Brand Perception: Inside the Minds of Consumers

Woman shopping for dairy in a food store
••• kristian sekulic/Vetta/Getty Images

Conventional market research data often depends on the subjective comments and observations of consumers. The problem is that consumers may say one thing and intend to do another. Consumers may say that they will recommend a product to a friend, but never do that. Consumers may say they will try a product or service, but never follow through. The question is: How much of this misrepresentation is on purpose?

That is, the information that marketers, advertisers, and publishers learn about consumers is based on what consumers say. Consumers tell what they are thinking, feeling, and doing with regard to brands. But consumers may not be aware of all that they are thinking and feeling about a brand. And consumers are often not entirely truthful about what their intentions and actions are. 

It is fair to say that most of what consumers tell market researchers is reasonably close to what they will eventually do or what they actually think. However, as neuromarketing reveals, attitude and behavior are not always firmly linked in the human mind. Several models of market research have been developed to address the different ways that consumers' minds influence their purchase decisions. 

When a consumer is predisposed to like a brand, they are said to have a brand affinity. But what factors lead to brand affinity. Current models suggest the four factors or dimensions of market research:

  • Cognitive
  • Emotional
  • Language
  • Action

Models of Market Research

Most market research relies on the language model to understand consumer behavior. This means that the consumers' beliefs, feelings, and behavior must all be inferred from what consumers say. According to Pepe Martinez, author of The Consumer Mind, consumers often contradict themselves. On the one hand, consumers tend to act on their feelings but they consciously report what they believe they are thinking.

According to Pepe Martinez, market researchers are faced with these complex tasks:

  • The task of analyzing consumer feedback
  • Isolating the most relevant information
  • Making interpretations and forecasts based on their overall knowledge of what is probable, if not actual

In other words, if a market researcher cannot know with certainty what a consumer believes or is likely to do, then the market researcher must draw from the body of consumer knowledge, his or her own market research experience, and what he or she understands about human nature.

That is unless the market researcher is employing neuromarketing.

Categories of Research Methods

Market researchers are finding that the black box of the consumer mind is best illuminated by a combination of qualitative research methods, quantitative research methods, and neuroscience research methods.

  • Qualitative methods: ‚ÄčThe rich thick data that results from well-conducted qualitative research can reveal consumer insight data that is not readily available through other methods. This approach can illuminate what the consumer believes is important with regard to their relationship with brands, products, and services. But it particularly illustrates the manner in which the consumer engages with the brand, products, and services.
    • Ethnographic research methods allow market researchers to investigate consumer behavior in natural environments. This form of qualitative research permits comparisons between the subjective reports of consumers and the objective observations of market researchers. But here, again, what is actually occurring in the mind of the consumer is not known
  • Quantitative methods: The general public and business people have been conditioned to look to statistical methods to provide assurances of accurate data based on predictability and reliability. The precise measurements, which are typically based on mathematical algorithms, lend a degree of empirical objectivity to market research that uses these methods. And, too, quantitative research enables generalization or extension of the findings to similar populations or sometimes even to the general population.
  • Neuroscience: adds to qualitative methods and quantitative methods. The objectivity lent to the market research through the physiological measurement of consumers responses to brands, products, and services gains a great deal of traction with business decision-makers. In addition, by employing sophisticated and complex modern technology to arrive at those measurements of the inner workings of consumers' minds, neuroscientists can assert the veracity of their interpretations of consumer thinking.

When Branding Is Coherent and Genuine, the Brain Knows

Consumer values and consumer emotions are revealed by what consumers say. Consumer emotions convey meanings and feelings about brands. Through the creation of meaning and feelings, consumers are able to achieve consonance between brands and their intentions - if not their actions.

In other words, the genuineness of the consumer-brand engagement is based on feelings that are generated by the brand in individual consumers. The brand coherence depends on the strength of the relationship between the brand message and the feelings and meaning the consumer derives from the brand message.

Source: Martinez, P. (2012). The Consumer Mind: Brand Perception and the Implications for Marketers. Philadelphia, PA: Kogan Page Limited.