Selective attention, distortion and retention


A motivated person is ready to act. How he motivated person actually acts is influenced by his or her view or perception of the situation. Perception is the process by which an individual selects, organizes, and interprets information inputs to create a meaningful picture the world. Perception depends not only on the physical stimuli, but also on the stimuli’s relation to the surrounding field and on conditions within the individual. The key point is that perception can vary widely among individuals exposed to the same reality. One person might perceive a fast-talking salesperson as aggressive and insincere another may perceive the same sales person as intelligent and helpful. Each will respond differently to the salesperson.

In marketing, perceptions are more important than the reality, as it is perceptions that will affect consumers’ actual behavior. People can emerge with different perceptions of the same object because of three perceptual processes: selective attention, selective distortion, and selective retention.

Selective Attention:

It has been estimated that the average person may be exposed to over 1,500 ads or brand communications a day. Because a person cannot possibly attend to all of these stimuli will be screened out-a process called selective attention. Selective attention means that marketers have to work hard to attract consumers notice. The real challenge is to explain which stimuli people will notice. Here are some findings:

1. People are more likely to notice stimuli that relate to a current need. A person who is motivated to buy a computer will notice computer ads; he or she will be less likely to notice DVD ads.

2. People are more likely to notice stimuli that they anticipate. You are more likely to notice computers than radios in a computers store because you do not expect the store to carry radios.

3. People are more likely to notice stimuli whose deviations are large in relation to the normal size of the stimuli. You are more likely to notice an ad offering $100 off the list price of a computer than one offering $5 off.

Although people screen out much of the surrounding stimuli, they are influenced by unexpected stimuli, such as sudden offers in the mail, over the phone, or from a salesperson. Marketers may attempt to promote their offers intrusively to bypass selective attention filters.

Selective Distortion:

Even noticed stimuli do not always come across in the way the senders intended. Selective distortion is the tendency to interpret information in a way that will fit our preconceptions. Consumers will often distort information to be consistent with prior brand and product beliefs.

A stark demonstration of the power of consumer brand beliefs is the typical result of product sampling tests. In “blind� taste tests, one group of consumers samples a product without knowing which brand it is, whereas another group of consumers samples the product knowing which brand it is. Invariably, differences arise in the opinions of the two groups despite the fact that the two groups are literally consuming exactly the same product.

When consumers report different opinions between branded and unbranded versions of identical products, it must be the case that the brand and product beliefs created by whatever means (e.g. past experience, marketing activity for the brand, etc) have somehow changed their product perception. Examples of branded differences can be found with virtually every type of product. For example, one study found that consumers were equally split in their preference for Diet Coke versus Diet Pepsi when tasting both on a blind basis. When tasting the branded versions, however consumers preferred Diet Coke by 65% and Diet Pepsi by only 23% (with the remainder seeing no difference).

Selective distortion can work to the advantage of marketers with strong brands when consumers distort neutral or ambiguous brand information to make it more positive. In other words, beer may seem to taste better, a car may seem to drive more smoothly, the wait in a bank line may seem shorter, and so on, depending on the particular brands involved.

Selective Retention:

People will fail to register much information to which they are exposed in memory, but tend to retain information that supports their attitudes and beliefs. Because of selective retention, we are likely to remember good points about a product we like and forget good points about competing product. Selective retention again works to the advantage of strong brands. It also explains why marketers need to use repetition in sending messages to their target market to make sure their message is not overlooked.

Subliminal Perception:

The selective perception mechanisms require active engagement and thought by consumers. A topic that has fascinated armchair marketers for ages is subliminal perception. The argument is that marketers embed covert, subliminal messages in ads or packages. Consumers are not consciously aware of these messages, but yet they affect their behavior. Although it is clear many subtle subconscious effects can exist with consumer processing no evidence supports the notion that marketers can systematically control consumers at that level.

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  • Forhad Sarker