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4.7. Perception, Motivation and learning processes
Perception - Consumers are never far from advertisements, product packages, radio and television commercials, and advertising hoardings that clamor for their attention. Each of us copes with this bombardment by paying attention to some stimuli and screening out others. When we do make a decision to purchase, we are responding not only to these influences but to our interpretations of them. The way in which a marketing stimulus is presented plays a role in determining whether the consumer will make sense of it or even notice it at all.
In the process of perception, sensations are absorbed by the consumer and used to interpret the surrounding world. Sensation arouses from the five senses (sight, smell, sound, touch and taste) which affect consumers and marketers develop products and communications that appeal to the senses.
Perceptual Process- The meaning of a stimulus is interpreted by the individual, who is influenced by his or her unique biases, needs and experiences. These three stages of exposure (or sensation), attention and interpretation make up the process of perception.
From sensation to perception
Sensation refers to the immediate response of our sensory receptors (e.g. eyes, ears, nose, mouth, fingers) to such basic stimuli as light, color and sound. Perception is the process by which these stimuli are selected, organized and interpreted. We process raw data (sensation); however, the study of perception focuses on what we add to or take away from these sensations as we assign meaning to them.
Such interpretations or assumptions stem from schemas, or organized collections of beliefs and feelings. That is, we tend to group the objects we see as having similar characteristics, and the schema to which an object is assigned is a crucial determinant of how we choose to evaluate this object at a later time.
A perceptual process can be broken down into the following stages:
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- Primitive categorization, in which the basic characteristics of a stimulus are isolated, our male consumer feels he needs to bolster his image, so he chooses aftershave.
- Cue check, in which the characteristics are analyzed in preparation for the selection of a schema: everyone has his own unique, more or less developed schemas or categories for different types of aftershave, such as ‘down-to-earth macho’, ‘mysterious’ or ‘fancy French’. We use certain cues, such as the color of the bottle, to decide in which schema a particular cologne fits.
- Confirmation check, in which the schema is selected, the consumer may decide that a brand falls into his ‘mysterious’ schema.
- Confirmation completion, in which a decision is made as to what the stimulus is, the consumer decides he has made the right choice, and then reinforces this decision by considering the color of the bottle and the interesting name of the aftershave.
Such experiences illustrate the importance of the perceptual process for product positioning. In many cases, consumers use a few basic dimensions to categorize competing products or services, and then evaluate each alternative in terms of its relative standing on these dimensions.
This tendency has led to the use of a very useful positioning tool – a perceptual map. By identifying the important dimensions and then asking consumers to place competitors within this space, marketers can answer some crucial strategic questions, such as which product alternatives are seen by consumers as similar or dissimilar, and what opportunities exist for new products that possess attributes not represented by current brands.
Perceptual Selection - Because the brain's capacity to process information is limited, consumers are very selective about what they pay attention to. Perceptual selectivity means that people attend to only a small portion of stimuli to which they are exposed. Consumers practice a form of psychic economy, picking and choosing among stimuli, to avoid being overwhelmed by advertising clutter. This over-abundance of advertising stimuli highlights two important aspects of perceptual selectivity as they relate to consumer behavior: exposure and attention.
Exposure is the degree to which people notice a stimulus that is within range of their sensory receptors. Consumers concentrate on certain stimuli, are unaware of others, and even go out of their way to ignore some messages. Experience, which is the result of acquiring stimulation, is one factor that determines how much exposure to a particular stimulus a person accepts. Perceptual filters based on consumers’ past experiences influence what we decide to process. Another factor affecting exposure is adaptation, or the degree to which consumers continue to notice a stimulus over time. The process of adaptation occurs when consumers no longer pay attention to a stimulus because it is so familiar. Attention is the degree to which consumers focus on stimuli within their range of exposure.
Interpretation: Decicing What Things Mean
Interpretation refers to the meaning that people assign to sensory stimuli. Just as people differ in terms of the stimuli that they perceive, the eventual assignment of meanings to these stimuli varies as well. Two people can see or hear the same event, but their interpretation of it may be completely different. It is also based on their learning.
Learning - Understanding how consumers learn is very important to marketers. After all, many strategic decisions are based on the assumption that consumers are continually accumulating information about products and that people can be ‘taught’ to prefer some alternatives over others. Learning refers to a relatively permanent change in behavior which comes with experience. This experience does not have to affect the learner directly: we can learn vicariously by observing events that affect others.
Behavioral learning theories assume that learning takes place as the result of responses to external events. Cognitive learning occurs as a result of mental processes. In contrast to behavioral theories of learning, cognitive learning theory stresses the importance of internal mental processes. This perspective views people as problem-solvers who actively use information from the world around them to master their environment.
The motivation Process: A Psychological Perspective
Motivation refers to the processes that cause people to behave as they do. From a psychological perspective motivation occurs when a need is aroused that the consumer wishes to satisfy. Once a need has been activated, a state of tension exists that drives the consumer to attempt to reduce or eliminate the need. This need may be utilitarian (a desire to achieve some functional or practical benefit, as when a person eats green vegetables for nutritional reasons) or it may be hedonic (an experiential need, involving emotional responses or fantasies, as when Jez thinks longingly about a juicy steak). The distinction between the two is, however, a matter of degree. The desired end-state is the consumer's goal. Marketers try to create products and services that will provide the desired benefits and permit the consumer to reduce this tension.
Whether the need is utilitarian or hedonic, a discrepancy exists between the consumer's present state and some ideal state. This gulf creates a state of tension. The magnitude of this tension determines the urgency the consumer feels to reduce the tension. This degree of arousal is called a drive. A basic need can be satisfied in any number of ways, and the specific path a person chooses is influenced both by his or her unique set of experiences and by the values instilled by cultural, religious, ethnic or national background. These personal and cultural factors combine to create a want, which is one manifestation of a need. For example, hunger is a basic need that must be satisfied by all; the lack of food creates a tension state that can be reduced by the intake of such products as paella, pizzas, spaghetti, chocolate biscuits, raw fish or bean sprouts. The specific route
to drive reduction is culturally and individually determined. Once the goal is attained, tension is reduced and the motivation recedes (for the time being). Motivation can be described in terms of its strength, or the pull it exerts on the consumer, and its direction, or the particular way the consumer attempts to reduce motivational tension.
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