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Consumer Perception: Context Matters
By: Dwayne W. Waite Jr.
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As long as our consumption-based, monopolistic economy continues to exist as it does today, there will always be a need for marketing. The amount of research and studies on consumer behavior and consumer choice continues to prove our point. 

But it is not the fault of the readily informed consumer, nor is it the works of the brilliant marketer. It's just human nature.

Humans are programmed to place items in different categories. It is very hard for consumers to compare categories against each other, especially if we cannot make a connection between them (hence the phrase “comparing apples to oranges”).

What does that have to do with context? A lot, actually.

A study out of the University of Illinois wanted to see how consumers perceived organic and non-organic foods based on how good they would taste, and where the consumer got them from. The results show that no matter how far we think the human race has "advanced," some common principles remain the same.

For example, the study gave consumers non-organic strawberries and organic strawberries. The findings showed that consumers thought the organic strawberries tasted better. The study then gave the subjects organic and non-organic cookies. Naturally, the respondents thought that the organic cookies were more nutritious than the non-organic.

There are several factors at work here. Not only do people want to believe that "organic" is better and more nutritious, but that is the norm that has been set in our society, with advertising being one of the major influencers. The study also showed that pushing "vice" foods like cookies may sell better with an organic label at a Target versus a Walmart, where a "virtue" food like strawberries could have an organic label and sell fine.

The point is, when you are trying to differentiate your products, whether it is by organic or non-organic, grass or grain, diet and regular, it is important to take into consideration how and where the consumer is going to interact with your product. Because, whether we like it or not, context matters.

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About the Author
Dwayne W. Waite Jr. is partner and principal at JDW: The Charlotte Agency, a marketing and advertising shop in Charlotte, NC. He enjoys consumer behavior, economics, and football.
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