Examining the Involvement-Motivation Relationship via the Crowded Marketplace
The contemporary consumer inhabits a world of variety. From common household necessities like toilet paper to luxuries like high-end fashion brands, there is an array of brand choices. Even in non-traditional products such online dating sites or tourist destinations, variety exists (Prebensen, Woo, Chen and Uysal, 2013). Indeed, it has been suggested that that consumers generally hold only a small selection of brands in mind at any one time (Conroy, 2014). To the organisation, such consumer choice represents a problem: how to attract custom, when any given consumer can select multiple alternatives? Yet, variety clearly does not prevent individuals from making consumption choices. Thus, the implication is clear: by understanding consumer behaviour a marketing strategy to solve this problem could emerge (Quester, Pettigrew, Kopanidis and Rao Hill, 2014). It is in doing this, that an organisation would come to realise that a consumer’s motivations are deeply intertwined with the involvement construct (e.g. Laczniak, Muehling and Grossbart, 1989; Prebensen et al, 2013). In particular, the organisation would recognise that by utilising involvement they could develop an understanding of how consumers differentiate between brands and products (e.g. Zaichkowsky, 1986; Kim and Sung, 2009).
At its heart, the involvement concept is about engagement. Thus, the literature has discussed message (e.g. Laczniak et al, 1989), purchase decision (e.g. Zaichkowsky, 1986) brand (Kim and Sung, 2009) and product (e.g. Richins and Bloch, 1986) involvement. Beyond this, no consensus has been reached in the past thirty years over exactly how to describe or characterise involvement (Zaichkowsky, 1986; Slater and Armstrong, 2010). However, several authors (Havitz and Howard, 1996; Slater and Armstrong 2010), have described involvement as “an unobservable state of motivation, arousal or interest, evoked by a particular stimulus or situation and has drive properties” (p. 95; p. 730), apparently following Rothschild (Slater and Armstrong, 2010). Among the many alternative conceptions, personal relevance is a frequent conception (Laczniak et al, 1989). Furthermore, it is apparent that involvement is recognised as a personal characteristic that varies with respect to a “baseline level” (Richins and Bloch, 1986, p. 280), given the situation of the individual (Richins and Bloch, 1986). This is the idea of enduring and situational involvement. Furthermore, it has been proposed that in addition to the individual and situational contexts of a person, the nature of the object itself contributes to their level of involvement (Zaichkowsky, 1986). In the context of art galleries, this has been empirically demonstrated (Slater and Armstrong, 2010). However, this does not mean that an object has an inherent level of involvement (e.g. Zaichkowsky, 1986; Richins and Bloch, 1986). In terms of cognitive and affective involvement, Kim and Sung’s conceptualisation expands the paradigm of involvement from simply considering the strength of connections to the type of connections: do parents select children’s pain-killers based on, say, efficacy or their bond with their offspring (2009)?
If one were to synthesise the literature, involvement appears as the extent and type of an individual’s engagement with an object, which varies situationally, given an object can be a situation, object or stimulus. As engagement is easily understood to depend on motivation, on ideas of the self (e.g. Prebensen et al, 2013), on risk (e.g. Richins and Bloch, 1986), on social webs (e.g. Prebensen et al., 2013) and other factors, this view of involvement captures much of the divergences in the literature. Importantly, it becomes obvious that patterns of involvement can exist, for instance that in general consumers are highly engaged with cars (Richins and Bloch, 1986) and that organisations can therefore operationalise involvement. In a definitional sense, then, it is clear that involvement and motivation are connected. After all, if one is motivated to organise a study space or replace a seasonal wardrobe, then one is engaged and, thus, involved with those activities and the ensuing purchases. In this sense, motivation is a cause of involvement (Prebensen et al, 2013). Yet, one might very well argue that if one is motivated to purchase a new computer, then that motivation exists only because one is already highly engaged with the problem. However, in much the same way that theory informs one that weight determines BMI, not the other way round, the nature of this relationship can be clarified.
Given that motivation is “the driving force behind all behaviour” (Prebensen et al., 2013, p. 253), academics have found it appropriate to develop models to explain motivation. One such model presents motivation as the result of push and pull factors, which drive behaviour in certain directions (Prebensen et al., 2013). Specifically, this means that the motives underpinning a given behaviour have causes external to an individual. As involvement is internal it must not be the cause of motivation. However, it seems reasonable that the aspects of an individual that influence the interpretation of these external forces are one in the same with those that inform the level of engagement. Hence, involvement and motivation are intertwined. If an alternative model of motivation, such as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, is followed, this could also be true. After all, in the Hierarchy belongingness and self-actualisation are recognised as core aspects of motivation (Quester et al, 2014). These ideas compare strongly with noted dimensions of involvement synthesised from scholarship (Prebensen et al., 2013). Significantly, a qualitative study of involvement in an art gallery context, found that it was difficult to distinguish between antecedents and consequences of involvement using, among others, “desire to learn” and “a sense of belonging and prestige” (Armstrong and Slater, 2010, p. 727) as antecedents. This seems to imply that the relationship of motivation and involvement is one of mutual influence: at least with respect to services, noted in that study to differ to goods. Certainly, the traditional conception of situational involvement posits that an individual can be motivated and, so, highly involved with a product in a situation but that this does not lead to a heightened level of enduring involvement: an idea demonstrated in an empirical study by Richins and Bloch (1986). In any case, given the clear behavioural implications of motivation and its extremely close relationship with involvement, an organisation with an understanding of involvement would have knowledge that could be leveraged in the crowded contemporary market (Zaichkowsky, 1986).
To leverage involvement, an organisation would probably need to take into account the various kinds of involvement. As alluded to above, involvement is recognised to apply to a variety of objects: from products to messages to brands. It has also been established that there are different levels of engagement, typically referred to as high and low involvement, and that these can vary from a baseline dependent upon the situation. Zaichkowsky’s treatment of involvement (1986) implicitly discussed the potential of utilising involvement as a form of segmentation based on the high-low continuum. Intuitively, this makes sense. If patterns are identifiable and certain patterns are associated with different levels of engagement and if the level of involvement has implications for the interpretation of stimuli, it is fundamentally no different to gamers interpreting an advertisement distinctly to surfers. As noted, to an extent the relationship with motivation allows the inference that there are implications, as does the suggestion that goods and services, within product involvement, are distinguishable. Similarly, Zaichkowsky noted that consumers with different involvement levels interpret messages in different fashions (1986). Thus, another implication of involvement becomes apparent. This analysis can be taken further.
The enduring involvement of a particular consumer, with respect to a product, can be considered broadly equivalent to their relevant product involvement. However, if a situation arose, or was engendered, that altered their situational involvement, an individual’s involvement, at a given time, would be higher (Kim and Sung, 2009). For an organisation, customer contact can be considered an opportunity to engender a situation. Yet, consumers will also have involvement with the means of contact: hence, message involvement. This implies that an organisation can increase the involvement of a consumer with their product through manipulation of the message (Zaichkowsky, 1986). That this is a possibility follows naturally from the definition of involvement. Similarly, in the context of services, it is possible that communication with consumers is an aspect of the consumption of the service and thus altering the situational involvement leads to changes in enduring involvement (Slater and Armstrong, 2010). However, Slater and Armstrong cautioned that the nature of the specific service investigated, a world-famous art gallery, may have had further product characteristics which enabled this for many consumers (2010). The influence of involvement in consumer interpretation, the noted relationship between involvement and motivation, and the ability of organisations to manipulate both situational and, in some circumstances, enduring involvement are critical aspects of how involvement can be leveraged by firms. It is immediately apparent that an organisation that understands the predominant consumer involvement patterns relevant to their offerings has an improved ability to attract custom. However, cognitive and affective involvement are of particular relevance to consumer product and brand differentiation (Kim and Sung, 2009).
In cognitive involvement, the connections consumers form with products or brands are essentially rational (Kim and Sung, 2009). That is, they can be contrasted with the “emotional stakes evoked by an object” (Kim and Sung, 2009, p. 507). This classification of involvement functions like the previously discussed temporal and object class divisions in that high and low involvement states exist. Thus, it is possible to have purchase decision situations in which the consumer is highly involved but the involvement pattern is predominantly affective (Kim and Sung, 2009). A purchase decision situation refers to a moment of choice (Kim and Sung, 2009) and, as noted, the contemporary consumer generally faces a number of choices between brands. Yet, not all consumers are equally involved in brands (Kim and Sung, 2009), and there is evidence that in a low involvement situation, consumers do not assess the brand in communications (Laczniak et al, 1989). This naturally implies that some consumers, when they make choices, must favour product rather than brand features in their evaluations, whereas for others the reverse is true (Kim and Sung, 2009). To the firm, then, understanding whether the involvement patterns suggest predominance of product or brand characteristics in evaluation, and whether the connections are emotional or rational allows an accurate picture of the market to be built (Kim and Sung, 2009). Hence, strategy to preserve existing custom and gain more could be developed in a fashion aligned likely to influence behaviour (Kim and Sung, 2009).
This analysis has raised several points. Firstly, that involvement is essentially situational engagement with an object. Secondly, that involvement and motivation are so closely related that leveraging involvement is likely to affect consumer behaviours. Thirdly, that involvement can be leveraged and that leveraging involvement needs to account for the types of product and connections formed. Finally, it has been a running theme that understanding and leveraging involvement requires considering involvement patterns: that is, how involvement is generally manifested within the population. As a clear illustration, consider the beer industry. In New Zealand there are several firms and the product’s involvement pattern suggests predominance of low level affective engagement (Kim and Sung, 2009). Consequentially, one would expect messages intended to increase involvement, but also ones that emphasise the affective qualities of the brands. Simply recalling Tui billboards, Heineken soccer ads or Export Gold ‘thirst brigade’ campaigns demonstrates alignment of strategy in a crowded marketplace with the knowledge suggested by the involvement-motivation relation.
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