Consumer Perception: Conscious and Non-Conscious Processes

Consumer Perception: Conscious and Non-Conscious Processes

Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 22
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-7518-6.ch001
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Abstract

Sensation and perception refers to different stages in the processing of stimuli that influence consumer behaviors. The five senses involved in sensation and perception—touch, smell, taste, hearing, and vision—have important implications for marketers. Consumers often make inferences about the quality and performance of products on the basis of sensory cues. Product packaging can also be an important cue from which consumers can derive information and make evaluations about the performance of the product. This chapter also discusses non-conscious processing of environmental cues and how unconsciously perceived stimuli affect a variety of consumer behaviors. The research presented in this chapter on sensory cues and unconscious processes can help managers to develop effective sensory marketing strategies.
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Introduction

Passengers boarding Boeing’s new 787 Dreamliner are in for a very different ride that they may be used to when flying the world skies. As soon as they step through the cabin door, they will realize that this is an airplane designed to please the senses. High vaulted ceilings, adaptable LED lighting, and larger windows with electric dimming capabilities create a visually spacious and comfortable cabin. A new air filtration system removes contaminants and odors, letting consumers breathe clean, fresh air. A quieter air conditioning system, sound-deadening materials in the walls and ceiling, and new engine components significantly reduce noise and improve sound quality in the cabin. Even interior equipment is specifically intended to reduce squeaks. Softer plastics and materials enfold passengers in their seats. Finally, the in-flight entertainment system provides on-demand audiovisual content to every seat.

Boeing is not alone among marketers in appealing to consumers’ senses to help their products stand out in a crowded marketplace. An increasing number of managers are using the sensory qualities of their products and retail spaces to connect their brands and products with consumers. These efforts leverage the ability of sensations to influence moods, form product memories, and build brand attachments in order to increase sales. Such efforts can be described as sensory marketing, which is defined as “marketing that engages the consumers’ senses and affects their perception, judgment and behavior”; it represents the application of sensation and perception principles to the field of marketing (Krishna, 2012). Over the past three decades, consumer researchers have begun to explore the roles of sensation and perception in consumer behaviors. These two intricately related concepts refer to different stages of sensory processing. Sensation, which is primarily a physical process, occurs when environmental stimuli (e.g., light) reach the sensory organs (e.g., eyes) and stimulate the receptor cells in these organs. Perception, on the other hand, is the understanding or interpretation of the environmental information obtained through the senses. In other words, in perceiving stimuli, consumers draw from their experiences, learning and memory to interpret the information they receive through their senses. This distinction is important, because it suggests that consumers may not perceive marketing stimuli exactly as they are presented in the environment.

A good way to understand this difference is to think of visual illusions, in which what people “see” does not necessarily correspond to the actual features of an image or object. Consumers have learned through experience that certain things “look” a certain way; thus, when they encounter these things, they see what they have learned to expect rather what is actually shown. Consumer perception is a complex process that is affected by the characteristics of the individual consumer (knowledge, interests and experiences), characteristics of the stimulus (the features of the stimulus itself), and the context (the setting in which the stimulus is found). Sensation and perception are automatic processes that, to a large extent, occur outside of conscious awareness. Although research suggests that there are multiple sensory systems, this chapter will focus on the traditional classification of the five senses – touch (also known as haptics), smell, taste, hearing and vision – as they have broad applications in marketing. Research on sensation and perception contains important insights for marketing managers. Because complete product information is desirable but seldom available before purchase and consumption, consumers make inferences about the quality and performance of a product on the basis of sensory cues such as appearance, shape, sound, smell, taste, and texture, as well as other product cues perceived through the senses such as brand, price, or package. Thus, sensory cues are important in consumer evaluations and decision making.

One important cue from which consumers derive information and make inferences about a product is its package. Packaging not only protects the product but also conveys important information about the product and its positioning. In fact, the package has become an important point of differentiation for many consumer products. Firms and consumers are increasingly interested in the sensory and aesthetic features of product packages. This chapter will also discuss recent research on the influences packaging can have on consumer behaviors. Some of this research has used sophisticated brain imaging technology to explore how consumers react to the attractiveness of product packages.

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