Perceptual Styles

What Types of Perceptual Styles Are There?

How do you make an advertisement stick like glue to a consumer’s mind?

How do you make an advertisement stick like glue to a consumer’s mind? The short answer is through psychology. 

In our last article we covered what perceptual attitudes/styles and cognitive styles are, and how they indicate individual differences in personality. Styles are not always absolute, and certain people can display aspects of both dimensions in a given style, while others tend to drift towards one extreme or the other. These different styles and attitudes are not only important for academic and learning settings, they are pillars of consumer psychological profiles.

Imagine you ran an advertising campaign that focused on specific details—like the amazing story behind your brand of coffee and its journey to America—when your audience was more interested in a broader theme—why your coffee is the best brand out there. Aligning your advertising with consumer’s perceptual styles is a surefire way to make an immediate impression and generate action. Conversely, placing the wrong ad in front of the wrong audience can be a complete waste of time and resources. This seems obvious, however if you don’t know about these ten perceptual styles, then you might want to consider them when planning your next campaign. 

10 Essential Perceptual Styles

These perceptual styles are separate concepts, however their defining elements are interrelated, especially within the context of multi-media advertising. This means some concepts can be embedded into others, so you might consider several levels of perceptual styles in a given ad. Without further ado: 

  • Tolerance is perhaps the most critical element of a consumer’s perceptual style. It refers to a person’s ability to comfortably depart from the known and explore the unknown. This ability to “test reality” allows consumers to behave in spectacular and often anthropomorphic ways, if they can tolerate a departure from the known. On the other hand, those who are intolerant to fantasy grip to reality anchors in the face of uncertainty. A tolerant audience might enjoy ambiguity, so that they can project their emotions into the content. Thus, tolerant consumers can be physiognomic perceivers, who enjoy fantasy play. Open-ended questions, incomplete narratives, and room for interpretation allow them to place themselves (i.e., project) into the situation and engage their creativity. They are also more open to the experience of color. On the other side, intolerant consumers prefer certainty and as such can be literal perceivers. They anchor to what they know to be true and stick to it. Cold hard facts, especially common knowledge ones, can build trust and rapport, anchoring them to your brand or product. 

  • Consistency is apparently similar to the tolerance concept because it has to do with uncertainty, but it’s slightly different. The underlying idea is that when people are faced with inconsistencies in their attitudes, beliefs, or thoughts they will be motivated to resolve the inconsistencies in order to achieve balance, even if the answer is simply a “patch over”. For example, a person might justify their cigarette smoking—despite their knowledge of the health consequences—because they simply love it. To them, feeling good is just as important in being healthy. That’s one possibility. On the flipside, if a person has no prior knowledge about the potential dangers or benefits of a product, then exposure to that information could create an inconsistency, or dissonance, and motivate them to act. That’s why anti-smoking campaigns get people to quit, and healthy eating campaigns get people to put down fast food and pick up a carrot.

  • Leveling and Sharpening are critical components of narrative and visual advertising. Levelers see the whole picture, have difficulty detecting changes in details, and tend to anchor to the first piece of information they see (Layton, 1964). They are fluid perceivers and tend to get the gist of things. Levelers seek friendship and nurture. On the other hand, sharpeners are the all seeing eyes. They are highly sensitive to nuances and changes. In terms of personality, sharpeners enjoy control and competition. So how does this play out in an ad? Let’s return to our coffee example in the introduction paragraph. Leveler consumers would be more interested in the broader theme—why your coffee is the best brand out there. They would respond well to the idea that the beans are organic and eco-friendly. Plain and simple visuals would make a greater impact. Think green and sustainable in this case. Meanwhile, sharpeners would respond better to specific details—like the amazing story behind your brand of coffee, its journey to America, and why the nitro process enhances the superior flavor. The graphics could be multidimensional and complex, just like the product. 

  • Field dependence and independence are directly related to the visual process. This is critical because visual impressions can shape consumer preferences and likability for a given brand or product. Field dependent consumers rely on the visual information in the background to orient the ad, while field independent consumers use their bodily impression for orientation. These concepts are incredibly important for product placement. Field independent consumers can easily identify a product placement within a complex ad with a lot of background noise, while the message might get lost on the field dependent consumers (Matthes et. al., 2011). Witkin, the researcher who invented this concept, found that field dependent people are motivated by social information like friendship and helping others. Including faces, in-groups/out-groups, and conflict resolution in an ad would appeal to their perceptual style. Field independent people  are more self-involved, have a work-oriented attitude, and strive for achievement. You might have noticed the similarities between field dependent consumers and levelers, as well as field independent consumers and sharpeners. These complementary profiles are classically split between social workers (field dependent, levelers, more sociable) and engineers (field independent, sharpeners, more goal-oriented).  

  • Scanning is the concentrated use of attention to select information, which directly impacts personal experiences and decision-making. Before you purchase a food item in the grocery store, how much of the label do you read, if at all? If you read the entire nutrition label, then you're likely an extensive scanner. If you only read the brand name, then you’re more likely to be a limited scanner. For some consumers, it’s the nutritional facts that count—they want what is healthy and do not want what is processed. On the other hand, some consumers prefer certain brands—either because they simply like them better or because they believe in their practices. Providing ample information to an audience of extensive scanners can help inform their decisions, while keeping it simple with limited scanners can prevent information overload.

  • Tempo is based on the idea that people have an inherent tendency to either approach instinctive solutions or consider alternate possibilities when faced with uncertainty. On one end, reflective people take more time to choose, weigh more options, and consume more information when making decisions. And on the other, more impulsive people make gut decisions without much consideration, and are prone to making thoughtless decisions. This isn’t a bad thing, it’s simply a difference in styles. Champion businesses don’t discriminate, they innovate. To each their own. When designing an ad, understanding if your clients are thoughtful purchasers or carefree consumers can be a catalyst for creating influence. For example, if your consumer base is more reflective, then you would want to design an ad that compares and contrasts the product with a bevy of others, as well as explain the rationale behind every design feature. On the other hand, if your consumer base is more impulsive, then you would want to use a sales tactic like “buy one get one free”, or “this is a one time offer”. We all have someone in the family who purchases the latest exercise invention or diet fad, much to the chagrin of everyone else. Additionally, tempo styles are related to information scanning styles, where reflective people tend to scan more information prior to making a decision than the impulsives. Be sure to make the ad less wordy for the latter. 

  • Categorizing refers to how broad or narrow a consumer groups certain items. Someone with a broad categorizing style would lump jewelry, take-out food, and a trip to the Poconos as nonessential items. Meanwhile someone with a narrow categorizing style would label jewelry as fashion, take-out as food, and a trip to the Poconos as vacation. People with different categorizing styles take different risks and have different attitudes. For example, narrow categorizers tend to act on the differences they can detect.  As such, they might miss something that’s actually important because they don’t understand it, like how bundling two items on Amazon could save them money on shipping. Instead, they prefer to purchase the items from separate vendors due to their perceived differences in specialties, even when it’s the same product re-branded on the Amazon platform. Hidden opportunities might not appeal to narrow categorizers. Conversely, broad categorizers can tolerate differences, and are generally more relaxed in the face of uncertainty. They also might act on pushy nudges because of a hidden value, even if the deal isn’t as good as it seems. In addition to its compliments to the  tempo concept, categorizing is related to levelers—broad—and sharpeners—narrow. 

  • Complexity is simply how intricately or straightforward people think about a particular issue, and the level of interconnectedness of their concepts. If a category is the collection of similar examples, then a concept is a person’s total knowledge of the category. It is related to the levelers and sharpeners concept, where people with complexity notice more details and create more interrelationships—sharpeners—and people with more simplicity use fewer constructs—levelers. There are a few ways to form concepts in terms of qualities. You can describe something and its physical features, you can place yourself in the same context as the item (i.e. how you would consume it in real life), and you can also infer inherent features of the product. For example, a recent Doritos commercial is notoriously being dubbed the “Anti-Ad,” since Generation Z apparently does not like branding. There are no logos, branding, or even words on the delicious bag of chips that rhymes with “I need those”. This contextual, inferential approach is somewhat paradoxical, and it’s genius. The lack of details would certainly garner the complex/sharpeners’ attention because they are used to seeing the famed Doritos logo. Its lack of presence is a detail to be noticed. Meanwhile, the lack of logo itself would appeal to the simple/levelers' because of the implied branding. Ads like this elegantly appeal to multiple perceptual styles without trying too hard, and certainly leave an unforgettable impression on the consumer. 

  • Integration sits atop the hierarchy of categorizing and complexity. It is all about the creation and understanding of new knowledge. Put simply, it is the style that people differentiate and integrate “impressions and experience” (Nurgaleeva, 2015, p. 448). More concrete thinkers think in terms of black and white, and are heavily influenced by instruction and structure. Abstract thinkers are highly differentiated, and have a more relative understanding of concepts. As such, the “Anti-Ad” might create confusion for a concrete thinker, and leave them wondering whether or not the chip actually existed. Although in terms of an ad’s stickiness to memory, this might be a desirable impression. On the other hand, a highly abstract thinker would be able to search inside themselves, integrate the information, and come to the conclusion that it’s a Doritos commercial.  

  • Locus of control is a personal belief in an individual’s influence of life outcomes. It frames a situation as rewarding—internal locus of control—or reinforcing—external locus of control. Research shows that people with an internal locus tend to search for more information before purchasing, while people with an external focus do not (Narasimhan and Tikoo 1992). Consumers with an external locus of control might prefer a product that is given directly to them from an authority. For example, if a company features a dentist in an ad that says, “this toothpaste will prevent plaque build up and gingivitis”. Whereas consumers with an internal locus of control might prefer to be included in the design process and also encouraged to perform their own due diligence. “If you don’t believe us, check out these product comparison studies.” Giving external locus consumers a sense of autonomy will appeal to their style.

Curating With Style

Consumers are people, and people are diverse. Variety is the spice of life. We live in an era where, for the most part, supply exceeds demand. People can choose where they want to bring their business because some companies are always willing to sacrifice profit for a new customer. This is not a sustainable approach, and it’s the main reason that the market is largely dominated by long standing institutions with trusted brand names. In order to stand out in such a competitive market, without sacrificing profit, a modern ad campaign must appeal to people of all walks. Advertisers can curate with style by considering their audience’s perceptual patterns.

Similar posts

Get notified on new psychological insights

Be the first to know about new psychological insights that can help you optimize customer touchpoints and drive business growth.