Consumers: Reality is Over-rated Part iii
Having suggested that perception is far more important that the reality of experience in determining consumer behaviour, you might think that finding out how a consumer perceives your brand is a useful exercise.
And, of course, you’d be right.
You might suggest, therefore, that asking a sample of your target consumer audience or existing customers would be a smart think to do.
And you’d be a lot less right. In fact, if you don’t mind me saying so, you’d be wrong.
There are a number of reasons for this.
Firstly, we aren’t always aware of our perceptions. A lot of our reactions happen at an unconscious, emotional level. We like to believe we’re wonderfully good at decoding this responses consciously and post-rationalising them accurately, but we really aren’t. We just make it up and then convince ourselves that what we’ve just told ourselves is true.
This is what I call “the what we like to tell ourselves” error.
In general, we’ll tell ourselves that we’re smarter, sexier, funnier and all round better than we really are. We’ll also tell ourselves that we’re not in the snare of any silly old brand, it’s just that we’ve happened to find their products are better suited to our needs.
Secondly is the problem of how we think our answer will be perceived by someone else; we’ve learned through the “mistakes” of childhood not to say what we’re thinking but screen it for social acceptability.
Kids are wonderfully honest and direct: I remember my two-year-old son staring at a man in the doctor’s waiting room and asking very loudly, “Why has that man drawn all over himself?” The tattooed man didn’t take exception and it was, I think, a very good question to ask (although not one I would except to get an accurate answer to from the chap himself!). By the age of six my son has enough of a developed sense of social awareness not to ask that sort of question in public.
This filtering process becomes automatic and gives us the “what might they think if I told them” error.
Most people don’t want to be seen as being influenced by brands and advertising even when they’ve fallen for a brand hook, line and sinker. Even when they are aware they’re very loyal to a brand they probably wouldn’t want to acknowledge the full extent of it’s impact on what they do (even if they are aware of it).
Last, but not least, the actual process of asking someone a question changes the way they think and, therefore, how they respond. I won’t go into all the psychological nuances of this now, but suffice it to say there’s a reason that psychotherapy makes such extensive use of balanced questions to bring about change.
So, whilst customers’ perceptions are deeply significant in determining their behaviour, asking them about those perceptions isn’t likely to reveal the nature or extent of them reliably.
Next time, if you haven’t guessed already, I’ll tell you how you can understand this aspect of consumer behaviour better.