Perception is how we see ourselves and the world we live in. However, what ends up being stored inside us doesn’t always get there in a direct manner. Often our mental makeup results from information that has been consciously or subconsciously filtered as we experience it, a process we refer to as a perceptual filter. To us this is our reality, though it does not mean it is an accurate reflection on what is real. Thus, perception is the way we filter stimuli (e.g., someone talking to us, reading an online blog posting) and then make sense out of it.
Perception has several stages.
- Stage 1: Exposure – sensing a stimulus (e.g. seeing an advertisement)
- Stage 2: Attention – an effort to recognize the nature of a stimulus (e.g. recognizing it is an advertisement)
- Stage 3: Awareness – assigning meaning to a stimulus (e.g., humorous advertisement for particular product)
- Stage 4: Retention – adding the meaning to one’s internal makeup (i.e., product has fun advertisements)
How these steps are eventually carried out depends on a person’s approach to learning. By learning we mean how someone changes what they know, which in turn may affect how they act. There are many theories of learning, a discussion of which is beyond the scope of this tutorial, however, suffice to say that people are likely to learn in different ways. For instance, one person may be able to focus very strongly on a certain advertisement and be able to retain the information after being exposed only one time while another person may need to be exposed to the same advertisement many times before he/she even recognizes what it is. Consumers are also more likely to retain information if a person has a strong interest in the stimulus. If a person is in need of new car they are more likely to pay attention to a new advertisement for a car while someone who does not need a car may need to see the advertisement many times before they recognize the brand of automobile.
Marketers spend large sums of money in an attempt to get customers to have a positive impression of their products. But clearly, the existence of a perceptual filter suggests that getting to this stage is not easy. Exposing consumers to a product can be very challenging considering the amount of competing product messages (ads) that are also trying to accomplish the same objective (i.e., advertising clutter). So marketers must be creative and use various means to deliver their message. Once the message reaches consumer it must be interesting enough to capture their attention (e.g., talk about the product’s benefits). But paying attention to the message is not enough. For marketers, the most critical step is the one that occurs with awareness. Here marketers must continually monitor and respond if their message becomes distorted in ways that will negatively shape its meaning. This can often happen due, in part, to competitive activity (e.g., comparison advertisements). Finally, getting the consumer to give positive meaning to the message they have retained requires the marketer make sure that consumers accurately interpret the facts about the product.