Toward understanding the consumer psychology of relationship marketing

Date of Completion

January 2000


Business Administration, Marketing




In this dissertation, I study the structure of consumer psychological attachment in the context of relationship marketing. ^ I propose that consumer psychological attachment has four specific dimensions: utilitarian attachment, affective attachment, symbolic attachment, and obligatory attachment. Together, these four dimensions of psychological attachment determine the overall strength of the relationship between the customer and the firm. I suggest that these different dimensions of psychological attachment may coexist within the same individual for a particular customer-firm relationship and may be found to varying degrees across different customer-firm relationships. Further, I argue how consumer psychological attachment profiles can vary systematically both across different relationship marketing customer segments and across different product and service categories. ^ I explore and test my conceptual framework in two essays. In Essay 1, I synthesize from multiple literatures a model of the structure of consumer psychological attachment. I then test this model in an experiment with two replicate product categories. Two firm-level and two situational variables are selected and manipulated in an experiment such that each one of them hypothetically should have a main-effect impact on primarily one dimension of psychological attachment and a lesser impact on the others. This approach permits me to predict and test different consequences for these independent variables on different dimensions of psychological attachment, thus enabling me to validate the latter's conceptualization within a nomological network of constructs. The results support my prediction that consumer psychological attachment has four dimensions and that these dimensions are differentially impacted by specific firm-level and situational variables. ^ Essay 2 further extends our understanding of consumer psychological attachment. I posit a typology of customer segments relevant to relationship marketing using the following three dimensions: relationship strength, behavioral loyalty, and number of choice alternatives. I then use survey research to investigate how psychological attachment profiles vary across six customer segments and ten product/service categories. The results suggest that the various consumer psychological attachment dimensions play significantly different roles in distinguishing specific market segments (e.g., committed customers from transactional customers). ^ Finally, across both essays, I develop, refine, and validate multi-item scales for measuring the four dimensions of consumer psychological attachment. ^