The Value Of Perception
What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think about Nike? Athletic? Innovative? Uncompromising? The first few adjectives that come to mind when you think about a brand, is usually telling of how you perceive that brand in your head. Brand perception refers to the sum total of the feelings a customer has about a brand, and these feelings usually carry on when a customer interacts with the brand and its products (Source: adtaxi.com). Brand perception is the one thing that is controlled more by the consumer, than the brand itself. Of course a brand can do what it takes to influence and shape those perceptions, but that is as far as it goes. In as much as people cannot tell people how they want to be perceived (in fact, this might backfire and even negatively influence others to perceive them as entitled and arrogant), brands cannot tell people how they ought to be perceived either — that choice lies solely in the minds of consumers.
In today’s world, we are completely surrounded by digital platforms like social media, where everyone has the freedom to vocalise their opinions and experiences with a brand — be it good or bad. How your customer perceives your brand is never going to be fixed as it can be easily influenced by current events, what other customers are saying, or what the media is saying. Therefore, it is important for brands to invest the necessary resources into shaping these perceptions as much as they can, for the betterment of the brand.
The Different Types of Brand Perception
It is important to note that brand perception and brand identity are two different things. Brand identity is the image that brands build for themselves with the help of their cumulative branding efforts, whereas brand perception is the interpretation of these efforts, or the impression, that is formed in the minds of consumers. Here we cover 6 different types of brand perceptions that play a part in shaping your brand in consumers’ minds (Source: simplicable.com).
The quality of your products play a huge role in influencing perceptions, such as whether it fulfills your customers’ needs. This covers aspects like functionality, durability, and usability.
Customer perceived value revolves around the customer’s belief that a product or service has the ability to meet their needs and expectations (Source: blog.hubspot.com). If the perceived benefit the customer expects to receive from the product or service is higher than what they perceive the cost to be, then this product will have an overall positive customer perceived value.
Perceived benefits have three levels — physical, logical, and emotional. One example would be buying a new suit to help you stay warm, get a new job through an interview, and also avoid being naked and embarrassing yourself, all of which meets the three levels of physical, logical, and emotional needs respectively. The perceived cost comes from money, time, and labor (Source: aircall.io). If your customer perceives that your product is valuable, they may not just stop at purchasing it, but may be even willing to pay extra for it, such as through a price premium.
This refers to your brand’s visual representation such as through advertisements, packaging design, visual designs, logos, etc. As the saying goes, dress to impress. The more visually appealing your brand appears through its different touchpoints, the better an impression it will make and thus, the better it will be perceived by consumers. Furthermore, effective branding is making use of these visual touchpoints to not just “look good”, but to inject the brand’s personality into each of them as well, such that it becomes distinct and easily recognisable. This builds brand familiarity and increases top-of-mind recall. Remember, the visual representation of a brand is highly important as it often forms the initial impression in the minds of consumers even before they deal with your brand.
Besides visual appeal, we need to take the other four senses into consideration as well. For instance, when you think about shopping at IKEA, do you remember its distinctive scent upon entering its doors? This is because IKEA has carefully crafted this scent — the smell of wood and fresh, clean sheets — because little things like these affect the customers’ shopping experience. As a result, customers subconsciously associate the smell of fresh sheets and wooden furniture with the brand, which shows that IKEA has successfully influenced their perception of the brand.
Another example of sensory branding would be how food brands in supermarkets entice shoppers with a little taste of their products by offering food samples. Apart from giving these shoppers something to munch on or drink while shopping, this can leave a powerful impression and even whet their taste buds.
Stylish, bold, reliable, friendly — just like how you would describe someone’s personality, these adjectives can also be used to describe a brand’s personality. This is important as studies have shown that with the proliferation of brands in the market, an increasing number of consumers are choosing to purchase from only those they identify with. That is why it is not enough for brands today to simply be known for the quality of their products (which can be easily substituted) rather, to be recognised as an extension of one’s personality.
If consumers have had bad experiences with the brand, or the brand has been associated with sensitive topics like racism or animal cruelty, this quickly forms a bad impression on its target consumers — both existing and potential. One example would be Brandy Melville, where people are calling for boycotts on this fashion brand. This was following the release of a TikTok video by an employee, exposing the brand for its racist and discriminatory hiring processes. Despite having a good resume, someone was deemed unhirable by the boss simply because she was Asian. The brand experienced tremendous backlash as a result. Furthermore, this wasn’t the only thing the brand has been accused of — Brandy Melville also faces body-shaming accusations for carrying clothing sizes that only cater to skinny people (Source: today.com). Such events can tarnish a brand’s reputation and negatively shape consumers’ perceptions of it.
What Is Perception In Consumer Behaviour?
We have explored a couple of things that make up the way brands are perceived by customers. Now, we will explore how these perceptions can affect consumer behaviour, especially in the holy grail context of consumer purchase decisions.
Perception is a psychological factor that affects human behavior. For example, when a consumer is exposed to a stimulus (branded content, an ad, a product, etc), that person may start to show interest or pay more attention to the brand. Then, the nerves will transmit this interest and sensation to the consumer’s brain, allowing him to register and process it. This is where interpretation comes in — to put this interest and sensation into words. Afterward, this will be retained in memory which can later be drawn on again when exposed to other similar stimuli. This process forms the consumer’s perception and can either lead to a positive or negative feedback when the consumer is exposed to such stimulus again, depending on what was previously processed and registered. This positive or negative feedback thus influences the consumer’s reaction which is expressed through his purchase decision. A simplified diagram is shown below to summarise the process of how perception affects consumer behavior (Source: wisdomjobs.com).
Next, we will go on to explore how brands can influence their perceptions in this consumer behavior process.
How Can Brands Influence Consumer Perception?
Every relationship starts with a first impression. Whether you are going on your first date, or a job interview, your first impression matters. Same goes for the relationship a brand has with its customers. Look at it this way, if a customer already has an existing negative perception of the brand, perhaps due to a bad first experience, it would be really hard to change these attitudes and feelings toward the brand. Brand perception is thus said to be the result of these impressions the brand gives.
That is why, throughout their life cycle, brands are usually trying to apply a mix of branding and marketing tactics in order to influence this perception. With a good brand perception, the chances of converting potential customers into ones that make purchases or repeat purchases, will increase. However, in order to do so, brands should know exactly which factors to target.
As shown in the diagram above, the beginning of the funnel is always exposure. We don’t even have to talk about things like brand perceptions and brand loyalty if consumers are not first aware about a brand, and the only way to initiate building brand awareness is by exposure. However, with today’s brands bombarding consumers with so much content and information, it is no wonder there has been a growth in psychological phenomenons like ‘banner blindness’ in which consciously and unconsciously, consumers self-select the stimuli they are exposed to and tune out the rest. The reality is that with so many brands and their advertisements online, all trying to push their products into consumers’ faces, your brand might end up getting unnoticed. The key takeaway here is to not only expose your product or brand to consumers but to also ask yourself — How do I make my products stand out from the crowd so consumers will start to notice?
Many brands find it challenging to even hold consumers’ attention for a split second, let alone get their 100% attention. In order to get their attention, start listening to your consumers. Know their needs and wants, and start to craft your message around them. A key way to communicate in an attention-grabbing manner would be through the structure of your advertisements or collaterals — which could refer to its size, position or format. For instance, whether your advertisement takes up a full page or just a column, or whether your content makes use of high-impact imagery and infographics as opposed to a wordy fact sheet or article, the key is to prioritise information quality over information overload, because you definitely don’t want to overload your consumers. Remember, everything your brand puts out there needs to be purposeful and well thought out.
Apart from the visual format of your brand’s communications, another important aspect to consider is communicating through the right channels. Find out which platforms your consumers are on in which they use regularly — this way, you can put your brand message up on these platforms to increase the chances of them seeing your message. Also, the more times the same brand message is repeated on any media channel, the higher the chances of someone seeing the message and recalling it.
Upon seeing a brand’s message, whether through an advertisement or the content it puts out, this doesn’t necessarily guarantee that what it aims to communicate, has been effectively communicated to its target audience. Given the differences in people’s backgrounds and worldview, a single message can be interpreted into multiple ways. Hence, one way to overcome the risk of misinterpretation is to strike a careful balance in communication by ensuring that the keywords used are catchy, clear and appropriate. Simplicity is best here, because you want people to understand your brand message right away, and not confuse them.
When your brand has clarity of what it aims to communicate, find the fastest, simplest, most relatable way of communicating it, just like how Nike did. With these three simple words – Just Do It, their advertisements and campaigns are all built around that strong and empowering tone (Source: scrolldroll.com).
Customer loyalty and retention
Lastly, when a customer finally makes that purchase, this doesn’t mean it’s time to stop. To leave a lasting impression on customers, brands have to continue offering excellent customer service, even in its after-sales. This is crucial in ensuring customer satisfaction, positive brand perception, and increasing the likelihood of them becoming loyal customers. Furthermore, this doesn’t just allow brands to secure a consistent revenue stream from their customers, but also makes it harder for them to get swayed by competitors (Source: smallbusiness.com).
Although brand perception in the minds of consumers is largely out of a brand’s control, the ways in which a brand can shape these perceptions isn’t. With a better understanding on how perceptions influence consumer behaviour and decisions, brands can now know where to invest their resources in, to influence these perceptions.
For a start, look into the customer sentiments toward your brand at the various stages of the purchasing cycle — information search, product evaluation, comparison research, buying decision, and post-buying feelings — and see how your brand can influence these touchpoints. One thing that would really help is to put yourself in the customer’s shoes — would you want to be associated with the brand? Would you buy from it? Why or why not? Applying the research methodologies and investigative nature of design thinking can also help you to better understand your target audience and their experience with your brand. This will give you a better insight on what the current brand perceptions are, and what needs to change. Changing perceptions is never easy, especially those that have been ingrained in the minds of consumers for some time; but it isn’t impossible. So be strategic and patient with your efforts. If you are feeling lost or need some assistance in this process, we’ve got your back! Hit us up and we’ll be in touch!