Course Description: Buyer Behavior and Communication in Marketing

Lawrence H. Wortzel, Boston University
ABSTRACT - This paper is a description and topical outline of an MBA-level course in consumer behavior as last taught in the Summer of 1975. The primary goal of the course was to prepare MBA students for managerial decision-making.
[ to cite ]:
Lawrence H. Wortzel (1977) ,"Course Description: Buyer Behavior and Communication in Marketing", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 04, eds. William D. Perreault, Jr., Atlanta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 278-279.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 4, 1977   Pages 278-279


Lawrence H. Wortzel, Boston University


This paper is a description and topical outline of an MBA-level course in consumer behavior as last taught in the Summer of 1975. The primary goal of the course was to prepare MBA students for managerial decision-making.


The major goal of the course is to teach students some concepts, some analytical tools, a few substantive findings and, most importantly, a perspective for managerial decision-making. The course is geared primarily for future marketing managers (and marketing researchers), not toward future academics. A secondary course goal is to leave students with enough journal-reading ability so that they can continue their educations on their own.


The course is an MBA elective. Its only formal prerequisite is the core MBA Marketing Management course, which is a typical managerially-focused course using a text, cases and outside readings. I prefer that as many students as possible take the MBA course Marketing Research before taking this course.


The BU MBA program does not have majors, but this course attracts primarily students who are interested in careers in marketing. Students in the course tend to be more interested in consumer rather than industrial goods, and are also likely to take other marketing electives.


The general organization of the course is by consumer decisions, looking first at low, then high involvement situations. There were thirteen three-hour sessions. The topics, and a few words of description about each follow:

I. Introduction

This session had three purposes: (1) to give some overview of the field; (2) to explore involvement as an organizing principle for the course; and (3) to begin studying low involvement behavior.

II. Perception, learning, cognition as explanation of brand loyalty and brand choice

This session included a variety of studies, such as brand switching and taste testing studies. In doing the course again, I might well introduce decision net and related information processing models here.

III. In-Store behavior, unplanned purchases, etc., for low involvement goods

The objective is to give students as broad as possible a picture of the role of various in-store factors in shaping decisions.

IV. Market segmentation for low involvement products

Here, several topics are presented, ranging from the role of store choice in shaping brand choice to some very specific illustrations of the construction and use of benefit segments. AI0 constructs are also discussed.

V. Introduction to high involvement situations: social influences

This session covers more traditional social class and product-as-symbol notions as well as life style and more work with AI0.

VI. High involvement purchase processes: the learning hierarchy

The emphasis is on processes of information acquisition, in terms of both content and source of information.

VII. Dissonance and attribution and dissonance attribution

One of the purposes of this session is to lay cognitive dissonance to rest in the proper crypt, to explore the relationships between the two kinds of high involvement situations and to understand how consumers may move or be moved between the two.

VIII. Innovators and the adoption diffusion process

The characteristics of innovators for various kinds of products and services are explored, including cultural innovators. Attempts are made to distinguish between the decision processes of early and late adopters.

IX. Attitude measurement and prediction in the low involvement situation

Fishbein, Vectors and the like.

X. Attitude measurement and prediction in the high involvement situation

Once again, distinctions are made between learning hierarchy and dissonance attribution situations.

XI. Strategies (?) for attitude change

This session is rather conceptual touching on topics ranging from fear to cognitive structure modification.

XII. Influence of family

This session concentrates mainly on the roles of spouses, and secondarily, on the role of children in making household decisions.

XIII. Industrial buyer behavior

Unfortunately, too little too late.


Assignments typically are long, most of them including a rather eclectic set of readings. I try to include some commentary on the course syllabus that gives students some guidelines on preparing each assignment, order in which to read articles, topics to stress, directions for synthesis, etc.

Class time is almost exclusively discussion, in which the assigned work is used as a take-off point. The aims of class discussion are (1) synthesis of the day's assignment into some reasonably coherent views of the topic, and (2) exploration of the marketing management decision applications of the topic.

Two papers were assigned, each designed to force students to synthesize and to apply the results of their syntheses to marketing management problems. One paper required the structuring of a set of hypotheses (together with supporting reasoning) to explain the grocery shopping behavior of working versus non-working wives. The second paper required (1) an hypothesized analysis of the decision process for a high-involvement product, for automobile tires including cues, attributes and sources of information sought, together with all supporting reasoning, and (2) recommendations either for a policy of government grading or rating or for a marketing strategy for a tire company.


The following texts were required:

Kassarjian and Robertson, Perspectives in Consumer Behavior (Scott, Foresman, and Co.).

Howard and Ostland, Buyer Behavior (Alfred A. Knopf].

Ward and Robertson, Consumer Behavior, Theoretical Sources (Prentice-Hall).

Webster and Wind, Organizational Buying Behavior, (Prentice-Hall).

In addition, there were a significant number of readings placed on library reserve.


The next time I teach the course, the syllabus will be significantly revised to cover some emerging streams of work in areas such as information processing and multi-attribute models. It is also planned that the course will have a stronger public policy emphasis to counterbalance the managerial perspective.

A syllabus for the Summer 1975 version of the course is available on request.