Perception: Marketing and Consumer Behavior Challenge

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When students finish this chapter they should understand that:

• Perception is a three-stage process that translates raw stimuli into meaning.

• Products and commercial messages often appeal to our senses, but we won’t be influenced by most of them.

• The design of a product today is a key driver of its success or failure. • Subliminal advertising is a controversial—but largely ineffective—way to talk to consumers.

• We interpret the stimuli to which we do pay attention according to learned patterns and expectations.

• The field of semiotics helps us to understand how marketers use symbols to create meaning.


In this chapter, students will be exposed to the study of perception—the process by which sensations (light, color, taste, odors, and sound) are selected, organized, and interpreted. The study of perception, then, focuses on what we add to or take away from these raw sensations as we choose which to notice, and then go about assigning meaning to them.

Marketing stimuli have important sensory qualities. We rely on colors, odors, sounds, tastes, and textures (the “feel” of products) when forming evaluations of them. Each of these sensations is discussed and placed into proper context of marketing usage and attention attraction.

How do our sensory receptors pick up sensations? The answer is exposure. Exposure is the degree to which people notice a stimulus that is within range of their sensory receptors. A stimulus must be presented at a certain level of intensity before it can be detected by sensory receptors. A consumer’s ability to detect whether two stimuli are different (the differential threshold) is an important issue in many marketing decisions (such as changing the package design, altering the size of a product, or reducing its size). An interesting study within the exposure area is that of subliminal perception. Although evidence that subliminal persuasion (exposure to visual and audio messages below the level of the consumers’ awareness) is effective is virtually nonexistent, many consumers continue to believe that advertisers use this technique.

All marketers would like to gain the consumer’s attention. Attention refers to the extent to which processing activity is devoted to a particular stimulus. There are barriers that prohibit effective attention (perceptual selection, perceptual vigilance, and perceptual defense). Several factors can influence attention (such as size, color, position, and novelty). Attention-getting devices dominate our information-oriented society (whether in ads or on the Web).

If a message has gained the consumer’s attention, the message must be correctly interpreted to be of value. Stimulus organization, interpretational biases, and semiotics provide direction to the study of consumer interpretation. Part of the interpretation process is using symbols to help us make sense of the world around us. The degree to which the symbolism is consistent with our previous experience affects the meaning we assign to related objects.

Perceptual positioning helps to match perceived characteristics of a product or service with the product or service’s market position. Based on positions, strategies can be constructed. Perceptual maps of positions are a widely used marketing tool that evaluates the relative standing of competing brands along relevant dimensions. Modification of position can occur through repositioning.


1. Introduction
a. We live in a world overflowing with sensations.
1) Marketers contribute to the overflow by supplying advertisements, product packages, radio and television commercials, and billboards. 2) Each consumer copes with the bombardment of sensations by paying attention to some stimuli and tuning out others.

b. Sensation refers to the immediate response of our sensory receptors (eyes, ears, nose, mouth, fingers) to such...
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