Psychological Influences on the Consumer Decision Process: Pt 1: Consumer Perception

As a marketing leader, you understand firsthand that your ability to improve your brand’s perception to your target market(s) becomes more challenging year over year. An increasing number of companies now invest in customer experience optimization, products and services innovation, and enhancing consumer appeal in never-before-seen ways.

The competition to own market share is tough; however, companies that cater to their target audiences by meeting or exceeding their expectations with an excellent customer experience and stellar customer service are perceived positively and reap the benefits of increased sales and recognition. For 90% of consumers, customer service is important to their choice of and loyalty to a brand. 89% of consumers are more likely to make another purchase after a pleasant customer experience. 50% of American consumers will switch companies because of poor customer service.

Perception is a powerful psychological factor that significantly impacts the consumer-decision buying process. Depending on how consumers perceive your product, service, or organization determines if they will purchase from your company and have a desire to be loyal to it. Consumer and brand sentiment are established through the anchors and perceptions formed throughout the entire customer journey. When a consumer becomes loyal–beyond just repeat purchases–the brand has connected and bonded with them on a deep emotional level. With these connections, the consumer has formed an unbreakable, positive perception so strong that the very thought of brand disloyalty is off-putting.

For instance, if someone tells a Mac Fanatic to buy a Windows PC, the advice comes off laughable-yet-almost-insulting due to the connection the Mac lover has made with the Apple brand. This is just one example of countless others, proving consumer perception is significant in determining whether a consumers adopts a brand into their lives, or not. Part 1 of this new series covers the power of perception; the theories behind it; its effects on consumer behavior; and how marketing leaders can ensure their products, services, and organization are perceived in a positive light.

Perception Explained

Perception is the process through which we gather, process, and interpret information from our environment. There are many varying types of perception, from our five senses to non-classical types such as spacial, form, time, kinesthetic, thermal, and others. To put it simply, perception is how we see the world. As consumers, we each perceive brands and their offerings on an individual basis. We act based on our perceptions, which means perception plays a vital role in determining which organization/brand/product/service we choose when making a purchase.

Cognitive Theory of Perception

Cognitive theory is the modern approach for explaining the influence of perception. Cognitive theorists believe that people are different from other kinds of animals because we process stimuli using our knowledge or cognitive structures when making decisions. Every person has their own cognitive structure formed by their personal experiences, values, beliefs, senses, ideas, and attitudes. As humans, we form perceptions about objects using our internal cognitive structures and knowledge.

Our senses receive information about the environment when developing a perception towards an object. After receiving the stimulus, our cognitive structures evaluate and process it. If we see a similar object in the future, we will use the stored perception from the past to help us process the same item. We use our senses to respond to and process stimuli (such as product offerings or brands) to determine how we feel about those entities in the current moment and in the future.

Modes of Perception: Overview

When we react to stimuli, our organs—eyes, nose, mouth, skin, and ears—process that information. There are four basic modes of perception based on our senses that help us experience the world around us and determine how we perceive it. These four modes are the visual mode, aural mode, olfactory mode, and tactile mode.

  • Visual Mode of Perception

When we see an object, we naturally form an idea about it. If it draws our attention or appeals to us, then we actively consider it for the future. 72% of American consumers say packaging designs influence their purchasing decision. Aesthetically pleasing packaging and designs increase the chance that the consumer will develop a positive perception of the offering or brand and remember it for future purchases.

  • Hearing or Aural Mode of Perception 

Hearing sounds sends messages to our brain. Humans can process sounds at frequencies between 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz. Sounds beyond 20,000 kHz cycles per second cannot be processed by our brains. When creating commercials or auditory-focused campaigns, marketers should ensure that the sound does not travel at a high frequency. High-frequency sounds irritate consumers and can result in a negative perception for those watching, which can result in them changing the channel or tuning out the ad.

  • Smell or Taste or Olfactory Mode of Perception

Taste and smell go hand in hand. Our noses determine whether an object smells desirable or not, while our tongues help us understand textures and tastes (i.e., bitter, sweet, salty, liquid, solid). When a product’s taste and smell align with our preferences, we establish a positive perception and are more likely to purchase that item. Marketers can appeal to both senses and enhance consumer desire by providing samples or delivering campaigns highlighting delicious smells and tastes.

  • Perception of Touch or Tactile Mode of Perception  

Each fingertip has over 3,000 touch receptors. Upon touching objects, we are able to form ideas of hot or cold, soft or hard, silky or coarse, etc. Understanding the tactile preferences of your target audience can increase the likelihood of purchases. For example, when a mattress company targets women, the company should consider brand messaging that promotes mattress softness. Why? Women are twice as likely to prefer a softer mattress than men.

Determinants of Perception and their Marketing Significance

Every day we are bombarded by thousands of stimuli online and in stores, workplaces, cars, from friends and family, and more. We simply cannot process the magnitude of information we see every day. Instead, our senses focus on the stimuli that pique our interests the most. We tend to ignore or block out stimuli that does not engage us or manage to capture our interest. Knowing this, marketers’ jobs are to create appealing, captivating campaigns and offerings to capture consumer interest.

There are two factors that influence perception: stimulus factors and individual response factors. Triggering both can increase the likelihood of someone paying attention to an ad or a new product launch.

  • Stimulus Factors

Perception is triggered when a stimulus activates our sensory receptors, which are then processed by the brain. The stimulus factors that affect and influence consumer perception include color, contrast, size, loudness, brightness, position, movement, directionality, isolation, introduction questions, novelty, and more. To increase the likelihood of positive perceptions and the potential for sales, marketers should study the effects of each of these stimulus factors, and ensure product offerings incorporate factor levels that align with the target audience. 

  • Individual Response Factors 

Aside from stimulus factors, individual characteristics can also influence perception. The individual response factors that influence perception and affect how consumers perceive product offerings include interest, attention, needs/motives, past experiences, personality, attitudes, and values. Marketers should study the traits and characteristics of their target audience to create offerings that successfully trigger individual responses.

Features of Perception and Its Effect on Consumer Behavior

Individuals perceive stimuli or information depending upon several characteristics of perceptions, such as perceptual selectivity, perceptual organization, and perceptual thresholds.

  • Perceptual Selectivity

Studies show that as consumers, we are exposed to 4,000 to 10,000 ads per day. Subconsciously, we practice perceptual selectivity to help us perceive stimuli that interest us the most. In order to overcome perceptual selectivity and capture consumer attention, brands and marketers must create and deliver innovations and quality promotional efforts that are difficult to ignore, and ads must be strategically designed to attract and engage consumers.

  • Perceptual Organization

When a stimulus catches our attention, we try to understand its meaning and comprehend the information or message being conveyed. Individuals use personal frame of reference to organize the stimulus into different parts and reduce overall ambiguity. For example, when we see a commercial for the first time, we subconsciously relate various aspects of it to other commercials or content familiar to us to decipher the context and/or meaning.

  • Perceptual Thresholds

A threshold is the intensity of stimulus energy required to activate various sensation levels. The three levels of threshold include lower threshold, terminal threshold, and difference threshold.

  • The lower threshold is the intensity of the stimulus needed to be detected by our senses.
  • The terminal threshold is the level of intensity input that exceeds the point where the stimulus can exert an extra sensation to our senses.
  • The difference threshold refers to the smallest increase in stimulus intensity that is perceived as an increase by an individual.

Stimuli should not be less than the lower threshold, as that will not garner the attention of the target audience. Stimuli should not go above the upper threshold to avoid being a deterrent. For instance, if the price of a product goes up too high, the consumer can be deterred from wanting to buy.

Perceptions that Affect Consumer Buying Decisions

When shopping, consumers rely on perceptions to make purchasing decisions. We evaluate stimuli such as price and risk to determine whether or not we want to make a purchase.

  • Perception on Price

Price is one of the crucial stimulus factors that affect willingness to purchase. It is a determinant that all marketers must understand in order to predict its effect on consumers. There is no one-size-fits-all reaction regarding price, but there are a variety of studies that can give better insight into how it is perceived by consumers.

People perceive price differently depending on their socioeconomic status, product quality, features, and benefits. For instance, a person may be more willing to purchase an expensive item if it is marketed as long-lasting and durable. Knowing this, marketers should advertise product quality and other features to establish price validity with the customer.

  • Perception on Risk

Consumers associate various types of risk when purchasing products. The degrees of risk vary based on cost and the degree of certainty that the product will be satisfactory. The last thing a consumer wants to experience is a failed purchase, as this can equate to lost money and time, can damage the ego, and lead to other negative ramifications. It is up to marketers to ensure the risk associated with purchasing is low. The two levels of risk associated with purchasing include inherent risk and handled risk.

  • Inherent risk is the first or basic risk one may observe involving a purchasing decision.
  • Handled risk arises after the information is processed, and the buyer usually tries to reduce this by following varying mechanisms.

Ways to Reduce or Eliminate Perceived Risks

There are several ways marketers can reduce perceived risk to increase the likelihood of purchases, such as offering money-back guarantees, exchanges for unsatisfactory purchases, free shipping, and more. Promotional efforts can be added to offerings to lower risk and make the consumer feel more comfortable when purchasing.

If selling a service, marketers should be transparent in their offering(s) and answer any questions customers may have, as this is a simple way to eliminate any doubts regarding the product or service. Social proof is another way to reduce perceived risk. A small percentage of consumers buy products without social proof. Today, people want to read reviews and testimonials to ensure the product will meet their expectations. Incorporating testimonials and reviews on websites, social platforms, and other touch points establishes transparency and reduces risk, thus increasing the potential for sales.

There is, however, only so much a marketer can do to reduce risk. What marketers can do is make sure all the information a customer might research is easily available. Doing so increases the chances a customer will purchase the product or service. Half of the work relies on the consumer, who takes the time to research and read articles, reviews, or testimonials for social proof. They may also talk to others who have purchased the same product or service to see if it met or exceeded others’ expectations.

We Improve Your Brand’s Perception In Its Target Markets

Understanding consumer behavior helps you know your target audiences’ unique preferences, which allows you to better understand how to encourage initial purchases and repeat sales. We are the experts at creating influential brands that lead to positive consumer perception. Schedule an introductory call with us to learn more about how we help.



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