Consumer behaviour


Consumer behaviour and marketing activity

Bennett (1989) indicated that consumer behaviour is a dynamic interaction process, which individuals and groups select, purchase, use or dispose products or services for satisfy their needs and desires. Consumer behaviour is a subject, which is all about consumer, but more than consumer.

Since it is interaction, the corresponding side of consumer behaviour is marketing behaviour, or marketing activity. Marketing activity is the activity which creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, and society at large (AMA, 2008). Kotler (1997) said that a real marketing is not sell what companies provide, but sell what the customers need. Therefore, marketers have to identify and understanding customers' needs, and create better solutions to these needs. Almost all marketing activities are designed or developed base on a well understanding of consumer behaviour, additionally, different aspects of consumer behaviour, such as motivation, self-identity, or reference group, have different influence on marketing activities.

L'Oreal and Vichy

L'Oreal group, a leader in the world cosmetic industry, present in more than 130 countries and regions with its about 15 brands, such as L'Oral Paris, Garnier, Maybelline, Lancme, Biotherm, Giorgio Armani, Cacharel, Kiehl's, Vichy and so on. Vichy is the name of a small city in central France, which was famous of its thousand years old thermal water spring. Two men, Dr. Haller and George Guerin, created the Vichy brand here. In 1931, Dr. Haller advised George Guerin to use the thermal water to heal his wound, and found that the wound was healed very quickly. They began to think about use the thermal water to invent a skin care treatment, a professional dermatological treatment skin care products. In 1955, on its way of brand extension, L'Oreal group acquired Vichy. L'Oreal did some adjustments on Vichy's marketing strategy, such as its distribution channels, products and some other aspects.

Objectives of this report

As L'Oreal group have so many sub brands, it is impossible to discuss the entire operation of this group. Therefore, this report only focus on Vichy brand, critically discuss the influence of three chosen consumer behaviour aspects on Vichy's marketing activities, analyse the connection of the chosen three aspects of consumer behaviour, give evaluation and comments of Vichy's marketing activities.


Customers act based on their perceptions, which stem from the information they received, selected and interpreted. In commercial environment, this kind of information could be features of a product, shop design, package colour, and so on. Marketers need to understand the nature of the perceptions their customers have, customers' social world, and the products available to them (Foxall, Goldsmith, and Brown, 1998 p.51). According to observation, customers' perceptions of Vichy mainly form from three aspects, which are product and brand, store, and quality.

Brand and product perception

Brand perception

Customers' perceptions of products are generally from their past experience, but to a new brand or product, this perception is partially comes from marketing activity. Vichy was absent in the earlier 10 years in China cosmetic market, no one know it. Allison and Uhl (1964) conducted an experiment, and proved that 'Customers in general did not appear to be able to discern the differences among various brands, but apparently labels and their associations did influence their evaluation.' Vichy was merger by L'Oreal group, which is a leader in world cosmetic industry. Most consumers have confidence on L'Oreal; they tend to believe a branch brand of L'Oreal group is reliable.

In fact, L'Oreal did not stress Vichy is one of its subsidiaries very well, some customers do not know who is Vichy's big boss. Therefore, to those customers who do not have enough information or interest in cosmetic industry, L'Oreal's famous brand effect did not work.

Product perception

Allison and Uhl's (1964) findings also demonstrated that customers' perception of product draw from marketing activities, such as brand or product differentiation. Vichy made a good use of its unique product attribute to distinguish itself from other skin care product. Vichy emphasizes its professional skin care experiences, use visual stimuli in their advertisements to endorse customer to establish a positive perception to its product. Spring water is almost put in every posture and advertisement; a blue, and transparent water slightly flows through a face, bring fresh feeling to audiences, or a specific Vichy product is putting in thermal water, makes customers imagine that this product comes from spring water, made of thermal water, which stand for clean and pure. (See picture 2.1.2)

Store perception

Sales place might be the place where people get their first direct touch with a brand or product; the choice or design of sales place is essential to marketing strategy. In 1998, Vichy entered into China market, took a totally new marketing idea in Chinese cosmetic market. Vichy announced that they only sell their products in drug stores, where is strongly related to healthy, safe, and professional. When customers pass through or in a drug store, they are surprised that a skin care product is here! Because in traditional Chinese cosmetic market, skin care products are sold in department stores, supermarket, and franchised stores. Vichy's announcement quickly aroused customers' curiosity, in a very short time customers quickly hold a deep impression on Vichy, which is that Vichy is a 'special' skin care product sold in drug stores.

What is more, at the beginning, those drug stores Vichy cooperated with are all have a long history, have good reputation and well known by most Chinese customers. Customers interpreted these old drug stores, which with hundreds years history as reliable and genuine. Consequently, Vichy benefits from the good image, and also was perceived as a credible and professional skin care product brand. Vichy established it first brand image in customers.

Quality perception

Before really buy a product, customers are tend to give an estimation of the quality or price of a product. This kind of quality or price perception is comes from external or internal information customers collected. Such as country of origin, product ingredient, price of other similar products, and so forth.

Country of origin, sometimes stand for the quality of product, in some case, it heavily influences customers' quality perception of a product. When Vichy first came to China, it clarified its French identity. France, as the origin country of Vichy, is famous for its cosmetic and luxury products, filled with beauty and elegant. In Chinese customers' mind, any beauty referred product comes from France cannot be in bad quality. They interpreted 'made in France ' as a label of good quality.


Beside the limitation the author mentioned in brand perception section, which is not all customers know Vichy is a subsidiary of L'Oreal group. Additionally, for its product perception, there are many similar thermal water skin care product brands made in France, and some of them are belong L'Oreal group too. Customers can perceive Vichy as natural and healthy skin care product; they can establish positive impression of other similar brands too. Therefore, Vichy's product and quality perception positioning is not competitive enough; Vichy has to differentiate itself from other similar brands further.

Moreover, in recent years, Vichy products were gradually sold at some department stores and cosmetic supermarkets, dilute its professional and healthy image established through drug stores. When a company adjusts its marketing plan, it is supposed to maintain the methods or tools that have significant advantages, and revise others that have obvious disadvantages.


Identify customers' specific needs and wants

Motivation refers to the processes that cause people to behave as they do, motivation occurs when a need is aroused (Solomon, et al 2006 p.89). In expectancy theory, consumer behaviour is largely pulled by expectations of achieving desirable outcomes-positive incentives (Solomon et al 2006 p.93). The better identify consumers' needs and wants, the better a brand or products are able to satisfy consumers.

People who use skin care product in general are at upper level of Maslow's (1943) hierarchy, they may at the belongingness or ego needs level. These people want to be accepted by others, or their social status or prestige required them have a good appearance. They expect the skin care product they used can reward them a better or best skin condition. Customers' particular needs and wants are depended on their age, skin condition, and price.

Vichy's rich product line try to satisfy kinds of customers' needs, they provide anti-age products for the older people; oil control and moisture products for oily skin customers, or more cream product for dry skin customers (see picture 3.1). Furthermore, Vichy launched Healthy Skin Check-up Centre campaign, which active in over 20 countries, customers can do free skin check-up, given personalized and professional skin analysis, and product recommendation (Alexander, 2006).

Approach approach motivational conflict

Consumers often find themselves in situations where different motives, both positive and negative, conflict with one another. In an approach- approach conflict, customers have to make a choice between two desirable alternatives (Solomon, et al 2006). Customers have to decide to buy Vichy skin care products or other brands, each brand to some extent offers skin protect function.

Vichy marketers tried to bundling as more benefits of Vichy products as possible together, include basic skin care functions, professional skin analysis, make individual skin care plan. These features differentiate Vichy from other brands, support consumers make decision to buy Vichy products. In addition, comparing the price of Vichy to other similar brands, such as Biotherm and La Roche-Posay, which are both spring water skin care products, Vichy's price is relatively lower than them. When customers cannot make a decision based on the benefits of product, whereas, they can take price as an external factor to consider.

Message-response involvement

Involvement is defined as 'a person's perceived relevance of the object based on their inherent needs, values, and interests' (Zaichkowsky, 1985). The object is various, according to different object, Richins, Bloch and McQuarrie (1992) recognized several types of involvement: product involvement, message-response involvement, purchase situation involvement and ego involvement. The object used by Vichy's marketers to endorse customers is marketing communication, specifically, website messages.

As mentioned earlier, Vichy launched Healthy Skin Check-up Centre campaign. Since its launch in 1999, the campaign involved more than 400 dermatologists and 1900 pharmacists. The centre have conducted more than 39,000 diagnostics, and in 2005 alone, received more than 36,000 visitors (Alexander, 2006). Visitors can log into Vichy website, do a free skin test; get a detailed skin analysis report, appropriate product recommendation, and even dietary advice (see picture 3.3). Customers were happy to get the test result, and advices, in response, they are likely to follow the advice or recommendation of their own skin diagnosis, which recommend them to buy particular Vichy products.


The campaign of Healthy Skin Check-up Centre create interaction with customers, educated customers the concept of healthy skin, greatly increased consumer involvement, and raised public awareness of Vichy's healthy skin care concept. Vichy clearly identified customers' different motivation, well-satisfied different customers' particular needs and wants, through its wide product series, and bundling additional reasons for customers to support their choice of purchasing Vichy products.

Reference group

A reference group is 'an actual or imaginary individual or group conceived of having significant relevance upon an individual's evaluations, aspirations, or behaviour' (Park and Lessig 1977, cited in Solomon et al 2006 p.350). Reference group cannot be ignored by marketers when they develop a marketing plan or strategy, Schiffman and Kanuk (2007) indicated that any reference group can inform or make the individual aware of a specific product or brand, provides opportunity for individual to make comparison of his or her own thinking and the attitudes the group holds.

Informational influence and expert power

Park and Lessig (1977) demonstrated that three forms of reference group influence are mostly affect on customers; these are informational influence, utilitarian influence, and value-express influence, Vichy marketer uses informational influence of reference group to influence consumer behaviour.

Informational influence is individual seeks information about various brands from an association of professionals or independent group of experts. Or seeks brand or product related knowledge and experience from who have reliable information about the brand and product (Park and Lessig 1997, cited in Solomon et al 2006 p.351).

In Vichy stores, they regularly or occasionally invite dermatologists to provide professional consultant and analysis, and their sales assistants wearing in white coat, which looks like nurse costume, generate a 'white coat' effect. People believe that white coat is a proof of their profession. No doubt that dermatologists are experts in skin care area, they received specialist education, knowledgeable, and also have rich experiences. Customers deeply believe and receive the advice dermatologists gave, and transfer this kind of trust of dermatologists to where they were, the Vichy stores, and to Vichy products further. Furthermore, Vichy has its own Dr. Vichy, no matter it is a real doctor or not, it further stresses Vichy's expert image in customers. If customer missed the chance to consult doctor in store, they can get the chance of online consulting. Customers can ask for information about their skin on Vichy website at anytime, 'ask expert' online, and even make an appointment with their doctor at your local store.

Life circle and mother role

Consumers' behaviour or attitudes toward products is keeping change as the time passed away, various factors existed in consumers' lives at different life stage have influence on consumer behaviour. Life cycle is a typical factor. People at each stage, environment around them could be diverse. Include their financial resource, consume habit, or family structure. These diversities may result in diverse needs comparing to earlier life stages. Vichy's main consumers are young women, according to their consumer club data, these young female customers mostly are between 20 to 35 years old (VICHY, 2009).

Considering women in this age are in or prepared in the third life cycle stage, which is parenthood. Their family structure changed, not only two people, but also one or more children else. And their role in life changed too, these women became to learn to take care of their children, and even pay more attention to their babies than themselves. Vichy realized that these new family members are initiators of new needs, a new product line was developed based on the current customers new needs. Vichy proposed the concept of 'light pollution' in its new children sunscreen launch conference (see picture 4.2), and invited many medical college professors and pediatricians to introduce the potential hazardous caused by sunshine to children. Raising significant awareness of children skin protection in young mothers. The extension of product line fulfilled Vichy's gap of children skin care product.

Although Vichy realized the new needs in customers' new life stage, but what Vichy done is not enough, it only launched children sunscreen product, and other aspects of children skin care is blank. It is difficult to require mothers to buy children sunscreen from Vichy, but other children skin care products, such as body cream from other brands.

Virtual community- Vichy false blog scandal

A virtual community of consumption is a collection of people whose online interactions are based upon shared enthusiasm for and knowledge of a specific consumption activity (Solomon et al 2006 p.354). Many companies establish their websites, online membership club, all of these are kinds of virtual community, customers or members share their opinions, experiences with other people who are interested in a same brand or products. The most modern and fastest growing form of virtual community is the weblog.

Comparing to other virtual community, the greatest characteristic of blog is transparency, readers feel that they can directly interact with blog authors. Blog authors frequently update and give comments on some issues, which they have interests, for example, on fitness blogs, authors and their readers sharing gym information, fitness products; on beauty blogs, people here talk about beauty brands and products, and these comments could influence others' attitude towards a brand or a product.

This form is widely used, and was not the first time implemented as part of Vichy marketing program. Vichy Korea has already launched two blogs to promote the normaderm series, on that occasion it had great outcome and succeeded in registering some 9,000 members on the blog (Esteves, 2005). However, the blog published in France, was quickly became a scandal disseminate on every main media.

In April 2005, Vichy France was ready to launch a new anti-aging product called Peel Micro-abrasion, they use a blog called Diary of My Skin, as an advertising aid tool. The advertising agency worked for Vichy believed that the invention of false character was necessary, especially at the very beginning of the blog, when there is a few bloggers here. They created a blogger - 'Clarie' a woman with a given age, on one hand, Clarie complained how hard it was for her to get a good sleep quality, her worries about her skin freshness, and anti-aging topic over the internet. Nevertheless, a picture of Clarie at her hand mirror published on blog, showed she is totally wrinkle free, additionally, Clarie's language and tone was very similar to concurrent traditional advertising campaign and disingenuous. Many real bloggers and marketing specialists began to express their doubts about this lady, and give severe criticism to this blog strategy. The fictitious comments used by Clarie were speedily scattered throughout the French blog sphere. Vichy did not benefit from the blog marketing program, but lost many trust of customers'. Finally, the product manager Delphine apologized and asks for forgiveness to publics.

It is worth to discuss that why Vichy use a false blogger, they should know this could damage their brand image. Their customers are not all fooled women, once they fund the company cheat them; they might go away and never back. In the writer's opinion, Vichy definitely can use other way to get valid and real feedback or comments of their new product. Register their new product purchaser on blog, send free sample in store, and collect real feedback and comments rather than create false bloggers.


After a number of scholars study and research in past decades, consumer behaviour was demonstrated that have significant influence on marketing activity making process, the more a marketer understand consumers' drivers and influencers of their behaviour, the better a marketing program could be developed and implemented. This report selected Vichy as the target brand to done a critical discussion about its marketing activities. In general, from the chosen three consumer behavioiur aspects, which are perception, motivation and reference group, Vichy basically well considered consumers' environments and various variables. However, there still exist some problems as the author discussed and evaluated after the description of each aspect. It is hard for marketers to consider every aspect of consumer behaviour, therefore, the marketers supposed to grasp the main characteristics of their target audiences, have a clear ideal of which aspects can influence their target audience most. Catch up with customers' thoughts is one of the key points of a successful marketing program.


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