1. Perception (Psychological Influences on Consumer Buying Decisions)
The world is full of stimuli. A stimulus is any unit of input affecting one or more of the five senses: sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing. The process by which we select, organize, and interpret these stimuli into a meaningful and coherent picture is called perception . In essence, perception is how we see the world around us and how we recognize that we need some help in making a purchasing decision. People cannot perceive every stimulus in their environment. Therefore, they use selective exposure to decide which stimuli to notice and which to ignore. A typical consumer is exposed to more than 2,500 advertising messages a day but notices only between 11 and 20. The familiarity of an object, contrast, movement, intensity (such as increased volume), and smell are cues that influence perception. Consumers use these cues to identify and define products and brands. The shape of a product's packaging, such as Coca-Cola's signature contour bottle, can influence perception. Color is another cue, and it plays a key role in consumers’ perceptions. Packaged foods manufacturers use color to trigger unconscious associations for grocery shoppers who typically make their shopping decisions in the blink of an eye. Ampacet, a world leader in color additives for plastics, reported in 2007 that nature-inspired colors and organic values were becoming more popular as the economy and global focus shifted from the tech-boom to the bio- or eco-boom. Ecological consequences and concerns have resulted in marketing initiatives such as “going green.” Colors like natural greens, earthy browns, and strong yellows, as well as metallics such as steely silver, carbon black, gold, and copper, are popular for packaging. Color researchers speculate that technological overload has led to a resurgence in the appreciation of simple luxury. Color names for fabrics and makeup reflect that trend with names such as Grounded, Champagne Chic, and Serene Blue.32 What is perceived by consumers may also depend on the stimuli's vividness or shock value. Graphic warnings of the hazards associated with a product's use are perceived more readily and remembered more accurately than less vivid warnings or warnings that are written in text. “Sexier” ads excel at attracting the attention of younger consumers. Companies like American Apparel and Abercrombie & Fitch appeal to the 8-to-18 age group with ads that push the envelope by setting models in provocative poses and highlighting their intimates collections with push-up bras and panties saying “Eye Candy.”33 On the other hand, baby carrot farmers are using junk food packaging—or the perception of high-fat, much coveted food—to market baby carrots as a delicious snacking alternative. The campaign is aggressive and edgy, a stance marketers hope sticks to baby carrots, making them cool.34 Two other concepts closely related to selective exposure are selective distortion and selective retention. Selective distortion occurs when consumers change or distort information that conflicts with their feelings or beliefs. For example, suppose a college student buys a Microsoft Zune MP3 player. After the purchase, if the student gets new information about an alternative brand, such as an Apple iPod, he or she may distort the information to make it more consistent with the prior view that the Microsoft Zune is just as good as the iPod, if not better. Business travelers who fly often may distort or discount information about plane crashes because they must use air travel constantly in their jobs.Selective retention is remembering only information that supports personal feelings or beliefs. The consumer forgets all information that may be inconsistent. After reading a pamphlet that contradicts one's political beliefs, for instance, a person may forget many of the points outlined in it. Similarly, consumers may see a news report on suspected illegal practices by their favorite retail store but soon forget the reason the store was featured on the news.Which stimuli will be perceived often depends on the individual. People can be exposed to the same stimuli under identical conditions but perceive them very differently. For example, two people viewing a television commercial may have different interpretations of the advertising message. One person may be thoroughly engrossed by the message and become highly motivated to buy the product. Thirty seconds after the ad ends, the second person may not be able to recall the content of the message or even the product advertised.Marketing Implications of PerceptionMarketers must recognize the importance of cues, or signals, in consumers’ perception of products. Marketing managers first identify the important attributes, such as price or quality, that the targeted consumers want in a product and then design signals to communicate these attributes. For example, consumers will pay more for candy in expensive-looking foil packages. But shiny labels on wine bottles signify less expensive wines; dull labels indicate more expensive wines. Marketers also often use price as a signal to consumers that the product is of higher quality than competing products. Of course, brand names send signals to consumers. The brand names of Close-Up toothpaste, DieHard batteries, and Caress moisturizing soap, for example, identify important product qualities. Names chosen for search engines and sites on the Internet, such as Yahoo!, Amazon.com , and Excite, are intended to convey excitement, intensity, and vastness.Consumers also associate quality and reliability with certain brand names. Companies watch their brand identity closely, in large part because a strong link has been established between perceived brand value and customer loyalty. Brand names that consistently enjoy high perceived value from consumers include Kodak, Disney, National Geographic, Mercedes-Benz, and Fisher-Price. Naming a product after a place can also add perceived value by association. Brand names using the words Santa Fe, Dakota, or Texas convey a sense of openness, freedom, and youth, but products named after other locations might conjure up images of pollution and crime. Marketing managers are also interested in the threshold level of perception, the minimum difference in a stimulus that the consumer will notice. This concept is sometimes referred to as the “just-noticeable difference.” For example, how much would Apple have to drop the price of its iPod Shuffle before consumers recognized it as a bargain—$25? $50? or more? One study found that the just-noticeable difference in a stimulus is about a 20 percent change. For example, consumers will likely notice a 20 percent price decrease more quickly than one of only 15 percent. This marketing principle can be applied to other marketing variables as well, such as package size or loudness of a broadcast advertisement.35 Besides changing such stimuli as price, package size, and volume, marketers can change the product or attempt to reposition its image. But marketers must be careful when adding features. How many new services will discounter Target need to add before consumers perceive it as a full-service department store? How many sporty features will General Motors have to add to a basic two-door sedan before consumers start perceiving it as a sports car?Marketing managers who intend to do business in global markets should be aware of how foreign consumers perceive their products. For instance, in Japan, product labels are often written in English or French, even though they may not translate into anything meaningful. Many Japanese associate foreign words on product labels with the exotic, the expensive, and high quality.Marketers have often been suspected of sending advertising messages subconsciously to consumers in what is known as subliminal perception. The controversy began when a researcher claimed to have increased popcorn and Coca-Cola sales at a movie theater after flashing “Eat popcorn” and “Drink Coca-Cola” on the screen every five seconds for 1/300th of a second, although the audience did not consciously recognize the messages. Almost immediately consumer protection groups became concerned that advertisers were brainwashing consumers, and this practice was pronounced illegal in California and Canada. Although the researcher later admitted to making up the data and scientists have been unable to replicate the study since, consumers are still wary of hidden messages that advertisers may be sending.