By studying consumers, businesses can gain a better understanding of the role of perception in consumer behaviour. Companies can greatly improve their marketing strategies when they have a firm grasp on the psychology of how consumers feel, think and reason their way to a buying decision. Knowing how consumers are influenced by their environment, their information-processing abilities and their perception of a product can help companies to more effectively reach consumers.
People’s perception of something can vary greatly from person to person, with each one forming an individual opinion about the stimuli (agents, action or conditions that elicit a response) being received. Individuals are continually receiving “messages” through the five senses: touch, taste, smell, sight and sound. Successful marketers use those senses to stimulate consumers to examine a product. Perception is one of the key psychological factors that influence consumer behaviour.
In marketing, the role of perception in consumer behaviour is all about recognising how consumers view a company’s product or service. A consumer's motivation for buying a particular product or service often comes down to image. People wish to be perceived as having the ability to make the “right” choices and pick the “right” products. Marketers use perception to target people’s need to fit in and be part of a larger group of discerning consumers.
The significant role played by perception can be exemplified when two identical products are marketed in completely different ways, thus creating distinct perceptions of each product. Depending on consumers’ perception, each product can be received quite differently: favourably, less favourably or not at all. Marketers must distinguish their message from their competitors’ to grab consumers’ attention. People are often willing to pay for a more expensive product over its less-expensive but identical counterpart just because they perceive it to be a “better” product.
There are several factors that can influence the role of perception in consumer behaviour: exposure to stimuli, interpretation of said stimuli and the ability to identify changes in the intensity of stimuli. Exposure involves the levels to which consumers encounter stimuli, like commercial messages in the form of billboards, television and radio advertisements or other advertising media. Interpretation involves consumers making sense out of the messages received, such as recognising a brand name or logo. According to Weber’s Law, a consumer's ability to identify changes in stimulus intensity is strongly related to the original intensity of the stimulus. In other words, the more dramatic the change in the intensity, the more noticeable it will be to consumers.
A number of aspects will influence how consumers perceive a product or service. The relevance to consumers’ lives will definitely affect how much attention consumers give to a perception of a certain product or service. Pleasant or very unpleasant stimuli (advertisements) can command consumers’ attention, with irritating messages sometimes being an extremely effective marketing strategy. Surprising stimuli or stimuli with a noticeable contrast (to its surroundings) or prominence (larger or centre placement) will also gain greater consumer attention.