“All our knowledge has its origins in our perceptions.” Leonardo da Vinci
Perception is probably one of the most powerful ways marketers use to grab your attention. What is perception? Simply explained, perception is the way we see the world. Not necessarily how the world is, but how we perceive it. Every person sees their surroundings in their own way, which could be very different from what the person next to us sees.
A quick example. Let’s imagine you are going out for lunch on a Saturday with a friend of yours. You sit down and try to decide what to order. Being a Saturday you decide that a good pint of Guinness or a glass of Pinot Noir sounds like a great idea. Why not, it’s Saturday, it’s a beautiful sunny day, nobody can say no to one pint of beer or a glass of wine. You order from the waiter and ask your friend if he wants one too. He reacts with absolute disgust. Not what you expected.
What you don’t know is that your friend had an office party the previous night, went a bit overboard and now has a massive hangover. An alcoholic beverage seems like the worst idea one can possibly have.
Here the perception of a pint of goodness is incomplete opposites by the two parties. For one, it is something delicious and to the other, it is something almost horrifying.
What does this have to do with marketing? A lot, almost everything. Brands use perception to create a connection with consumers. They do this by using stimuli to provoke the sensory system to create memories and associations with what their brand is or stands for. The sensory system is:
- >Vision – Eyes – Here marketers use a products’ size, colour and design to provoke a reaction in the consumers’ behaviour. Brands are even very protective of their designs, for example, the Coca-Cola and Listerine bottles.
- >Scent – Nose – Here we see shops like bakeries or coffee shops using freshly baked pastries or the smell of a fresh brew as a stimulus.
- >Sound – Ears – Something every one of us experiences when doing our grocery shopping. Supermarkets use music to dictate the pace of their customers in the shop. Brands are protective of what called audio watermarking, like the whistling at the end of every McDonald’s commercial. Just the whistling alone can be used as a stimulus and make you want to have a Big Mac without even seeing the McDonalds logo.
- >Touch – Skin – One of the oldest used tricks in sales. When we touch something we tend to want it more, hence the reason why good merchants at bazaars often hand you their product. When in our hands, we get a higher level of attachment to it so we are more inclined to buy it.
- >Taste – Mouth – Taste would be, what I think, the hardest of the sensory system to use as a marketing stimulus. It must be a product that we eat. Being the hardest to use, it could also be the most powerful. The reason being is because the taste can bring memories. Memories are something we desire and are ready to pay for. According to the Harvard University Press Blog, “there is a part of the brain called the hippocampus (one in each hemisphere) that is critical for memory”. Imagine yourself on a visit to your hometown and passing through an old bakery where you used to buy treats. Would you stop and buy something? I know I would.
The three stages of perception
In the first part, we found out how sensations, like smell and touch, are used as stimulus. Perception is the process by which these sensations are selected, organized and interpreted. Let’s say a couple takes the bus home. The bus passes a billboard with an ad about makeup. The man might not even see it, but the woman’s attention is provoked by it. Same situation, same conditions, different perceptions of the surroundings.
The perception process is said to go through these three stages:
- Exposure. Here I have to be a bit more scientific and use big words for the key concepts of exposure, that are not as easy to remember, (especially this being my second language) but I have an exam on the subject in the next few days so here we go.
- The sensory threshold is when stimuli can make a conscious impact on a person’s awareness. Do you see the billboard or don’t you.
- Psychophysics is how we integrate the physical environment in our own individual world
- The absolute threshold refers to the minimum amount of stimulation a person can detect on a given sensory channel. If a radio ad in your car is loud enough to hear it. Maybe that is why ads are usually louder than the programme.
- The differential threshold is when the sensory system detects changes between two stimuli. When you can tell the difference between how loud is the radio in your car.
- Just Noticeable Difference (JND) is the minimum difference we can detect between two stimuli. When you can see if the billboard you pass every day is suddenly brighter and cleaner. The same image, same ad, same text just a brand-new canvas.
These methods are often seen in changes in companies’ logos. They mean the same, they show the same name, yet are different.
- Attention. This is the hardest part for marketers. Getting the consumers’ attention. This is getting harder and harder to do because of all the clutter we are surrounded with. People are becoming ignorant to stimuli which do not concern us. For example, if we are in the market for a new car we will be aware of advertisements of car brands, but if we are not, there is a big chance that these ads won’t even be noticed. People see what they want to see, we were forced to evolve that way because of the clutter that surrounds us.
- Interpretation is how people perceive stimuli. Just like the example at the start of this blog (I know you’ve probably forgotten it because this article is too long), a person with a hangover will react completely differently to an ad of a brand of whiskey than a person who has not had a drink since last Saturday would.
In conclusion, marketers should realise that every person sees the world in their own way. What one person perceives as good, another may see it as something bad. You cannot win with everyone. That is why niche marketing is becoming so big.