To understand the buyer and to make a customer out of him is the main purpose of the study of consumer behaviour. Though this problem has been analysed from different view points under different premises, it still remains a complex one. On the other hand the buyer is a riddle. He is a highly complex entity. His needs & desires are innumerable. Some are latent, some manifest and some others are highly dominant. These have different priorities in the his scheme of things. The buyer has his own ideas & plans about realising these needs & desires. The first & foremost task of the marketer is to get close to the buyer and understand his need-structure & priorities. There are four major factors which influence the behaviour of the consumers. They are : 1. Psychological factors influencing Customer Behaviour 2. Social Psychological factors influencing Customer Behaviour 3. Sociological factors influencing Customer Behaviour 4. Economic factors influencing Customer Behaviour

These are the factors which are the personal attributes of an individual. We shall study Five of them : Attitude, Motivation, Perception, Personality and Learning.

Different people see things, events, and ideas from different view point, and hold different opinions, views for them. In other words they have different “Perception” of the world.

Definition of perception :
Perception is defined as the process by which the individual selects, organises, and interprets various stimuli into a meaningful & coherent picture of the world. Marketers are deeply interested in such perceptions the consumers hold about their products & services, brands, company etc.

Elements of perception :
The following are the elements of perception : 1. Sensation – is the immediate & direct response of the sensory organs to stimuli. A stimulus is a single input of any of the senses. Human beings have sensory receptors called sensory organs. They are : a. Eyes for sights & seeing, b. Ears for sounds & hearing, c. Nose for smells & smelling,

d. Tongue for tastes & tasting, e. Skin for textures, touch & feeling,

2. Marketers try to stimulate the sensory organs of a consumer to create a favourable perception towards their products.

3. Absolute threshold – is the minimum level that the individual can experience a sensation. In other words, he can distinguish the difference between something & nothing. This level varies from person to person & vary with time, place & environment. Marketers often try to provide stimuli more than this level. 4. Differential Threshold or Just Noticeable Difference (JND) – is the minimal difference that can be detected between two similar stimuli. German scientist Ernst Weber discovered that the JND between two stimuli is not absolute, but an amount relative to the intensity of the first stimulus. Thus marketers try to change certain attributes which are just short of JND. 5. Subliminal Perception – there are certain types of stimuli which are not strong enough to exceed the absolute threshold, but somehow stimulates the subconscious mind & get recorded there, sometimes without the knowledge of the perceptor. At a later stage this might surface as some form of expression or perception. Here the marketers try to stimulate the subconscious mind of an individual. Some think it’s unethical, but there are several positive outcome of this method if applied in a constructive way.

Information processing :
is a series of activities where the stimuli are perceived & processed to convert/transform them to information, and then stored (very similar to computer data processing). Later this info is used in selecting a product. 1. Exposure : Exposure occurs when our senses detect some external cue from the various things we come in contact with. We are all exposed to a plethora of marketing ads continuously. This becomes the starting point of all information processing. But people tend to perceive things they need or want. The stronger the need, the greater the tendency to ignore unrelated stimuli. Hence “Selective Perception” occurs when the consumer selects the stimuli from the environment on the basis of interaction of expectations & motives with the stimulus itself. These factors give rise to four important concepts concerning perception : a. Selective exposure – where the consumers want to avoid unpleasant or painful messages & seek those which are sympathetic, interesting and pleasant. b. Selective attention or perceptual vigilance – where the consumers exercise selectivity in terms of their attention to commercial stimuli. They have a heightened attention regarding the stimuli that meet their needs, & minimal attention to the ones irrelevant to their needs. People also vary in terms of kind of info like price, quality, features etc., forms of messages & type of medium they prefer. c. Perceptual defence – where consumers subconsciously screen out stimuli that are threatening or damaging even if the exposure has already taken place. Likewise sometimes they unconsciously distort the information that is not matching their needs, values, & beliefs. This may be due to psychological factors or any unfavourable past experience.

d. Perceptual blocking – where consumers protect themselves from being exposed by blocking such stimuli from conscious awareness. They do it for self protection because of the visually overwhelming nature of the world we live in. 2. Attention : Normally all the stimuli of a message come thro’ the various sensory organs simultaneously. But an individual can remember only one of them, usually the strongest and tries to take action on that basis. Marketers try to exploit that situation to their advantage, to leave an impact in the consumer. This is known as attention.

a. Stimulus – is the one which prompts an individual to initiate an action by creating an attention. It has the following characteristics : Size & Intensity; Colour & Movement; Position; Format & Design; Isolation; Contrast or Distinction; Information extent. b. Individual factors – The attention of a consumer depends on the following factors : Interest & Needs; Ability; Involvement, etc. c. Situational factors – Often the situation, condition, environment or the surrounding of the consumer have an affect on its attention of certain stimuli. Hence the marketers should devise certain methods to help overcome that.

3. Interpretation – Just like people’s exercise of selective perception on the basis of certain psychological principles, the interpretation of these stimuli is also highly individual because it is based on what the individuals expect to see in the light of their previous experience, motives, interests, reasoning at the time of perception. In the case of any ambiguous stimuli, the individuals usually interpret these in such a way to serve their own needs, interests, wishes, etc.

Consumer Imagery :
Consumers have a number of enduring perceptions or images of themselves. Products & brands have also a symbolic value for consumers, who evaluate them on the basis of their consistency (congruence) with the perception of themselves. This is the consumers’ self-image & they attempt to preserve or enhance it by buying products & brands or patronising services which they believe are congruent with their self-images and avoiding which are not. This phenomenon is known as consumer imagery. 1. Product Image - where the consumer compares his self-image with his perception of the product or brand. 2. Service Image - where the consumer compares his self-image with his perception of the service or its provider.

Perception in Marketing :
Marketers have realised that understanding the perception process of consumers help them to design better ways to help them perceive favourably. The main methods of stimuli are thro’ advertising, communication, messaging, company news etc. Thus the marketers have to develop specific stimuli thro’ these methods so that the consumers perception about their products clearly & enduringly. These are some techniques : 1. Brand development & Perceptual Mapping – This technique helps the marketers to determine how the products or services appear to the consumer in relation the other competitive brands on one or more relevant attributes of the products or services. 2. Retail Stores – In retail stores normally all the brands in a particular category of products are arranged at the same place, so they have a direct competitive setting. The brands which claim to be special in any respect should be specially displayed to gain attention.

© Himansu S M / 12-Sep-2009

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