Problem recognition results when a consumer recognizes a difference of sufficient magnitude between what is perceived as the desired state of affairs and what is the actual state of affairs enough to arouse and activate the decision process. The actual state refers to the way in which a need is already being met and the desired sate is the way a person would like for the need to be satisfied.
This process integrates many of the concepts that have been discussed in article. For example, consumer information processing and the motivation process are highly relevant here. Consumers must become aware of the problem or need through processing of information arising internally or externally. They then become motivated. Thus, the process of problem recognition means that the consumer becomes aroused and activated to engage in some purposeful purchase decision activity.
This motivation to resolve a particular problem however depends on two factors: the magnitude of the discrepancy between the desired and actual states, and the importance of the problem. For instance a consumer may desire to own a new front wheel drive automobile of the same size and gas mileage consumption as his current one year old rear wheel drive model. A discrepancy may exist between the consumer’s actual and desired state but it is not likely to be large enough to motivate him to proceed further in the decision process. In addition, the importance of the problem may be such that the consumer may not be motivated toward further decision process behavior. Assume that the consumer in the previous example has a sufficient difference between desired and existing states of auto ownership. However, the importance of this particular problem may be low compared to other consumption needs the consumers faces, such as food, housing and clothing. Thus, consumers facing time and/or budgets constraints will attempt to solve only most significant problems as they perceive them (and not, incidentally as an objective outsider might view them).
Problem recognition must also result in the problem being sufficient defined of the consumer is to engage in meaningful behavior aimed at solving it. Sufficient problem definition occurs for the consumers to be able to act on it in many problem recognition situations. For instance, the consumer who runs out of milk or bread has a clear definition of the problem. Other situations exist however, in which the consumer may not have a clear definition of the problem, even though problem recognition has occurred. For example, the matter of self image may lead to such an occurrence such as when the consumer feels that her expression of a desired image is not quite right and yet she is unable to define exactly what is wrong. In such a case information search may be engaged in to more clearly identify the problem. These cases of problem recognition and definition may often be complex. Illustrating the potentially complex nature of problem recognition and the consumer’s decision process is the fact that consumers often exhibit delays. In an exploratory study of reasons why consumers delay making decisions for major purchases five causes were found : (1) difficulty of selecting the best brand, (2) time pressure , (3) perceived risk of product performance (4) uncertainly and (5) task avoidance and unpleasantness, Respondents spent on average, 12.1 weeks after they recognized the need for the product but before they began searching for information, 8.9 weeks searching for information and evaluating alternatives and 7.7 weeks between choosing an alternative and actual purchase.
Research on problem recognition
One recent stream of research on problem recognition has viewed the process as being a function of the congruity between the positive or negative valance values of some perceptual stimulus and the respective positivity / negativity values for some evoked referent. For example a consumer may see a friend’s new car (perceptual stimulus) and compare it to his own odd old model (evoked referent) if the new car is perceived to be significantly better than is old one, the problem recognition would be expected to occur.