Classical and Operant Conditioning in Marketing essay

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Marketers’ engagement into the learning process of consumers has a great impact on the success of any business endeavor. First, it is essential that marketers “teach” consumers about the product. The consumer is able to learn about the attributes of the product and its availability. Additionally, the consumer must be informed about the usage of the product and disposal options after use. Second, the marketers must be able to gauge the effectiveness of communication occurring between them and the consumers. Direct communication occurs through psychological strategies such as advertisement. In addition, indirect communication is conducted through the presentation of the product, its price, and packaging. From a general standpoint, learning refers to a process whereby changes are evident in an individual’s long-term memory either in content or in the organization. In the marketing discipline, it refers to a process whereby an individual acquires knowledge and experience with regard to purchase and consumption, which affects their related behavior in the future.

The learning of a consumer happens on different levels. At the low-level involvement, the consumer has little, if any motivation to process the gained information. In contrast, consumers at high-level involvement have high motivation to process this information. For a marketer in order to understand how consumer involvement and learning occurs, one must have the knowledge about the types of learnig, and the theories of its proccess .Behavioral learning theories present the argument from the standpoint of observed responses. This theory explaines the behavior through the response analysis to a specific external stimulus. When an individual responds to a conditional stimulus in a predicable manner, it means that they have learned. In this broad spectrum of behavioral learning theories classical and operant conditioning are identified. The purpose of this paper is to critically analyze the two approaches: classical and operant conditioning through the prism of learning behavior. Further, it will examine the strengths and weaknesses of each approach with reference to marketing.

Classical Conditioning

The theory of Classical Conditioning explains that learning is said to have occurred when two stimuli resulting in a known response produce the same response even when used in isolation. For instance, a conditioned stimulus (CS) elicits a known unconditioned response (UR). When this conditioned stimulus is paired with an unconditioned stimulus (US), it should elicit the same known unconditional response. Now, when the unconditioned stimulus (US) is presented singly and elicits the same known unconditional response, learning has occurred (Bruner, 2010).

In marketing, the usage of a celebrity admired in society in advertisement is a tool through which consumers are conditioned to have a positive attitude towards the advertised product. This is known as “cause marketing”. Repetition is one of the applications of classical conditioning. This is usually applied in the media when the marketer schedules an advertising campaign. The merits of such repetitions through advertisements are that it reinforces the associative learning. Therefore, it engages the consumer in a familiarization process and a sense of association to the product being advertised. It tends to make the individual think that because the admired celebrity is using it one should also use it. However, this may sometimes lead to advertising wear-out. This occurs when the advertisement is excessively repetitive as opposed to positivity, thus gaining the product a negative image from the consumers.

The second approach used in classical conditioning is stimulus generalization. It relies on the consumer’s ability to respond the same way to a stimulus that is slightly different from the known. The manufacturers use the derivations from the famous brands’ names. For instance, an unscrupulous mobile phone company, NOKLA, uses this brand name in order to market its products and phones as NOKIA cell-phones, particularly in the countries, which have inferior product authentication standards. The sales are largely depending on generalization. The underlying principle is that more sales are available based on the trust of the consumers in the quality of the original brand (Issacson, 2011).

The last application of classical conditioning is stimulus discrimination. As opposed to generalization, discrimination is the result of selection of a unique stimulus from similar stimuli. Positioning strategy in marketing is based on this principle (Bruner, 2010). The marketer will use this approach to differentiate one’s product from the competitors’. It is possible through the use of different colors, packaging, shapes, logos, and so on.

Operant Conditioning

It is also referred to as instrumental conditioning as postulated by B.F Skinner. The learning process according to this approach occurs through trial and error. It asserts that the habitual response is set by the establishment of the rewards. The consumers who switch from one brand/product to another until they settle on one that allegedly fits them use this approach.

The reward given in acknowledgement of desired behavior (thus an increase in probability) is known as the reinforcement. The positive reinforcement strengthens the probability of a specific response while a negative reinforcement is the result, which encourages a specific response (Bruner, 2010). The punishment is supposed to discourage behavior and discourage negative response.

In marketing, operant conditioning is designed to achieve customer satisfaction. The marketer must be geared towards strategically maximizing positive reinforcement. For instance, a customer can be encouraged to buy a product by being given a smaller quantity of the same product for free. In other instances, the marketer can use other products to reward customers of the product, such as sales, discounts, or extra amount for the same price

Differences and Similarities

Classical conditioning is different from operant conditioning in some way. The Operant Conditioning is aimed at modifying voluntary behavior while the Classical Conditioning is aimed at adjusting consumer behavior. Classical conditioning is aimed at conditioning the respondent’s behavior, which is elicited by specific conditions. The consumer behavior is not necessarily propagated by the probable consequences. On the other hand, operant conditioning occurs on the environment and must be maintained by the consequences of the responses (Bovee, & Thill, 2012). While classical conditioning is passive on the part of the consumer, operant conditioning engages the consumer in an active learning process. Another notable difference is that the reinforcement elements in operant conditioning act as incentives to the consumer. Contrasting with the classical conditioning, there are no incentives provided.


Both classical and operant conditionings are marketing-centered, and have the ability to drive a business venture upwards regardless of whether it is a product or a service of an enterprise. The consumer is engaged in classical conditioning acts on the daily basis. When a consumer watches an advertisement, especially starring a celebrity, there is a genuine urge to have that product. From the observations above it is evident that in the classical conditioning approach, admiration and a penchant for a product usually precedes trial and use. This marketing strategy continues to be used by different companies dealing with different products and services. Promotion is used as a bait to make the customer feel the power of the credibility of a particular individual, who has used a certain product, and therefore it is good. There are numerous advantages in this approach for marketing. Repetition is a result-oriented advertising procedure, which creates a sense of association with the consumer. Therefore, the use of this approach results in more sales. Second, the generalization is a vital tool whereby a manufacturer is able to sell generic goods using a brand name similar to a popular trusted brand name. Third, the discrimination is an indispensable tool. In this case, the marketer is able to use different colors and packaging in order to differentiate a product from those of the competitors’. The disadvantages of Classical Conditioning indicate that too much advert repetitions may result in negative outcomes, as the consumer gets bored with viewing an advert over and over. Additionally, the use of the brand names similar to the trusted genuine brand names may result in production of counterfeit goods that not only disappoint the consumer, but also lead to the genuine brand name losing its popularity (Bamossy & Hogg, 2010).

Operant Conditioning is a totally different approach compared to Classical Conditioning. The intention of the marketer is to entice a consumer to try a product with high hopes that the consumer will like the product. The assumption is that the consumer will make repeated purchases at a full price for a prolongued period of time. The marketer entices the consumer by offering free trial samples. One also offers discounts on products or services, which means that the consumer gets the same quality or quantity at a reduced price. The advantage of this approach is that people often like trying out before they commit themselves fully. This means that free samples help to introduce the consumer to the real product. They may make a decision to use a product and suggest it to others as experienced buyer which results in increased sales. The weakness, however, is that there is no guarantee that the consumer will like the product. The implication is that not all consumers who have tried a free trial sample will come back for the product (Hall, 2010). The major objective in marketing is the maximization of profit. The two types of conditioning apply appropriately to marketing in this maximization endeavor. The type of conditioning chosen by the marketer will depend on the product being promoted.

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