Hierarchy of effects: Meaning, Steps, and Criticism


Meaning of Hierarchy of Effects

Hierarchy of effects model is a marketing model which defines how consumer’s buying decisions are influenced by advertising in the market. The model simply demonstrates the progression of learning and decision-making a customer goes through due to the advertising effect. Hierarchy of effects theory shows the transitions in customer’s behavior from being unaware about product or brand to understanding and liking it, and ultimately taking action for purchase. It is dependent upon behavioral psychology and used as a sophisticated advertising strategy for building up brand awareness. This model of marketing communication was developed by Robert J Lavidge and Gary A Steiner in 1961.

This model is called as a hierarchy because of the ladder system it has which begins at bottom with awareness and builds towards becoming loyal customer at top. Hierarchy of effects theory is an advanced strategy for advertising which approaches the sales of product via properly designed and persuasive advertising messages. These messages aim at create wide brand awareness over the time and guide customers in their process of decision-making. Hierarchy of effects model has multiple versions which are found in textbooks but the most basic one involves 3 steps: cognitive, affective and behavioral stage. 

Stages in Hierarchy of Effects Model

There are six steps involved in hierarchy of effects model which are listed below: – 

  1. Awareness: Awareness is the most important step which is beginning point of customer’s purchase process. It is very challenging step on part the of brand to ensure that customers are aware of its presence in specific segment of products. There is no guarantee that a customer gets aware of your existence in market after getting your advertising messages. 

For ex- If Tom is willing to buy hair trimmer from market. Now it is task of Philips marketing manager to carry out advertising activities in good manner so that tom gets aware of Philips brand which is offering wide range of trimmers in market. 

  1. Knowledge: Knowledge step is where the brand’s product is tested and compared with other brands available in market by customer. Presence of detailed and right information regarding your product will enable customers in doing a better comparison. Brand must circulate enough information via their distinct sources such as internet, product package and retail stores.

For ex- Now when Tom is aware of Philips brand in market, he will now try to find out what all advantages and distinct features the brand is offering over other competitors in market like Mi, Nova and Syska.

  1. Liking: Liking refer to a point where customer gets attached or begin to like your product. The purchase process here changes from cognitive to affective behaviour. Customer develop positive perspectives on brand and start considering product for emotional benefits offered by it. 

For ex- Tom has examined the merits as well as demerits of Philips brand but does not like its design, colors or think that it is not suitable for precise cutting. It is the duty of marketing manager of Philips to properly include all such features in brand’s marketing communication program which leave emotional impact on customers. 

  1. Preference: Preference is a step where customers are convinced with your product quality and features. But at the same time, they may also appreciate the feature of other brands and begin liking them. It is here where brand need to necessarily focus on their differentiations and unique features such that customers give more preference to your products. 

For ex- Tom is thinking to buy the Philips trimmer. But is he considering to buy it once only for trial purpose or he is thinking to buy Philips trimmer again in future?  

  1. Conviction: It is where the positive feelings of customer for a brand need to be converted into action of buying. Conviction is a decision-making stage where doubts in consumer minds to be removed by brand. This can be achieved by distributing free samples and providing test drive to customers. Whether a customer will remain stay with your brand or he/she will switch on to other brands in market is also decided here in this step. 

For ex- Tom uses the Philips trimmer for free during the trial period and then return it. At the time of making purchases, he goes for Mi brand. Such things should not be repeated and trials should build loyalty via incorporating unique features in your brand. 

  1. Purchase: Purchase is the last and key step in consumer buying cycle. It is end point of hierarchy which clients follows for making their purchase decisions. Consumer must enjoy while making purchase decisions by availing easy process set up by brand. Brands in order to encourage purchases must keep simple and multiple options of payments, easy availability of product, proper usage instructions, guarantee and many other exciting offers. 

For ex- Tom has finally decided to purchase the Philips trimmer after using it for a month during trial period. The brand must now ensure that tom knows from where to buy product, how to do payments and even the brand can offer some complimentary gift free of cost in order to delight him. 

Hierarchy of effects Consumer Behavior Stages

The above mentioned 6 stages were further grouped into 3 main stages of consumer which were given by Lavidge and Steiner. They are: – 

  1. Cognitive: Cognitive stage is also termed as thinking stage where customer acquires enough information about product to make themselves fully aware of it. It is a rational stage in buying process where all specifications, merits and demerits related to product are examined. 
  2. Affective: Affective stage is characterized as feeling stage where customer starts liking a product. They develop some sort of feelings towards product which may be either positive or negative. 
  3. Conative: Conative is a last stage in buying process which is also called as behaviour stage. It is where customer actually purchases the product after doing a right comparison and weighting its pros and cons. 

Criticism against Hierarchy of Effects

Hierarchy of effects model is focused on response of behavior as it is studied under behaviour psychology. The cognitive psychology, one who studies the brain’s information processing have criticized this model for its effectiveness. It is under criticism because of the questioning of persuasive power of advertising on consumer buying decisions. In real, advertising do not have such power to persuade consumer to adopt a particular brand due to which it was fonnulated as “advertising weak theory’’.

The impact of advertising on purchasing behaviour of customer is broken down into series of stages by hierarchy of effects. The scholars belonging to cognitive psychology have argued that consumers are exposed to a large range of information in real world which influence their final buying decision. Getting an idea about how the advertising message gets processed at every stage in consumer mind becomes almost impossible due to extensive background noise.

Another criticism given to this theory is that the same number of stages are assumed for all sorts of advertising. This way the differentiation in between advertising approaches and product types is completely ignored. In place of same stages, the advertiser should come up with unique selling ideas that can differentiate their products from offerings of competitors. Customers will be easily able to recognize your unique features which enable them in knowing your competitive advantage over other players in market.