Buyer Perception and Attention

The Nature of Perception

Information processing is a series of activities by which stimuli are transformed into information, and stored.

Attention occurs when the receptor nerves pass the sensations on to the brain for processing.  Interpretation is the assignment of meaning to the received sensations.  Memory is the short-term use of this meaning for immediate decision making, or the longer term retention of the meaning.

The above  suggests a linear flow from exposure to memory.  However, these processes occur virtually simultaneously, and are clearly interactive.  That is, memory influences the information buyers are exposed to and attend to, and the interpretations they assign.  At the same time, memory itself is being shaped by the information it is receiving.

Both perception and memory are extremely selective.  Of the massive amount of information available, an individual can be exposed to only a limited proportion.  Of the information to which the individual is exposed, only a relatively small percentage is attended to and passed on to the central processing part of the brain for interpretation.

Much of the interpreted information will not be available to active memory when the individual needs to make a purchase decision.  This is illustrated in Figure 8.2. Clearly, the marketing manager faces a challenging task when communicating with buyers.


Exposure,  occurs when a stimulus comes within range of our sensory receptor nerves.  For an individual to be exposed to a stimulus requires only that the stimulus be placed within the person’s immediate environment.  The individual need not perceive the stimulus in order for exposure to have occurred.

An individual is generally exposed to no more than a small fraction of the available stimuli.  We normally watch only one television station at a time, read one magazine, newspaper or book at a time, and so on.  It is important for marketers to understand what determines which specific stimuli an individual will be exposed to, and whether this is a random process or a purposeful one.

Most of the stimuli to which an individual is exposed are ‘self-selected’.  In other words, people deliberately seek out exposure to certain stimuli, and avoid others.

Evidence of the active, self-selecting nature of exposure can be seen with ‘zapping’.  Zapping occurs when television viewers switch channels or fast-forward (if watching a pre-recorded show) when commercials occur on television.  The advent of remote-controlled television sets and VCRs has made this easy to do. and most buyers with this equipment actively avoid commercials.

What influences the types of stimuli people seek out?  Generally, buyers seek information that they think will help them to achieve certain goals.  These goals may be immediate or long range.  Immediate goals could involve seeking stimuli such as a television program for amusement, an advertisement to assist in a purchase decision, or a compliment to enhance the self-concept.  Long-range goals could involve studying this text in hopes of passing the next exam, obtaining a degree, becoming a better marketing manager, or all three.  An individual’s goals, and the types of information needed to achieve those goals, are a function of the individual’s existing and desired lifestyle, and such short-term motives as hunger or curiosity.

Of course, as buyers we are also exposed to a large number of stimuli on a more or less random basis during our daily activities.  While driving, we hear commercials on the car radio, see outdoor posters and display advertisements, and so on, that were not purposefully sought out.  Likewise, even if television viewers now have remote control, they do not always zap’ commercials. And of course there are those ads in just about everything we see via the internet.  How many do we actually notice?Attention

Attention occurs when the stimulus activates one or more sensory receptor nerves, and the resulting sensations go to the brain for processing.  Buyers are constantly exposed to thousands of times more stimuli than can be processed.  The average supermarket has thousands of individual items. It would take hours to attend to each of them.  Therefore, grocery shoppers have to be selective in attending to marketing as well as other messages.

This selectivity has major implications for marketing managers and others concerned with communicating with buyers.

Obviously, anyone wishing to communicate effectively with buyers must understand how to obtain attention after obtaining exposure.  Some companies go to great lengths to try to secure their target buyers’ attention to their advertising message.

What determines or influences attention?  At this moment you are attending to these words.  If you shift your concentration to your feet, you will most likely become aware of the pressure being exerted by your shoes.  A second shift in concentration to sounds will probably produce awareness of a number of background noises.  These stimuli are available all the time, but are not processed until a deliberate effort is made to do so.  However, no matter how hard you are concentrating on this text, a loud scream or a sudden hand on your shoulder would probably get your attention.

Of course, attention always occurs within the context of a situation.  The same individual may devote different levels of attention to the same stimulus in different situations.  Attention, therefore, is determined by three factors: the stimulus, the individual, and the situation.


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