Predicting Consumers Behavioral Intentions — The Theory of Planned Behavior

Predicting Consumers Behavioral Intentions -- The Theory of Planned Behavior

Predicting Consumers Behavioral Intentions- The Theory of Planned Behavior

Every consumer has an individualized mindset and decision-making process; however, each consumer experiences similar stages of the thought process as they make their purchasing decisions. As marketers, we strive to understand consumers’ decision-making processes to drive them to purchase our products. One of the many tactics marketers use to understand this process is the Theory of Planned Behavior.

Theory of Planned Behavior


We all have thousands of attitudes, which are our relatively enduring evaluations of things and people. We hold attitudes towards family members, friends, acquaintances, politics, music preferences, and much more. And while some attitudes are inherited from our parents, other attitudes are learned through experiences, direct and indirect. Attitudes are predispositions to act or evaluate and object or product positively or negatively. These attitudes that we form about products affect whether or not we are likely to purchase that product.

There are three components of attitudes; affect, behavior, and cognition.

  • Affect: A consumer’s feelings and emotions that support expression of how they feel about an object.
  • Behavior: What the consumer intends to do regarding the object.
  • Cognition: The consumer’s thoughts and beliefs about an object.

These three components make up and contribute to our attitudes, which ultimately lead to an action. Consumers first think about the product or service (cognition), evaluate their feelings about it (affect), and then take action (behavior). Consumers form attitudes toward a specific behavior and are inclined or predisposed to act on those attitudes because our attitudes significantly predict behavior under certain conditions. However, the correlation between the consumer’s stated attitude and their actual behavior is not always perfect. In other words, consumers do not act on every positive attitude they have towards behaviors.


The Theory of Planned Behavior

While it may seem as though our attitudes are the only factor that influences our decisions to act, this is certainly not the case. The Theory of planned behavior places attitudes within the broader context of the various factors that influence behavior. In the Theory of planned behavior, values, beliefs, and other fundamental values contribute to the decision-making process and whether or not a consumer will decide to participate in the behavior. In other words, the Theory of planned behavior helps marketers to more strongly predict what intentions will lead consumers to take action (behavior).


Similar to Attitudes, the Theory of planned behavior has three factors that are used to predict consumers’ intentions; Behavioral attitude, subjective norms, and perceived behavioral control.

Behavioral Attitude

I’m sure by now, you already know that behavior is defined as the overt action that is performed by an individual.

The first determinant in the Theory of Planned Behavior is a consumer’s attitude towards the behavior or, in other words, a consumer’s evaluation, favorability, or unfavourability of acting on the behavior in question. Attitudes towards a behavior are typically assessed by measuring a consumer’s beliefs because it is believed that an attitude towards a behavior leads to a specific outcome. This allows marketers to predict what is likely to happen, which gives us some control to organize and structure an experience for the consumers. The stronger the attitude, the better chance of behavior or action. For example, if we know that an individual is a republican, we can predict that they will vote for Trump in the upcoming election.


Subjective Norms

Subjective norms are the second factor in the Theory of planned behavior and refer to the consumer’s belief about whether most people approve or disapprove of the behavior. Do a consumer’s peers think the consumer should engage in the behavior? This is mostly based on the consumer’s perception of what the people who are closest to him/her would think about him/her performing or not performing the behavior. Subjective norms are determined by perceived social pressure from others for a consumer to act in a manner that motivates them to comply with those people’s views. People seek the support of those we value, so receiving the support from those we value, or lack thereof, influences our behaviors.  For example, a consumer might rethink purchasing a new Honda Civic if they think their friends would disapprove of it, and they might consider purchasing a Mercedes Benz if they believe their friends would approve of it.


Perceived Behavioral Control

Perceived behavioral control is the third and final factor in the Theory of planned behavior. Perceived behavioral control refers to the perceived presence of factors that may enable or hinder the performance of a behavior due to the consumer’s perception of how difficult or easy the performance of behavior will be. It is the extent to which a consumer believes they can actually perform the behavior, and it varies across situations and actions. Perceived behavioral control can either influence intentions or can potentially influence behavior directly. Perceived behavioral control is also influenced by beliefs predicated from past experiences relating to the behavior or from witnessing others’ experiences relating to the behavior. For example, if a consumer believes that they will not be able to afford the new Mercedes Benz, even if they can, they will not purchase the new Mercedes Benz.

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In conclusion, the Theory of planned behavior is a theory used by marketers to predict and understand consumers’ behaviors. It argues that behaviors are determined solely on behavioral intentions that are determined by behavioral attitude, subjective norms, and perceived behavioral control. Together, these three factors predict a consumer’s intention to perform a specific behavior, which predicts a consumer’s actual behavior. Further, the Theory of planned behavior helps marketers predict the particular intentions that will turn into actions and how much control a consumer has over the specific intentions that turn into actions. The decision-making process that leads consumers to make a purchase is more than merely deciding yes, I will make this purchase, or no, I will not make this purchase. It is more in-depth than that and requires a consumer to evaluate their attitude toward the behavior, seek support from the people they value, and believe they can actually perform the behavior.

Melina Miller

Melina Miller

Marketer Specializing in Digital Marketing, Marketing Analytics, Content Marketing & Personal Branding

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