Session Overview Context Effects on Consumer Goals, Brand Awareness, and Decision Making

Cynthia Huffman, University of Pennsylvania
[ to cite ]:
Cynthia Huffman (1993) ,"Session Overview Context Effects on Consumer Goals, Brand Awareness, and Decision Making", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 20, eds. Leigh McAlister and Michael L. Rothschild, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 375-376.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 20, 1993      Pages 375-376



Cynthia Huffman, University of Pennsylvania

Organizer: Allan D. Shocker, University of Minnesota

Chair: Cynthia Huffman, University of Pennsylvania

Discussant: C. Whan Park, University of Pittsburgh





Luk Warlop, University of Florida

S. Ratneshwar, University of Florida



Stephen J. Holden, ESSEC, France



Milos D. Graonic, University of Minnesota

Allan D. Shocker, University of Minnesota


This special session is the second in a continuing annual series that revolves around situational and contextual effects on consumers' goals, the resulting multidimensionality of consumption experiences, the situationally- and contextually-based knowledge that develops from these experiences, and the effects of flexible, contextually-based goal-oriented knowledge structures on our consideration sets and the evaluative criteria we use in decision making.

There are three main themes behind this stream of research. First, the work is firmly based on the recognition that much of consumer behavior is purposive. Second, the research revolves around the notion that consumers experience objects in different contexts and usage situations, with different goals, and that these contextual and goal aspects are incorporated into the knowledge structures that develop from these experiences. Further, it is recognized that the situations and goals that organize our knowledge affect future decision making through cued selectivity in the use of evaluation criteria and in the formation of consideration sets.

This overview and the Figure serve to relate the papers from this session to each other and to other recent papers in this area (note that it is not meant as a flow chart of what might occur in a particular choice experience). The first link in the figure, in which situational context is shown to be a powerful influence on a consumer's goals (the benefits that are desired), is represented by Graonic and Shocker (1993) and by Warlop and Ratneshwar (1993). Graonic and Shocker demonstrate that at least in some cases (they looked at noncomparable product choice sets such as bicycles versus in-line skates), situational context is a better determinant of goals and desired benefits than are the product characteristics themselves (which in noncomparable situations differ among the product alternatives). Warlop and Ratneshwar, on the other hand, provide a descriptive account of how aspects of a consumption situation trigger goals and benefits relevant to the choice. One example they use is finding a snack before a Saturday evening date; the relevant goals triggered include a snack that is not messy, is easy and quick to eat, and does not make one's breath smell. Note that we recognize also that while adaptation to situational context is important, current goals are also impacted by the individual's more enduring values (Link 2, see Gutman 1982).

The third link in the figure (Huffman and Houston 1992) represents the notion that a consumer with goals in mind will tend to exhibit a goal-oriented approach to information acquisition and choice. Information from these experiences will eventually form categorical knowledge structures in which brands and features are organized in terms of the goal(s) that motivated the consumption experiences. Because the situational context helps to determine the goals around which knowledge is organized, the situational context is also a means by which feature and brand knowledge can be accessed and used.

The process by which consideration sets are formed and choice criteria are determined is represented by the fourth link. This link represents the idea that the access and use of knowledge is strongly impacted by situational factors and current goals through their role in cueing information residing in memory. Ratneshwar and Shocker (1991) and Pechmann, Ratneshwar and Shocker (1991) have previously demonstrated that recall of product alternatives and ultimate choice differ depending on the usage situation. For example, the usage situation for snack foods, i.e. a snack to eat before a Saturday evening date, helps to determine which of the many snack food options are appropriate for consumption. Holden (1993) and Warlop and Ratneshwar (1993) take other approaches to examining the influence of usage situation on the formation of consideration sets by distilling and describing several possible processes by which individuals might recall or construct consideration sets in familiar and unfamiliar usage situations, respectively. They argue that one process by which this occurs is that the situation helps to determine consumption goals and those goals then activate alternative (brand) and feature information that in the past was learned to be appropriate for and relevant to those goals. This of course recognizes that on many occasions the situational context and a consumer's goals operate in a top-down manner to provide constraints to the problem solving situation (Park and Smith 1989). Presumably, the more numerous and specific the situational cues, the more constraints exist in the problem solving.

Finally, the fifth link (Warlop and Ratneshwar 1993) represents the direct impact episodic memory (memory for particular consumption experiences as opposed to categorical knowledge) has on both the formation of consideration sets from memory and on solution recognition in stimulus-based choice. This is presented as an alternative process by which one may arrive at solutions to a consumption situation, one in which categorical knowledge per se is not necessarily accessed.

Taken collectively, the papers show that situational cues, working directly through episodic knowledge of consumption experiences and indirectly through goal-specification and the organization of knowledge structures, have great impact on both consumer learning and consumer decision making. The formation of consideration sets and the evaluative criteria employed in choice (i.e. feature importance ratings) have been specifically shown to be determined by the intended usage situation. The work that is continuing in this area is attempting to uncover the processes underlying these effects.



Gutman, Jonathan (1982), "A Means-End Chain Model Based on Consumer Categorization Processes," Journal of Marketing, 46 (Spring), 60-72.

Huffman, Cynthia and Michael J. Houston (1992), "Goal-Oriented Experiences and the Development of Knowledge," Working Paper, University of Pennsylvania.

Park, C. W. and Daniel Smith (1989), "Product-level Choice: a Bottom-up or a Top-down Process?" Journal of Consumer Research, 16 (December), 289-299.

Pechmann, Cornelia, S. Ratneshwar, and Allan D. Shocker (1991), "Goal-Derived Product Categories: Situational and Individual Determinants," Paper presented at the 1991 Annual Meeting of the Association for Consumer Research, Chicago.

Ratneshwar, S. and Allan D. Shocker (1991), "Substitution-in-Use and the Cognitive Structure of Product Categories," Journal of Marketing Research, 28 (August), 281-295.