Academic journal article The Journal of Consumer Affairs

Denominational Affiliation Change: Application of the Consumer Decision Model

Academic journal article The Journal of Consumer Affairs

Denominational Affiliation Change: Application of the Consumer Decision Model

Article excerpt

There is a growing need to examine consumers' decision processes concerning denominational affiliation change as there continues to be rapid and extensive change in consumer preferences for various movements. From a consumer perspective, religious denominations or movements can be viewed as competing brands of religious services. Therefore, general consumer decision models utilized to examine secular goods and services may be applicable to religious services. The primary purpose of this study is to gain insight into consumers' decisions to change religious affiliation from a consumer perspective by examining the applicability of parsimonious variants of Howard's (1989) Consumer Decision Model (CDM) to religious movements. The key research question is how does knowledge of competing brands influence consumers' beliefs, attitudes, and evolving sets of brands. Other important purposes of this study include examination of the influences of alternate relationships among the above variables across competing brands and evaluation of the implications of relationships to consumers.

There are several valid reasons to apply the CDM for this study. The CDM is a simple, general, and widely used purchase decision model driven by brand image; where brand image is the consumer's total understanding of the brand (Howard 1989). Therefore, the model appears appropriate for examining religious denominations as brands. Further, the model is highly adaptable and allows insertion of exogenous variables and feedback loops to create more complex variant models. Variations of CDM are widely used by both theoreticians and practitioners for theory testing and practical applications. Finally, the model appears to be general enough to have potential as a parsimonious ecumenical model of brand switching.

In this study the CDM is modified to facilitate its simultaneous application to several brands. In these modified models, the construct prior knowledge replaces information and brand awareness while likelihood of conversion is used as a surrogate for intention to purchase.

Such a study is timely and relevant from a consumer and consumer affairs perspective for several reasons. First, from a consumer perspective, organized religion is a large, important, and powerful service industry that influences the nature of society and the lives of substantial numbers of consumers. Many religious organizations have revenues, assets, and employees that rival Fortune 500 companies in size and number. The magnitude and power of these institutions as service companies imply a need to examine consumer decision making concerning the consumption of their service offerings. Further, these institutions have potent relationships with a substantial portion of the population. Forty percent of the adults in the United States attend organized religious services each week (Stewart 1989).

Second, there has been a prolonged realignment in consumer affiliation patterns with many established brands losing consumers to unchurched status and newer brands over the last 25 years (Smith 1984). Traditional Protestant brands such as Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and United Churches of Christ have lost more than a quarter of their members in the last two decades (Stewart 1989). This realignment seems to be continuing for many mainline Protestant brands (McManus 1990). Such a prolonged and substantial shifting of consumer preferences warrants examination.

Third, the slowing of the population growth rate has intensified competition for patrons among existing brands. Furthermore, much of the growth among newer religious brands has been realized through converting consumers from more established brands. These two factors have encouraged the adoption and use of marketing techniques by several brands as evidenced by their recent advertising programs. Attempts to influence consumers' decision-making processes should be of interest from a consumer affairs perspective. …

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