What is Selective Exposure?

An Overview of Selective Exposure

If you have studied marketing and/or consumer behavior, then chances are you have come across the term “selective exposure”. 

Selective exposure is where consumers choose to engage with (or ignore) certain types of media or promotional messages. Selective exposure is influenced by an individual’s personal preferences, interests, and lifestyle.

This situation occurs because people (consumer in our case) are inclined to seek out information and messages that align with their existing beliefs, values, and interests. They tend to gravitate towards media channels, websites, social media platforms, or specific content that resonates with their preferences.

For example, someone interested in fitness may follow fitness influencers on social media or subscribe to fitness-related newsletters, while someone interested in fashion may actively seek out fashion magazines or fashion blogs.

How Does Selective Exposure Impact Brand Positioning?

Selective exposure creates a filter through which individuals process information – feeding into their perceptual process and ultimately impacting our perceptual maps and their perception of brand positioning.

By choosing what media to engage with, individuals create their own information environment that reinforces their existing beliefs and preferences.

This means that our promotional mix (IMC) and other marketing mix elements, as well as our competitors’ efforts, to communicate our brand’s positioning may be diluted or ineffective  due to our inability to reach the target market consumer because of their selective media habits.

What Can Marketers Do to Overcome Selective Exposure?

What’s the Best Media Channels to Use?

As marketers, we need to consider the target audience’s media preferences, both when selecting media channels and and designing our promotional messages (as both media and messaging is interrelated).

In other words, we need to know where our targeted consumers (and indeed existing customers) are most likely to consumer media = how we can best reach them through media channels. This way we can increase the chances of our messaging being seen (or heard or other senses).

  • Note: Increasing the chances (likelihood) of our messaging being seen/heard = increasing exposure.

Thinking Outside the Box with Media

Another strategy to overcome selective exposure is to use unexpected (or less traditional) media channels – and especially avoiding (or reducing the use of) media channels where consumers expect to see ads and other promotional messages.

This means that our media efforts to bypass selective exposure may include:

  • sponsorships
  • product placement in movies/TV shows
  • radio giveaway contests
  • co-branding campaigns
  • influencer marketing
  • celebrity endorsements
  • sponsored/paid posts
  • advertainment (e.g. The Lego Movie)
  • consumer reviews (and our responses)
  • product comparison sites and blogs
  • YouTubers and their reviews

How Selective Exposure Impacts Consumer Perceptions and Perceptual Maps

It goes without saying that the failure to be exposed to our promotional message (when the consumer is selective about their media consumption – which is the case for most consumers) is going to impact our branding and positioning efforts.

Let’s dig a little deeper into this marketing concern.

Potential Under-Positioning

Under-positioning is when brand fails to establish a unique position in the market and most consumers only have vague (or even no) idea about the benefits of the brand and/or why they should buy it.

This is a significant branding problem, as under-positioned brands do NOT stand out in the minds of consumers, and will be perceived to lack any valuable differentiation – which is not good in marketing.

These under positioned brands will have trouble in both attracting and retaining customers, and may struggle to compete and even survive long-term in the market.

For more information: What is Under Positioning in Marketing?

Skewed Brand Perceptions

If the consumer have limited exposure to marketing messages, then they are not getting the “full story. This means that their perception of the market will differ significantly from the reality of the brand’s and their positioning and benefits.

That could be a lose-lose situation for both the consumer and for the brand. The consumer has reduced ability to evaluate and compare competing offerings, while the brand’s proposed positioning has not bee effectively implemented.

For more information: Perception is Reality

Harder to Reposition a Brand

As consumers are more likely to engage with their preferred media (and messages) that align with their existing beliefs and attitudes, then their selective exposure approach is likely to reinforces their existing views. This “loop” creates stronger and mire embedded brand perceptions.

As we know, repositioning a brand is hard work – it takes a substantial effort in marketing mix changes, and then an ongoing effort to change the perception of the brand’s positioning ion the mind of the consumer.

But with limited opportunity to change their attitude (due to selective exposure), along with the reinforcement of existing beliefs – then that makes our repositioning challenge  even tougher (and longer and more expensive, and potentially less viable).

For more information: Why and How to Reposition a Brand?

Where Selective Exposure Fits into the Perceptual Process

As can see seen in the above diagram, our goal as marketers is to utilize our promotional (and/or other marketing mix elements) messages to influence consumer behavior.

In particular, we want to improve brand attitudes, brand loyalty, increase sales/purchases, strengthen the preference for our brand, reduced price sensitivity toward our brand, and trigger positive word of mouth (WOM).

But standing in our way is selective exposure, selective attention, selective distortion and selective retention. In each step of the perceptual process, the consumer selects (chooses) how they engage and interact and interpret our communications.

By having a good understanding of these barriers and hurdles, we stand a better chance of effectively communicating with and influencing our target market consumers.

Related Video: Understanding the Perceptual Process in Marketing

Related and Further Information

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