with a personality that is unique and rare to the entire beauty industry – a warm, welcoming, appreciative, and inclusive nature that cherishes diversity and believes in women.

Apart from offering recognition and acknowledgment to its consumer segment, Dove also incorporated some of the most common social tendencies of the contemporary society – feminism, and inclusion, thus appealing to a large number of consumers of all ages, backgrounds, and ethnicities.

The Regulations

The contemporary beauty industry does not have many limitations as to the kinds of images it uses for the promotion of goods and brands. There exist many social debates concerning the artificially created and supported unrealistic beauty standards that are maintained by the fashion and makeup industries that tend to post extremely airbrushed images of people’s bodies and faces that create tension and put pressure on the modern women carrying the message that the images in the beauty magazines represent what a woman or a man are expected to look like. As a result, many young people and teenagers struggle with identity issues because, in most cases, their actual bodies and faces do not look like those of the airbrushed catalog models.

The only regulations that exist in this sphere and are able to impact the kinds of messages the beauty industry communicate come from the society itself whose opinions and voices are amplified with the help of social media. In particular, many of the modern fashion and makeup brands have been criticized for the promotion of unrealistic beauty standards and the lack of diversity. In response to social backlash and criticism, the brands can discontinue certain campaigns or replace specific pictures. However, the overall impact remains destructive in reference to the young consumers whose identities are at the stage of formation and can be heavily influenced by the images portrayed in the advertisements, films, and on social media.

Knowing how dangerous it can be for people’s minds, advertising in the beauty industry should be regulated in terms of fairness and honesty. In particular, the industry needs to embrace more realistic ways of presenting its advertising images because it qualifies as the misleading of consumers when the effect of the promoted products portrayed in the campaigns is adjusted to be more impressive. The same strategy applied to an advertisement of medicine could be punishable by law like the one endangering the consumers’ health by means of impairing their perception of a product in order to maximize sales.

In most cases, beauty products and fashion items advertised on social media and in magazines do not endanger the health of the consumers in an explicit way. However, they tend to have a significant effect on the individuals’ psyche and self-perception. In reality, the adverse impact produced by the beauty industry and its promoted standards need more research exploring the correlations and factual damage. Unfortunately, there exist no standardized measures to assess and evaluate this effect. It looks like attempting to manipulate the perceptions and desires of the consumers, the beauty industry succeeded and soon began to abuse society’s dependence on the dictated standards and the desire to fit in them. Regulations are required since this tendency endangers the customers’ mental health and wellbeing. The problem is that there is no scientific research that could serve as the basis for policy.


Aghdaie, S., & Khatami, F. (2014). Investigating the role of self-confidence and self-image proportion in consumer behavior. International Journal of Marketing Studies, 6(4), 133-144.

Ahmad, A., & Thyagaraj, K. S. (2015). Understanding the influence of brand personality on consumer behavior. Journal of Advanced Management Science, 3(1), 38-43.

Khare, A., & Handa, M. (2009). Role of individual self-concept and brand personality congruence in determining the brand choice. Innovative Marketing, 5(4), 63-71.

Mittal, B. (2014). Self-concept clarity: Exploring its role in consumer behavior, Journal of Economic Psychology, 1-41.

Oyserman, D. (2009). Identity-based motivation and consumer behavior. Journal Of Consumer Psychology, 19(3), 276-279.

Reed II, A., Forehand, M., Puntoni, S., & Warlop, L. (2012). Identity-based consumer behavior. SSRN Electronic Journal, 29, 310-321.

Ruvio, A., & Belk, R. (2013). The Routledge companion to identity and consumption (1st ed.). London, UK: Routledge.

Toth, M. (2014). The role of self-concept in consumer behavior. UNLV Theses, Dissertations, Professional Papers, and Capstones. Paper, 2161, 1-91.

Toure, M. (2013). Web.

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