With the development of advanced technologies, human has entered into information society. There are large numbers of different information filling with people's spaces, including marketing information. In marketing place, consumers, as the most important element, influence strategies of all the companies (Kotler, Armstrong, Saunders & Wong, 2002). To a large extent, marketing information impacts on consumers' buying actions as well. The more marketing information is announced by the company, the more chances that consumers attend this company and its products. Therefore, it is necessary for marketers to make it clear how consumers deal with marketing information.
For consumers, the external marketing environment affects what they think, feel, and do, including social stimuli and other physical stimuli (Peter, Olson & Grunert, 2004). A part of products information comes from their own minds, such as the experiences about the goods they have used before. The other products information is from the external marketing environment, especially the information about the new products. It provides kinds of different important market information for consumers, such as advertisements, promotions and product packages. According to the investigation, people may contact more than 1,500 advertising on average per day (Kotler, 2000). Due to this situation, consumers are confronted with one problem, information superabundance.
It means that consumers have to face too much product information to make clear which one is the best choice for them. Under this condition, some of them may make their decisions hurriedly. On the whole, information superabundance makes consumers to spend more time to recognize the products. Sometimes, a part of consumers may give up the products. Because they consider that they have no time and physical forces to distinguish the complex information. Moreover, it is also very harmful for companies, as it requires them to spend more on catching consumers' attentions successfully. Otherwise, companies may fail to exceed their competitors by obtaining and retaining more consumers.
Due to above reasons, it seems to be important for not only consumers themselves, but also marketers, to understand how consumers treat with the marketing information. To achieve this, we have to look into a crucial physical and also psychological process, which is called perception.
Definition of perception
According to the research of Kotler (2000), perception is depicted as the process by which individuals select, organize and interpret information to form a meaningful picture of the world. The author suggests that perception is a personal action, emphasizing on individual (Kotler, 2000). It shows that different people have different perceptions. For example, one person prefers listening a slow-talking seller to introducing the products. In this way, he has enough time to compare or evaluate the good while he is listening. However, another people do not like this way. Maybe he considers that the salesperson is long-winded. Hence, from this point of view, individual consumers should have various perceptions to the same marketing information.
Matlin (1998) believes that perception is the process that the stimuli, feeling by human's senses, are complied and explained by people's previous knowledge. In other words, people employ the knowledge that they have known to describe the stimuli from the external environment. Obviously, previous knowledge is as the key element in this theory. If people have emerged perceptions, they must be used their own knowledge to analyze the stimuli. Although perception has a knowledge basis, we should also point out that when physical stimuli are extremely strong, it will catch people's attentions without considering. For instance, once people contact these kinds of stimuli, such as sudden lights or sounds, they also emerge their perceptions without previous knowledge. Concerning this aspect, which is related to people's sensations, Solomon (2004) has suggested another definition about perception.
Solomon indicates that perception is the process by which a lot of sensations that refer to the immediate response of human's sensory receptors (eyes, ears, nose, mouth, fingers) to basic stimuli such as light, color, sound, odors, and textures are selected, organized, and interpreted (Solomon, 2004). It is very similar with another explanation, in which perception is considered as a process of giving meaning to sensory stimuli by Arnould, Price and Zinkhan (2004). All of them relate perception to sensory preferences.
To compare with these three different definitions of perception, Solomon's explanation is more general, comprehensive and idiographic. It starts from people's most basic physical body sensory system, considering sensation. External information or stimuli pass the sensory receptors, and then they combine with some significant elements to form perception in people's minds, such as knowledge, experience and memory. Apparently, this is a systematic and overall process. In Matlin's view, he must require previous knowledge. Probably, this key factor becomes the barrier for people to finish perception process. Moreover, regarding Kotler's model, it is nonobjective on one hand. On the other hand, it stresses that towards the same information or stimuli, different people have different perceptions. However, it is also probable that different people emerge similar perceptions for the same objective.
The module of perception---Solomon
Consumers treat with marketing information during the process of perception. To better understand how they process this, we need to dress it to the perceptual process. To start with, we should have a look at human beings' sensation.
As we know, everyone is conscious of the surrounding throng five senses--- light, color, sound, odors, and textures. As a result, sensation is considered to be the start of perception process (Foxall, Goldsmith & Brown, 1998). On the whole, people, using sensory receptors such as eyes, ears, nose, mouth and fingers, perceive the environment through feeling the physical stimuli factors. Specifically, visual stimulations are the most significant for marketers because the proportion of the human's sense receptors in the eyes is 70%.
Therefore, it has been pointed out that in vision place, it is worthy to indicating that colors draw a vital part in the achievement of marketing stimuli (Arnould, Price & Zinkhan, 2004). For that reason, colors in package design make enormous effects on consumer behaviours. The next physical stimulus is odour, which is able to wake up the emotional feelings, remind memories and reduce pressures (Solomon, Bamossy & Askegaard, 2002). The other ones are sounds, tactile stimulations, and taste. All these five elements can influence consumers' purchasing actions. These stimuli pass through body's sense channels (eyes, nose, ears, mouth, and fingers) to transfer information to people's brains.
The Module of Perception----Solomon
Furthermore, in this process, there is another point should be referred, named sensory thresholds, including absolute and differential thresholds. The former one is described as the lowest level of information inputs that can be recognized by people's the five sense organs (Solomon, Bamossy & Askegaard, 2002 & Arnould, Price & Zinkhan, 2004 & Blackwell, Miniard & Engel, 2001). As individual differences, each person should have his own absolute threshold. For example, one person has good audition, and he can hear the sounds more than 25db. That is to say, 25db is his sound absolute threshold.
Another person's audition is not as same as him. Therefore, his sound absolute threshold should not be 25db, but may be 30db or more. The latter one is capacity of distinguishing the differences between two stimuli (Solomon, 2004). Based on this definition, Weber, a psychophysicist, develops a theory called Weber's Law, stating that "the stronger the initial sensory stimulus, the greater the additional intensity needed for the second stimulus to be perceived as different" (Arnould, Price & Zinkhan, 2004, p306). For instance, for consumers, to buy a $50 price product, saving $20 is very attractive. However, to purchase a $5000 good, saving $20 is unnoticed.
If the stimuli are upper people's absolute thresholds, people can perceive the information, entering another stage called exposure. Solomon believes this stage is the first one during the perception process. It is suggested that "Exposure is the degree to which people notice a stimulus that is within range of their sensory receptors" (Solomon, 2004, p51).
Through the exposure stage, consumers' minds enter into another stage of perception process called attention or selection. As mentioned above, consumers contact numbers of products information in marketing environment, in which a lot of stimuli activate them. Factually, consumers cannot absorb all the information. They only select a small proportion of the information inputs in which they are interested (Arnould, Price & Zinkhan, 2004).
Consequently, people have an innate system called perceptual selection, which allow them receive but not perceive all the stimuli around them. Kotler, P. et al. (2002) and Jobber (2004) also indicate that the selective attention is that consumers remove most of information in which they are not interested. In accordance with this, it has been identified in Solomon's work that perceptual selection contains two significant factors----personal and stimulus selection factors (Solomon, 2004). It can be inferred that both of them may influence consumers' perception, which may impact on consumers' buying behaviours.
Personal selection factors
Many personal selection factors can have effects on consumer behaviours, such as prior beliefs, experiences, expectations, and attitudes. All these important factors may control or change consumers' purchasing behaviours. Prior beliefs are the representations of consumers' long time memories, retaining in consumers' minds for a long period. While stimuli have been exposed to consumers, its meaning, beliefs, will hit consumers' prior beliefs. Thought this, consumers' prior beliefs will influence his perception selection, or be renovated by this new information.
Hence, consumers are changing their beliefs all the time through learning and experience. This means consumers acquire their beliefs for one brand or product. However, they are gaining other different information about this brand. Maybe it is positive or negative. For example, someone is told that Mercedes-Benz is a world-famous car brand many times in childhood by his parents. Through this process, he has a prior belief that Mercedes-Benz is great. This is learning process. One day he may become an owner of Mercedes-Benz car, having a chance to experience the feeling when he is driving.
Maybe he considers that this car is as excellent as his parents told him. In this way, the new belief what he perceives will strengthen his prior belief. On the contrary, if he perceives that Mercedes-Benz is not very satisfactory, he may change his prior belief to acquire new belief about this brand. When he plans to change car, he may switch his idea to choose other brands rather than Mercedes-Benz. Consequently, according to Neisser (1976), perception process is dynamic, and it has no start and end.
Not only prior beliefs, learning and experience but also other factors will impact on consumers' perceptions, such as attitude. "An attitude is a person's enduring favorable or unfavorable evaluations, emotional feelings, and action tendencies toward some object or idea" (Kotler, 2000, p175). We can see from the definition that consumers' attitudes have strong emotive tendencies. Accordingly, it is very necessary for marketers to build positive attitude of their brands and products in consumers' minds.
Stimulus selection factors
As mentioned in the former paragraph, stimuli themselves are different from each other. Thus, it is significant for marketers to take advantage of the differences among stimuli to catch consumers' attentions. For instance, marketers can change size, color, position, and novelty to make stimuli more attractive than any others (Solomon, 2004).
Interpretation, referring to the meaning that consumers translate the information or stimuli they accepted into their own ideas, is the last part of the model of perception (Solomon, 2004). This stage is very similar with the process that computer deals with inputs. We input information into computer, such as A, B, and C. In fact, computer cannot recognize these characters directly. These inputs will be translated into computer code, which can be recognized and stored by computer. Similarly, interpretation seems to be the process that consumers transform the information and stimuli on their knowledge structures. Differing from sensation, in this perception stage, the interpretation of stimuli, which has been perceived, includes the application of prior associations between meanings to novel stimuli.
In conclusion, understanding how consumers deal with marketing information is extremely essential for marketers. In order to do this, we have to look into consumers own systems, finding out how they perceive the outside world. It should be very helpful for them to design their marketing strategies.