Consumer preferences for apparel and textile products
Project # A97-11 Page 2 Consumer Preferences for Apparel and Textile Products as a Function of Lifestyle Imagery Project # A97-11Investigators: Michael R. Solomon, Auburn University Basil G. Englis, Berry CollegeProject Goal: Assess the impact of lifestyle-related consumption imagery on consumers’preferences for textile/apparel products by: Comparing and contrasting consumers perceptions of aspirational lifestyles withthe actual market behavior of those who currently occupy these lifestyle profiles Developing predictive models that relate consumers’ aspirations to their currentand future behavior in the marketplace; and Creating a visual on-line database containing actual and perceived consumptionimages associated with these lifestyle profiles.Abstract: The continued viability of the American textile industry hinges on the ability ofmanufacturers, advertisers, and retailers to predict, develop, and communicate styles ofapparel and other textile products that resonate with the desires of the consuming public.We are constructing an on-line visual database to allow us to explore the role played by theperceived "fit" between a product and a valued lifestyle in shaping the wants and needs ofcustomers for textile and apparel products. Our conceptual framework emphasizes the roleof consumer aspirations in shaping behavior, as well as the crucial role played by the mediain determining the lifestyle connotations of specific products. And, while most research onapparel choices tends to be confined to a specific product category, we instead emphasizehow textile and apparel products are evaluated in the context of other products with whichthey are jointly consumed to make a lifestyle statement. Selection of respondents andanalysis of results will be facilitated by the cooperation we have secured from the StanfordResearch Institute to integrate its’ widely-used VALS (Values and Lifestyles) consumertypology with our program of research.
Project # A97-11 Page 3Textiles and Lifestyles Our concentration on the integrated meaning of an assortment of symbolicallyinterdependent products represents a new path of inquiry in the academic literature, andhas valuable strategic ramifications as well. Our primary focus is on women who arecurrently in their twenties, as many consumers in this economically vital age cohort have ahigh interest in fashion, are forming preferences that will endure throughout adulthood,and tend to have a fluid self-concept that is heavily influenced by aspirational lifestyleappeals in apparel advertising. To tap into the emerging aspirations of this segment we willobtain ongoing input from a set of opinion leaders, i.e., female consumers in their twentieswho follow fashion trends, and who are highly active in social organizations and othernetworks where they have an opportunity to influence the tastes of friends andacquaintances. A long-standing body of research indicates that the preferences of theseinfluential, "fashion-forward" consumers tend to be predictive of mass market choices atlater points in time.Research Strategy and Current Status The research program builds upon the PIs’ prior work in the study of consumersproduct preferences, and in how consumers preferences are influenced by their desires toattain aspirational lifestyles and to distance themselves from avoidance lifestyles. The keyquestion addressed by this program is to learn how consumers integrate information frommass-media (including advertising, entertainment, and editorial vehicles) depictions ofthese lifestyles as they form their own preferences for products and styles. Participants in our opinion leader panels will provide input on an ongoing basis byreacting to visual images culled from a variety of media, by supplying their own desiredand undesired images, and by responding to research instruments intended to assess theirperceptions of a range of products or styles from several textile categories that theyassociate with lifestyle ideals. Many of the product categories examined by consumer goods marketers tend to bedriven to a greater extent by well-known brand names (e.g., Budweiser versus Heineken),while in the apparel or textile category stylistic elements play a very important role. Thisimage-driven process points to the need to develop a visually-oriented methodology toexamine consumers preferences -- a dimension that is not widely incorporated in mostlifestyle research. A visual emphasis adds greatly to the richness of the data, but alsopresents a challenge as the coding and interpretation of non-lexical information is far morecomplex. This work combines qualitative and quantitative approaches to identify andinterpret sets of relevant product images. Empirical techniques include the use of depthinterviews with consumers, an open-ended elicitation task where respondents provideproduct associations with a set of lifestyles, projective measures based on responses tovisual depictions of lifestyle imagery in apparel and textile advertising, and eventually aweb-based survey instrument to assess and monitor evolving lifestyle associations in anationally representative sample.
Project # A97-11 Page 4 At the core of our methodological approach is the use of visual imagery (developedthrough our qualitative work with opinion leaders) as stimuli used to elicit cross-categoryproduct associations. This is used to identify the sets (or constellations) of products,activities, and media preferences that consumers themselves associate with desiredlifestyles. Quantitative indexes reflecting structure and evaluative content of theseconstellations and their elements will be used to model the future behavior of theseconsumers. Results from these sources will be combined with data reflecting consumers’actual purchase behaviors to analyze the relationship between aspirations and futuremarket behavior. We have secured the cooperation of the Stanford Research Institute to accessVALS2, the widely-used consumer typology, and our project will be able to leverage thiswell-established and validated national source to specifically study the current issues ofinterest. One of the PIs (Englis) has already participated in an intensive training session atSRI headquarters in Palo Alto, and VALS data are now being made available to us thatwill enable us to identify a priori a set of respondents that belong to the desired VALS typecategories.Fashion Opinion Leadership and VALS To date little research has been conducted on how lifestyle aspirations impact on theconsumption behavior of opinion leaders, or on the mass market consumers who eventuallyfollow their lead. To enable us to reliably model these effects, we have been granted accessto the VALS2 database, developed by SRI International. The VALS2 framework is apsychographic segmentation system that divides the American public into eight generalcategories (and numerous subcategories) that are differentiated in terms of resourcesavailable (e.g., income, education, energy levels, eagerness to buy) and self-orientation(principle-oriented, status-oriented, and action-oriented). Consumers with a Principleorientation make purchase decisions guided by a belief system, and tend not to beconcerned with the views of others. Those with a Status orientation make decisions basedon their perceived opinions of peers. Action-oriented consumers buy products to have animpact on the world around them. We will identify and involve samples of American women who have been “VALS-typed” into certain categories. In addition, the VALS2 database is now linked to theSimmons Study of Media & Markets, a major syndicated database that provides detailedconsumption information obtained from a panel of over 20,000 consumers. Priorclassification work conducted by SRI indicates that product innovations tend to be adoptedfirst by certain VALS types. SRI’s work in this area has, however, tended to emphasizeinnovativeness in the adoption of technology rather than of style. Yet, this previous workalso identifies VALS profiles associated with fashion innovativeness and the potential forapplication to aesthetic product categories is promising. Fashion-forward opinion leaderstend to be found in the high-resources region of the VALS typology and cluster primarilyin the status-and action-oriented segments. During the first year of this project, we are developing and testing a methodologyfor eliciting visual images of styles desired by opinion leaders, and for examining theircross-category product associations with a set of lifestyles to be identified as either
Project # A97-11 Page 5aspirational or avoidance. Work is currently underway to develop a software tool that willbe used in the consumer survey. This tool is a browser-based software interface with anextensive database layer, which handles storage and retrieval of visual images. Bothcomponents can be delivered to consumers in web and CD-ROM formats. During the firstyear of the project, this data collection tool will be refined through an interactive process ofpilot-testing with consumers. Once this exploratory procedure is developed, in a later stageof the project we will validate and generalize these procedures using an ongoing,representative national sample (approx. 2500) of Generation X consumers sampledrandomly and screened into appropriate categories using the VALS methodology.Consumer Lifestyles and Value-Added Marketing The mass media and commercial environments to which consumers are exposed arebursting with consumption imagery, and the depiction of products in such settings as storewindows, print advertisements, and even television sitcoms, exerts a major influence on themeanings these items carry -- as well as on the likelihood that they will be desired oravoided by purchasers. In particular, products acquire much of their symbolic meaning byvirtue of the lifestyles with which they are associated. Expressive products, ranging fromclothing and cosmetics to furniture and cars, typically are consumed as much for theirintangible value as vehicles of taste or status as for their functional value. This process is particularly robust for apparel and textiles products, which areconsumed largely for what they mean rather than for what they do. Two pairs of pantsoffered for sale side-by-side in a store may both provide adequate protection from theelements, but most likely one will be preferred because it is linked to a "look" desired bythe shopper. Similarly, the array of couches on display in a furniture store all provide areasonably comfortable place to sit, but it is unlikely that the average shopper wouldconsider these different styles to be interchangeable. Because of this vital stylistic component, the market fortunes of a textile productlargely depends on the ability of manufacturers and others in the apparel/textile pipeline toprovide value-added by designing finished items that successfully compete in the"marketplace of taste." The fate of an expressive product ultimately is determined at thetime of purchase by shoppers who "vote with their dollars" for an item that does the bestjob of conveying a desired meaning (whether elegant, stylish, avant garde, practical, etc.).Targeting (Assumed) Lifestyles Because so many intangible dimensions affect consumers evaluations of competingproducts, it is imperative for design-oriented businesses to understand the factors thataffect consumer demand and preferences. In addition, though, numerous other entitiesalso cast important "votes" that help to determine market success or failure. Theseinclude "tastemakers" in the apparel/textile pipeline, such as magazine editors and retailbuyers, who play a pivotal role in determining how a product will be depicted to consumers-- or if it will ever be included in their decision set at all. Little is known about the evaluation criteria used by these members of the pipeline,nor of the factors that influence the initial design and manufacturing decisions of the
Project # A97-11 Page 6businesses themselves. This unexplored area is particularly important because the productmeanings held by end consumers and the images of what businesses assume are held bythem often differ dramatically. These agents in the apparel/textiles pipeline may well bebasing their design and marketing designs on an illusion (or stereotype) of what "realpeople" actually like and wish to buy (cf. Solomon and Greenberg 1993; Englis andSolomon 1995).The Consumption Constellation These (idealized) consumption activities and products are often depicted inmeaningful groupings, rather than in isolation. For example, a typical advertisement for abarbecue grill might depict a "familiar" backyard scene, complete with sizzling steaks, cornon the cob, an ice-filled cooler with chilled long-neck bottles, and a volleyball net.Similarly, Ralph Laurens advertising and merchandising strategy uses groups of products,decor, and so on, to contextualize his products in an idealized image of patrician, moneyed,Americana. In each case, the meaning of the focal product is conveyed in part through thecontext in which it is shown - a context created by presenting the focal product in what themarketer hopes is an appropriate lifestyle setting. A basic assumption of our perspective is that the way consumers think about aproduct is influenced by the other products they assume will go with it. Thesecross-category associations are used to assign products to categories, along with otherrelated objects and activities (e.g., Cantor and Mischel 1979; Rosch 1978; Solomon 1988).For example, a "game day" category might include a football, food items associated withtailgating parties, portable seat cushions, apparel emblazoned with a team logo, and so on. Market researchers typically focus on within-category product associations (Wardand Loken 1986; Sujan and Bettman 1989), such as analyzing buyers comparisons of threetypes of cameras, grades of produce, etc. In contrast, the present approach emphasizesbetween-category product category associations. The consumption constellation constructhas been developed by the PIs in a research program spanning almost a decade to capturehow these product associations are formed and perpetuated by the media (see, e.g., Englisand Solomon 1996; Englis, Solomon, and Olofsson 1993a,b, 1995; Solomon 1988; Solomonand Assael 1987; Solomon and Buchanan 1991; Solomon and Englis 1994). A consumptionconstellation is defined as a "cluster of complementary products, specific brands, and/orconsumption activities used to construct, signify, and/or perform a social role." Toillustrate, one study that sought to identify the contents of consumption constellationsfocused on the sets of products associated with distinct occupations. This study found, forexample, that public defenders are thought to wear Levis corduroys L. L. Bean shirts, andCalvin Klein glasses, to drive Volkswagen Rabbits, to drink Molson beer, and to readEsquire (a very different picture emerged for attorneys in private practice!). By choosing distinctive product groupings that are laden with symbolic meaning,consumers can communicate their affiliation with a positively valued, or aspirational,cultural category (a reference group, an idealized lifestyle, etc.). They may at the same timeeschew other product clusters that are associated with negatively valued, or avoidance,groups. For example, a law student who shares the ideals of a public defender mightexpress his/her affiliation with this job by purchasing Levis cords, L.L. Bean shirts,
Project # A97-11 Page 7driving a Volkswagen, and so on, while studiously avoiding products associated with theprivate attorney. In order to generate effective marketing communications it is importantto identify the mix of products that exist in the aspirational- versus avoidance-groupconsumption constellations for a particular target market. Several studies conductedby the PIs have focused on the contextual cues that might impact the symbolic meaning ofadvertised products (cf. Englis, Solomon and Ashmore 1994; Solomon, Ashmore and Longo1992; Solomon and Greenberg 1993). A recent study anchored perceived constellations to the widely used PRIZM lifestyleclustering system, which is a geodemographic database that places consumers in clusters asa function of such variables as their place of residence and their patterns of product usage(Englis and Solomon 1995). First, profiles of the PRIZM lifestyle clusters were scaled inorder to identify aspirational and avoidance categories. In a second study, respondentsgenerated lists of products that they felt were consumed by the people described in theselifestyle groups. The aspirational group was perceived as most likely to drive 5-seriesBMWs, Mercedes, Porsches, or Acuras; as likely readers of Vogue, Business Week, andFortune; and as drinkers of Heineken and Becks beer, Scotch, and champagne. In sharpcontrast, members of the avoidance lifestyle were seen as likely drivers of pick-up trucks,Chevys, or Fords; readers of People, TV Guide, Wrestling, and the National Enquirer; anddrinkers of Budweiser and Miller beers and Jack Daniels bourbon. It is important to notethat "one mans meat is another mans poison;" the products stereotypically associatedwith an avoidance group for one segment may in fact constitute an aspirational group foranother. And, it is quite likely that aspirational products for, say, a rural consumersegment may in fact be avoidance products for cultural gatekeepers who belong to anurban segment geographically removed from the customer base.Marketing Implications for the Apparel/Textile Pipeline We believe that the consumption constellation concept may provide a useful rubricfor understanding how depictions of apparel/textile products are organized by bothconsumers and producers. Consumption constellations may provide a valuable tool foranalyzing and understanding product meaning and brand identity. Definition of a brandsidentity should go beyond simple mapping of a target product vis-a-vis competitors, andinstead should be framed in terms of a relevant consumption constellation and its meaningto consumers. The relevant consumption constellation can be identified as one which is associatedwith an aspirational reference group for consumers within a particular market segment.Avoidance groups may be equally important in that they may represent social identitiesthat consumers wish to distance themselves from. Therefore, a product can be thought of aspositioned within an aspirational groups consumption constellation and against anavoidance groups consumption constellation. By emphasizing how consumers’ aspirations are expressed visually as they evaluateand select products, we hope to forge a set of tools that will help the industry to betterunderstand the specific lifestyle images sought by its customers. The tracking procedure weaim to develop will allow us to provide the industry with continuing information about theevolving stylistic and lifestyle preferences of a key consumer segment. This will add an
Project # A97-11 Page 8important layer of empirically-grounded information for the development of strategicpositioning strategies by apparel manufacturers and retailers. Furthermore, we arehopeful that the model which will emerge from this work will facilitate efforts by Americanfirms to penetrate global markets, where the issues of appropriate and timely productdesign and lifestyle positioning are even more pronounced. ReferencesCantor, Nancy and Walter Mischel (1979), "Prototypes in Person Perception," in ed. LeonardBerkowitz, Advances ln Experimental Social Psychology, Vol. 12, New York: Academic Press,4-52.Englis, Basil G. and Michael R. Solomon (1996), "Where Perception Meets Reality: The SocialConstruction of Lifestyles," in eds. Lynn Kahle and Larry Chiagurus, Values, Lifestyles, andPsychographics, Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc., in press.Englis, Basil G. and Michael R. Solomon (1995), "To Be and Not to Be?: Lifestyle Imagery,Reference Groups, and The Clustering of America," Journal of Advertising, 24 (Spring), 13-28.Englis, Basil G., Michael R. Solomon, and Richard D. Ashmore (1994), "Beauty Before the Eyesof Beholders: The Cultural Encoding of Beauty Types in Magazine Advertising and MusicTelevision," Journal of Advertising, 23 (June), 49-64.Englis, Basil G., Michael R. Solomon, and Anna Olofsson (1993a), "Consumption Imagery inMusic Television: A Bi-Cultural Perspective," Journal of Advertising, 22 (December), 21-34.Englis, Basil G., Michael R. Solomon and Anna Olofsson (1993b), "Music Television as TeenImage Agent: A Preliminary Report from the United States and Sweden," European Advancesin Consumer Research, 1, 449-451.Rosch, Eleanor (1978), "Principles of Categorization," in Cognition and Categorization, eds. E.Rosch and B.B. Lloyd, Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Solomon, Michael R. (1988), "Mapping Product Constellations: A Social CategorizationApproach to Symbolic Consumption," Psychology & Marketing, 5 (3), 233-258.Solomon, Michael R. and Henry Assael (1987), "The Forest or the Trees?: A Gestalt Approachto Symbolic Consumption," in ed. Jean Umiker-Sebeok, Marketing and Semiotics: NewDirections in the Study of Signs for Sale, Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 189-218.Solomon, Michael R. and Bruce Buchanan (1991), "A Role-Theoretic Approach to ProductSymbolism: Mapping a Consumption Constellation," Journal of Business Research, 22 (March),95-110.
Project # A97-11 Page 9Solomon, Michael R. and Basil G. Englis (1994b), "The Big Picture: Product Complementarityand Integrated Communications," Journal of Advertising Research, 34 (January/February),57-63.Solomon, Michael R. and Lawrence Greenberg (1993), Setting the Stage: Collective Selection inthe Stylistic Context of Commercials, Journal of Advertising, 22 (March), 11-24.Solomon, Michael R., Richard D. Ashmore, and Laura C. Longo (1992), "The Beauty Match-UpHypothesis: Convergence Types of Beauty and Product Images in Advertising," Journal ofAdvertising, 21 (December), 23-34.Sujan, Mita and James R. Bettman (1989), "The Effects of Brand Positioning Strategies onConsumers Brand and Category Perceptions: Some Insights from Schema Research," Journal ofMarketing Research, 26 (November), 454-467.Ward, James and Barbara Loken (1986), "The Quintessential Snack Food: Measurement ofProduct Prototypes," in Advances ln Consumer Research, Vol. 13, ed. Richard J. Lutz, Provo,UT: Association for Consumer Research, 126-131.