Sometimes we feel the need to be able to justify some of our consumption decisions. Some decisions we want to be able to justify to ourselves. The justifications are not necessarily the real (deep) reasons for the choice. But these justifications give rationale for the choice and sound good. Typically people buy cars they want, and justify the choice afterwards with environment friendly, economic, re-sale value etc. argument.
Justification affects consumer’s choices
Most consumer decisions do not require any justification, however. However, it is interesting, that if people expect that they are required to justify their choices to others (or themselves) afterwards, their choices change (Ashton (1992)[i], Ashton (1990)[ii], Simonson (1989)[iii].) According to Okada (2005)[iv] people want to have fun, and they are more likely to have fun if the situation allows them to justify it. People choose the hedonistic option over the utilitarian option if both choices are represented separately. If, however, both options are represented at the same time, people choose the utilitarian option. According to this theory if you were to choose weather you sell cookies or salad, maybe you should go for cookies. If you sell both, salad will dominate. Hedonistic choice is hard to justify.
The decisions that require justification
It is not surprising, that the more important decisions, the more they require justifications (Willman-Iivarinen)[v]. For example 45% of Finnish people wanted to be able to justify their voting decision in European Parliament election, but only 5% felt the need to justify their everyday media choices. [vi] Simonson & Nowlis (2000)[vii] and Shafir et al. (1993)[viii] propose that when justifying the choices, the motive is more important than what alternative is chosen. “It is more important to be able to explain why than which”.
If the choice involves other people, justification is an important goal. If other people are aware of the choice, or if the choice has some effects for them the more important it is to be able to justify the choices (Willman-Iivarinen)[ix]. But it is even more important to be able to justify the choice, if consumer faces some psychological costs. That is, if the choice was between unsatisfactory options.
How is this related to marketing
Many marketers know that, in order to sell efficiently they need to combine emotional and rational elements in marketing. The emotional elements are used to persuade consumer, and make him/her understand that they want the advertised product. The rational element will provide a reason or justification for the choice. When engineers plan marketing they only provide data and describe features. Artistic marketers are only concentrating on the will and emotions. However, it would be wise to combine these at least when the choice is potentially important, may involve other people or is visible for others. Sometimes, it is not enough that consumers want a product; they also need a reason to buy it. This reason does not have to be rational, only rational enough. If consumer already wants to get the product, she/he will accept even pretty thin justifications.
[i] Ashton, Robert H. "Effects of justification and a mechanical aid on judgment performance." Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 52.2 (1992): 292-306.
[ii] Ashton, Robert H. (1990): "Pressure and performance in accounting decision settings: Paradoxical effects of incentives, feedback, and justification." Journal of Accounting Research 28 (1990): 148-180.
[iii] Simonson, Itamar. "Choice based on reasons: The case of attraction and compromise effects." Journal of consumer research (1989): 158-174.
[iv] Okada, Erica Mina. "Justification effects on consumer choice of hedonic and utilitarian goods." Journal of Marketing Research (2005): 43-53.
[v] Willman-Iivarinen, Hanna (forthcoming): Consumer’s media choice, Dissertation, Tampere University.
[vi] Willman-Iivarinen, Hanna (2014): Voter’s decision making in European Parliament election and forthcoming Consumer’s media choices.
[vii] Simonson, Itamar, and Stephen M. Nowlis. "The role of explanations and need for uniqueness in consumer decision making: Unconventional choices based on reasons." Journal of Consumer Research 27.1 (2000): 49-68.
[viii] Shafir, Eldar, Itamar Simonson, and Amos Tversky. "Reason-based choice." Cognition 49.1 (1993): 11-36.
[ix] Willman-Iivarinen, Hanna (forthcoming): Consumer’s media choice, Dissertation, Tampere University.