Perception is the process by which physical sensations such as sights, sounds and smells are selected, organized and interpreted. The eventual interpretation of the stimulus allows it to be assigned meaning. The stages of a perceptual process are:

  1. Primitive categorization , the stage in which the basic characteristics of a stimulus are isolated
  2. Cue check , the stage in which the characteristics are analyzed in preparation for the selection of a schema
  3. Confirmation check , the stage in which the schema is selected
  4. Confirmation completion , the stage in which a decision is made as to what the stimulus is

Various stimulus can have different impact.

  • Vision: marketers rely heavily on visual elements in advertising, store design and packaging. Colors are rich in symbolic value and cultural meanings and can be critical spurs to sale
  • Smell: odors can stir the emotions or have a calming effect, they can invoke memories or relieve stress
  • Sound: can affect people’s feelings and behaviors
  • Touch: tactile cues can have symbolic meaning
  • Test: can contribute to our experiences of many products

Furthermore, two different sensory thresholds can be defined. The absolute threshold , which is the minimum amount of stimulation that can be detected on a sensory channel; and the differential threshold , which is the ability of a sensory system to detect changes or differences between two stimuli - the issue of when or if a change will be noticed is relevant to many marketing situations.

Consumers are often in a state of sensory overload, exposed to too much information and are unable or unwilling to process all of the information at their disposal. Perceptual selectivity occurs when people attend to only a small portion of the stimuli that they are exposed to.

There are several perceptual principles for organizing stimuli. The Gestalt psychology, where people derive meaning from the totality of a set of stimuli rather than form any one individual stimuli. The Principle of closure , where consumers tend to perceive an incomplete picture as complete, filling in the blanks based on previous experience. The Principle of similarity , where consumers tend to group together objects that share similar physical characteristics. And the Figure ground principle, where where one part of the stimulus will dominate while others recede into the background.

Meanings can be interpreted in different ways:

  • Priming: where consumers assign meaning based on the set of beliefs held
  • Symbolic consumption: where the meanings attached to the act of consuming the goods, for example trendiness, wealth, femininity, etc.
  • Stimulus Ambiguity: where consumers project their own experiences and aspirations to assign meaning
  • Stimulus organization: where people relate incoming sensations to imagery of other sensations already in memory based on fundamental organization principles

'Symbolism plays an important role in interpretation. Semiotics examines the correspondence between signs and symbols and their role in the assignment of meaning. Products are given meanings by their producers and we rely on advertising to work out what those meanings are. Advertising serves as a kind of culture/consumption dictionary.

Semiotic principles says that messages have three basic components. The lowest level(the object or the product that is the focus of the message), the middle level(the sign or the sensory image that represents the unintended meaning of the object) and top level (the interpretant or the meaning derive).

Positioning strategy is a positional strategy is a fundamental part of a company’s marketing efforts as it uses the different element of the marketing mix (product, price, place, promotion, etc) to influence consumers interpretation of its meaning. Brand positioning dimensions are amongst others: lifestyle, price leadership, attributes, product class, competitors, occasions, users and quality.

Stimuli have also physical properties , which are:

  • Intensity and size: the more intensive or larger the stimulus, the more likely we are to notice, e.g. poster sites
  • Position: we read from the left to the right – generally the upper part of the page and the left hand page gain more attention
  • Contrast: e.g. color photograph on a black and white page
  • Novelty:anything different from what we would normally expect
  • Repetition: the greater the repetition the more likely we will remember
  • Movement: our eyes are involuntarily attracted to movement – thus television tends to be more stimulating than poster sites

Perceptual selectivity is a process whereby individuals actively select relevant stimuli form their surroundings. The determinants are external and internal factors. External factors can be for examplehabit – we become used to stimuli from experience, something familiar will be notice immediately. Internal factors may include needs and interests (we’ll be more likely to notice things of interest to us), motives (the stronger the need the more likely we are to notice things of interest and ignore unrelated stimuli, e.g. we’ll pay more attention to stimuli we are interested in) or expectations (what we expect to perceive is based on familiarity – past experience – thus something unexpected is more likely to be noticed) Selective attention says that we pay attention to things that interest us or reinforce our opinion. And selective exposure' states that we avoid any information that may be contradictory to our beliefs and attitudes – sometimes we’ll seek out supportive information if our beliefs have been attacked. Selective reception indicates that in some cases we’ll be motivated to follow advice to avoid unpleasant situations – e.g. fear appeals. It is also to block large quantities of information from conscious awareness, which is known as perceptual blocking.

The patterning or organization of stimuli is called Gestalt . Gestalt school claims that the process of perceptions is innately organized and patterned. Gestalt is the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. People do not view stimuli as separate components but organize them in to a recognizable pattern. Perceptual selectivity lets us see lines but perceptual organization lets us see words. Gestalt encompasses three principles:Figure (stimuli must contrast to be noticed; learning affects which will be perceived as background and figure for example words on page), grouping (individual groups stimuli together so they form a unified picture) as well as closure (organization of stimuli to form a complete picture)

Important short-cuts for social perception are:

  • Stereotyping – a broad generalization
  • Halo-effect – brands of clothes
  • Projection – attribute our own feelings to others
  • First impressions – last!
  • Perceptual screening – filter out what we don’t like