The five consumption values of consumers

When a consumer is evaluating an item for purchase, she is quickly, but systematically, working her way through a mental list of consumption values (functional, social, emotional, epistemic, and conditional) to determine if the item fits all her criteria. While the consumption values are universal and are applied by consumers worldwide, the actual values themselves are interpreted differently in different countries based on prevailing cultural norms.

For example, let’s examine the purchase of a high-end coffeemaker and the checklist process through the eyes of several consumers located around the world.

Functional value: this is the utility from an item salient to its physical or functional purpose. For a coffeemaker, this would be the ability to brew coffee at a quality level perceived to be consistent with the price level of the coffeemaker. Naturally, the consumer recognizes that the quality of the beans contributes to the coffee taste; what she is looking for is a coffeemaker that brews the best possible coffee with those beans. In the US, where the culture of coffee is still relatively new, the average consumer may not be as familiar with the nuances of what contributes to quality coffee, i.e. water temperature, grind, etc.; this type of consumer would need to be educated on critical features. In Italy, however, the average consumer is well acquainted with the features necessary to brew an excellent cup of coffee; this consumer would look for the differentiating features between otherwise equally excellent coffeemakers.

Social value: this is the feeling the consumer receives from being associated with one or more distinctive social groups. For the US consumer, a high-end coffeemaker makes her feel more exclusive, more part of a social group that can afford such a device; the purchase of this coffeemaker is aspirational. For the Italian consumer, the high-end coffeemaker allows her to fit in with her friends and neighbors who would assume owning a coffeemaker at this level is a matter of course; the purchase of this coffeemaker brings acceptance.

Emotional value: this is the feeling the consumer receives from using the product. For the US consumer, the smoothly working mechanics and end result of a coffeehouse-style cup of coffee would create a feeling of excitement and wonder. For the Italian consumer, the perfection of the final coffee, especially if served to family or friends, would create a feeling of pride and contentment.

Epistemic value: this is the feeling of novelty, curiosity, or knowledge received from the product. For the US consumer, it is likely that virtually all aspects of the coffeemaker are novel or curious and the knowledge of how to brew a perfect espresso is interesting and delightful. For the Italian consumer, it will be any differentiating aspects that are new to the coffeemaker market that will cause that feeling of curiosity; a classic well-made espresso machine will not inspire these feelings

Conditional values: this is the temporary value that is received during a specific set of circumstances. For the US consumer, the purchase of the coffeemaker could coincide with the holiday entertaining season. If she is hosting numerous parties over the holidays, the conditional value of a superb espresso machine in relation to how her guests will react is much higher than during the rest of the year. For the Italian consumer, if she is presenting the machine as a wedding gift to a close friend or relative, the conditional value of how it will be perceived by the receiver makes the conditional value higher than if the machine was for her own use.

So, from an international marketer’s perspective, it is critical to remember that different cultures will assign different consumption values to the same product. It is, therefore, equally critical to consider the messaging and how it should be changed for different audiences.


Park, H., Rabolt, N. (2009), Cultural Value, Consumption Value, and Global Brand Image: A Cross-National Study. Psychology and Marketing, Vol. 26:8, pp. 714-735.


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