Consumers' confidence in competitive positions of products : antecedents and effect on purchase intention

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A product’s competitive position signals to the consumer the product’s salient value amongst its competitors. It is one of the cornerstones of marketing success, yet there has been little focus in the literature on the consumer side of the positioning equation – the consumers’ perception of the product’s position. This thesis concentrates on the latter by examining the antecedents and effects of consumers’ confidence in their positioning perception. With support from other areas of marketing, it is proposed that better insight into consumer behaviour can be gained by measuring positioning confidence, compared to the common measurement practice of using perceptual mapping in isolation. The relevance of positioning confidence is enhanced by the wavering consumer reliance on information derived from outside the company, thus inherently increasing the risk of fuzzy or mismatched positioning signals that the consumer needs to untangle. Furthermore, research suggests weak consumer perceptions of product differentiation in many categories, which isn’t surprising given how crowded many categories have become. This thesis primarily proposes that consumers’ confidence in their perception of the product’s position acts as a moderator between the well-established relationship of perceived differentiation and purchase intention in cases where there is a poorer match between the consumers’ perception of the product and their purchase goal. A weaker match between what the consumer believes the product stands for and what the consumer ultimately seeks from the product presents a riskier purchasing decision. Thus, it is here where metacognition, in the form of confidence, is more likely to play a role. This thesis also offers antecedents of positioning confidence, with the first being the alignment between the initial and post (information search) perceived positions. This antecedent refers to the cognitive uniformity between the passively-held positioning perception with which the consumer may enter the information search phase and the more active positioning judgment the consumer makes after consulting various information sources. Secondly, it suggests that perceived clarity acts as a positive moderator between perceived consistency and confidence. Perceived clarity and consistency of positioning messages takes into account how consumers currently conduct their information search, encompassing both the organisation’s positioning signals (actual position) and that from consumers and opinion leaders (external position). Perceived clarity relates to how obviously the product’s position is portrayed, whereas perceived consistency relates to the level of similarity in the positioning depiction between the two information source types. Lastly, the thesis hypothesises how various combinations of the actual and external position impacts perceived clarity and consistency. The methodology comprises two studies with a total of 574 Australian consumers obtained via a commissioned panel. The research design is in the form of experiments, with thorough pre-testing determining the product categories and focal brands chosen. The findings show strong statistical support for the proposed role of confidence on the relationship between perceived differentiation and purchase as a function of consumers’ purchase goal match, across both studies. There was moderate support shown for the suggested antecedents of positioning confidence, and convincing overall support for the joint impact of the interaction between the actual and external position on perceived clarity and consistency. There are several implications that have emerged from this dissertation. Firstly, it further develops the theory of positioning perception by introducing a moderator to the well-established relationship between differentiation and purchase and, thus, offering an additional measure of positioning implementation success. It also presents further theoretical support for the role of metacognition when a decision is categorised by higher risk. From a management perspective, this thesis offers brand managers direction on how to increase the confidence of consumers’ perception of their product’s position, which can increase the likelihood of purchase from consumers who are typically hard to attain (those who identify a weaker match between what the product offers and what they want). Lastly, the limitations associated with the studies are outlined and future research avenues are suggested.
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