The Perceptual Process

When understanding consumer behavior models and theories, one of the internal factors reviewed is the consumer’s perceptual process. This process outlines the steps of how consumers gain knowledge and information. Different marketing textbooks will have slightly different variations of the perceptual process model, as shown below.

Model of the Perceptual Process

Model showing the relationship between the consumer’s perceptual process and a perceptual map

Click on the model to enlarge it

As you can see from the model, a consumer will move through various stages in terms of developing their understanding of the differing brands and offers in the market.


Initially the consumer is exposed to brand in some manner. This may be from advertising or some other form of promotion, or it may be from other consumers who are using the brand, or it may be from visiting a store where the brand is sold. If it is from advertising, this is referred to as an impression.

The best way to think about exposure is by using the term “opportunity to see”, which means that an exposure is a chance for the consumer to see the brand or its communication.


Attention occurs when the consumer dedicates some time towards the brand or its communication. This may be as simple as glancing at a billboard advertisement for a split second, or perhaps closely watching a 3 minute cinema commercial, or simply observing other people with the brand.

If it is quite casual, or passive, attention then the process is usually complete without any real change in the consumer’s perception of the brand and its potential benefits.


If the consumer pays close attention, or the brand and/or its communication gains the attention of the consumer on several occasions, then the consumer is likely to process the ‘message’ to some extent.

Despite the general meaning of the word ‘interpretation’, the process in this case tends to be quite simplistic. The consumer will usually process the main benefit or a key feature of a brand, such as:

  • Good for tough stains
  • A flexible bank
  • Good customer service
  • Easy to use
  • And so on.

Unless the consumer has had prior experience with this brand (through personal consumption or via word-of-mouth), the consumer will generally form a weak attitude (opinion) to this extent. It will remain a weak view/opinion until reinforced by usage or further communication.


While the consumer has gained some understanding of a brand at this stage of the overall perceptual process, it needs to be developed into a memory that can be recalled. Consumers in their everyday life are exposed to a lot of information, the vast amount of which they do not remember for a long period of time.

A consumer’s ability to remember information on any subject typically depends upon the extent of repetition (rehearsal) and the effort taken to understand the material. In academic courses, students will try to understand the material, however, consumers primarily learn and remember initially through simple repetition and reinforcement of marketing communications and later through brand usage/consumption.

It is this stage of the perceptual process that is mapped onto perceptual maps. As marketers, we are quite interested to understand how target market consumers perceive (that is, remember and understand = their knowledge) our brands versus our competitors. This is because (usually) we want our brand to have clear points-of-difference (that is, clear differentiation) so that we gain a loyal customer following, loyalty and repeat sales.

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