Perceived Quality: What You See and What You Actually Get
It’s interesting when you think about all those neat brands you use. And how often you use each and every one of them. Without even realizing if they’re the best bang for buck, or if they’re as “effective” as you think they are. It’s relatively safe to say that all of us have some sort of unexplained bias towards a certain service or a product, regardless of all the shiny, different alternatives out there. It’s almost as if it’s a matter of sheer belief. This is what the top marketing eggheads (and the not too top) call perceived quality. It’s as effective in the marketing field as it is interesting. A foray into the mind of the common consumer, and how they cling to a brand tighter than flies on a provocatively dressed light bulb (no judgment here).
But to get a better picture of what it is and/or how it can sway even the most stubborn of potential buyers, we’re gonna have to give it a proper definition first. Seems only fair, right?
Perceived Quality? Say Again?
As far as “biblical” definitions go, the definition for perceived quality Is relatively simple; Perceived quality is the consumer’s overall dedication and satisfaction with a product or a service with regards to its supposed function or its overall image, regardless of the alternatives or really any other parameter that may govern the actual quality of the service or product. So going along that train of thought, one can say that perceived quality is an intangible measure of the overall quality of a product, almost purely based on the belief that it is the best in its niche to the consumer. Even if it’s, statistically, a modest or inferior item.
So you’ll see the vast majority of all the folks around this big blue world of ours leaning more towards drinking “Pepsi” brand carbonated soft drink over even attempting to try any of its other, perhaps more superior alternatives. You’ll find more people driving any of the bigger, more well known brands of automobile because it’s a family tradition or a societal norm in a specific geographical location or even simply because it looks like a luxury item. Almost completely ignoring the possible performance boost or affordable, Eco-friendly mileage options some other, lesser known brands might have on offer in their models. There are so many seemingly random factors that can drive consumers to hugging one brand over any other or even better alternatives. And as an interested marketeer, it’d do you well to learn how to properly pull those strings if you want your brand or business to skyrocket.
The Mystery Behind the Magic
Anyone who’s anyone who was in the marketing industry knows that a force akin to perceived quality is nothing to scoff at, even for a second. Perceived quality is often a massive influence on overall Return On Investment, or ROI, for most of the big league brands out there. It only makes sense to assume that if a person could stop and pick up a product under your banner without much of a thought process as to whether or not to actually buy it, it’s because they see it as the be-all-end-all for their purposes.
It may come as sort of a shock to you (not really) but much more often than not, quality is more a subjective matter than it is an objective one; a brand could have every right to boast its obvious and easy to grasp overall subjective quality, backed with empirical evidence that’s widely available for all to see. But it can’t complain if the consumer slides by it and goes for something that may or may not be inferior in quality in a second’s notice. A consumer’s thoughts on whether or not something is valuable or excellent in any way is something we can never accurately gauge. Indeed, perceived quality is an intangible metric that brands benefit from. Meaning that the objective quality of a product or service pales in comparison when put up against subjective quality. Moods, character type, random conditions and many other aspects that each and every consumer has are what govern perceived quality ultimately.
It’s interesting to note a few things in the same realm of perceived quality. Brands always have the capability to flip the perceived quality for their products from red to green in a moment’s notice; branding activities are any brand’s greatest weapon when it comes to swaying the tides of consumer perception. Through refining aspects such as customer service, guides, overall product improvements or discounts, brands can easily manipulate the populace to grab their stuff much easier. A decision to extend warranties on automobiles or electronics, discounts on various after purchase services such as maintenance and product servicing, or even slashing the price for a limited time can dramatically improve perceived quality.
Players in the Perceived Quality Game
It’s not all just senseless splurging and sporadic sales though, humble reader. Typically, your common garden-variety consumer still has a few conditions in place when they’re planning to put their money in a product. Something that may require an outlandish and probably overachieving example provided by your humble writer:
Now, let’s say you have cat. And let’s say that this cat is called Princess Pumpum. And that the good princess values her kitty litter above all things; for what could better in posh cat’s life than high quality kitty litter? Nothing short of the fanciest feasts. So when you, her humble person-servant, are responsible for the acquisition and proper administration of her highness’s fancy litter, there are certain criteria that you simply cannot substitute.
Firstly, you’re going to be looking for performance; Does this litter do what it’s supposed to do? Does it clump up well after a “session?” Does it effectively eliminate any (regal) odors? And does it run out too fast per single application? Performance is a key governing aspect when it comes to perceived quality and how fast a customer is going to reach for a any brand over the vast selection of other, potentially better products out there. Any sensible consumer will want to get the most out of whatever it is they’re buying. They have a need and need it filled. So it’s a brand’s job to make sure that whatever they have on offer boasts the most performance a consumer can get. And princess Pumpum is very good at what she does.
Secondly, you should be going for appealing and worthwhile features; does this litter come with its very own little scooper? Is it fancy enough for Princess Pumpum? Does the litter come in a variety of scents to further help eliminate unfavorable aromas or make the whole process easier on you, the humble person-servant? Does it offer any antibacterial properties that might ensure neither you nor your furry overlord are at risk of any possible infection? Having an adequate and appealing assortment of features can significantly boost consumer trust and perceived quality, almost more than anything else.
Conformity with Specifications
Thirdly, a wise person-servant driven by his servitude to the empire of Pumpum should always keep their eye on conformity with specifications; does the litter actually weigh as much as the packaging says? Do single applications of this lucky litter last as long as the information it provides indicated? Does the scent masking actually work and how well does it propagate? You can ask similar questions about any product really, but we’re just as much slaves to our creative examples as you are to your cat. Indeed, conformity with specifications play a massive role when it comes to fortifying perceived quality. A scrupulous consumer wants to make sure they’re getting what they’re seeing after all.
Fourthly, one must make sure that Princess Pumpum’s supply of lush and vital Floof Co. brand kitty litter will have consistent and satisfactory quality continuously. The user experience that you as a consumer are going to have with any product or service should always remain consistent. You don’t want to notice a sudden drop in quality (you’ll rarely see it go up), nor do you want defective products ruining your brand image. And Princess Pumpum surely doesn’t want to have a sub-par experience when she’s “performing.” The customer is always right. And they’re, more or less, ever vigilant. And their perceived quality of any product or service relies on its constant reliability over its time in the consumers’ hands. So you can see how this can seriously affect perceived quality, which ultimately is a vague metric for overall product quality when you think about it.
Fifthly (how often do people say that?), is Floof Co. really that reliable regardless of dips in quality over time? can it sustain enough liquid before it clumps up? Does it have a reasonably long expiration date? Will it withstand frequent “visits”? And will the packaging survive being carried for long or is it liable to tear and leak? Durability, no doubt, is one of the quicker gauges for perceived quality, in addition to overall quality, really. If a product, regardless of its nature or application, can withstand continuous use or exceptionally strenuous use, then you can bet your absolute bottom dollar that its customers will be as numerous as they are dedicated to the brand responsible. It’s always a good quality to boast and an even greater quality to actually have. One should always expect consumers will put their product or service through the ringer when it comes to their various applications. And Princess Pumpum is absolutely no different.
Sixthly (this might be the third time anyone has ever used that word), Are the people over at Floof Co. supportive or attentive enough? Do they collect the various points of feedback that cat owners (read: slaves) submit about their product? Do they recall bad batches or offer recompense for a lackluster experience? And do you think they receive pictures of cats in their mail (professional curiosity? Brands have been increasingly making sure that their products and services always have a ready and able support and customer service system in place. You do not want angry consumers; Not only will you lose customers who are well within their right to complain, they’ll spread the word. Like wildfire, you’ll see your consumer base dwindle over a scarily short amount of time. So having adequate serviceability is obviously a massive impact on perceived quality. Especially that of the good princess.
Fit and Finish
Seventhly (please feel free to send us a complaint about this), Does the product line that Floof Co. has on offer benefit from sleek design? Does the packaging have an attractive mix of colors, imagery and well presented product and company details? Princess Pumpum is severely concerned with her items of interest enjoying a properly attractive presentation. And much the same can be said for your garden variety consumer. You’ll have no doubt went to get something from the store at some point in your life (unless you’re rich enough to have somebody do that for you) and spotted something with an appealing package or an assortment of attractive colors. Even if it’s something that’s ultimately inferior or serves you no purpose for whatever you think it offers, you’ll probably have picked it up. People like pretty things, plain and simple. So adding an element of appeal and panache when it comes to presenting your wares will definitely bump up the perceived quality people will give your brand. And the princess will no doubt give you a boon or four.
Psychology and Perceived Quality
That cat litter example was pretty nifty, right? And surely not at all long winded and overplayed, no sir. Let’s put the mind of the consumer on center stage for a bit here though, there’s a thing or two you could learn about how simple psychology can impact the perceived quality any product has. Now, in a previous point in this article, lowering prices was referenced. Although if your head’s still in the game, you’ll notice we said “for a limited time.” Why this is because people generally assume that if a product in a sea of similar products is on offer for a lower price, it implies that it may be a budget title. People don’t like cheap, more often than not. Regardless of their financial status, or if the cheaper product is almost identical to the name brand or even if it’s genuinely better. Playing with this concept in a variety of ways is how brands can sometimes boost their sales and revenue strategically; You can find many brands dropping limited editions of things they usually offer, only with a slightly different and perhaps more attractive appearance, and with a jarringly higher price tag. The game here is both fit and finish as well as price play; Two things that the average consumer is easy prey to. And ultimately something that massively impacts perceived quality and generally, overall quality.
In contrast, the more ritzy consumer will often go for luxury items more often than Joe Schmoe. But the thing about the more upscale goodies people can get their hands on is that brand owners put a lot of resources and planning into the experience leading up to a sale; The most obvious example here is automotive companies and how their dealerships tend to their customers’ user satisfaction with the pre-process. Posh, stylish surroundings and fixtures, exceptional service at a whim, refined or sophisticated music playing in the background and other similar trappings create an atmosphere of comfort, trust and massive perceived quality. The potential new driver of a shiny new (midlife crisis) sports car glides along the floor from the dealership door to the car door much more smoothly when enticed to put the money down. Often not batting an eye at exorbitant premium pricing on the most mundane of features or services, so long as they’re well immersed in the luxury life.
It should be obvious that the perceived quality of a product is a personal and subjective gauge of how good something is. And when brands approach their consumers, they know they’re walking into a mind game. But the mind is as much a simple thing to toy with as it is a complex and greatly unmapped part of the human experience. A few trimmings here and a couple of neon streaks there and you can guide your consumers along a path from the door to the register with relative ease. So it’s no big secret that companies put a lot of effort and understanding into playing with perceived quality for the better of the brand.
Leveling the Playing Field
So we’ve more or less established that perceived quality can generally be used as a metric for the overall quality of a brands product line. An intangible, powerful and form of belief in a product or a service, regardless of any tangible aspects they may have. But is that enough for a good brand? Do they just rely on their consumers’ ever changing opinions on anything and everything? The short answer is no; The longer (but still just as sweet) answer is that smart brand managers and marketing personnel utilize the perceptions of quality their consumers have to equate their actual quality to it. A lot of resources go into shaping the quality of products in accordance with people’s needs and proclivities. Mostly by following three simple mandated.
Transparency is a wonderful thing. And brand owners realize this in the form of conveying all relevant information about their products smoothly and clearly. Using widely employed marketing techniques and effective communication tools, such as investing in a good public relations department to ensure the brands public image and reception is top notch. Putting adequate effort into advertisement is also a neat idea; You want your brands image to be out there, and on as many platforms as sensibly possible for it to achieve the appropriate air time it deserves. More exposure means more sales more often than not, and it’s no wonder that companies pour massive amounts of resources into advertisement and sales promotion. Adding a personal touch is just as formidable as well; Communicating with the consumer on a personal level about the product or the service on offer not only bolsters overall customer satisfaction, but it’s also a good opportunity for both parties to learn. The company gets to understand its consumer, and the consumer gets a better, more appealing idea of what they’re about to buy. Along with a bunch of other handy dandy techniques that brand owners use as their bread and butter.
It’s one thing to convey all the positive aspects that your product might have on offer, but it’s another thing to start puffing hot air in all directions about how superior whatever you’re selling is. Your product should speak for itself through and through. Painting a less believable picture of a product can only detract from the overall user experience the consumer is going to have. As previously mentioned, perceived quality is an intangible aspect almost purely governed by the mind. So it does no service to your brand image to pump it up when it can already do that without the need for boasting. It’ll give off the impression that it may be an inferior product or a less than valuable service that relies mostly on good marketing, and not actual quality. You’re aiming to match your actual quality with perceived quality. Not make the consumer feel like their experience with your product is disappointing compared to what you advertised.
It’s just as important to make the right marketing and/or sales decisions as any of the other techniques a brand manager can employ to boost their brand image. Making sure that the pricing is reasonable and not intimidating, for example, is a good strategy in any situation (you want people dropping wallets, not jaws). Ironing out any issues pertaining to your warranty strategy is also a great idea. People generally enjoy knowing that their new McGuffin has adequate support and backup should anything too unthinkable happens. And making sure that your brand image isn’t in anyway soiled or associated with a potentially risky idea or phenomenon is an act that is as essential as it is beneficial. Maybe even try to associate it with high profile persons of interest, establish a sponsorship deal and boost your image, or maybe even play with the pricing model on occasion to reel people in.
What did We Learn Today?
It should be more obvious now that any brand’s financial performance is directly and strongly linked to its perceived quality. They feed into each other, in addition to boosting each other continuously. It’s not a strange concept that an intangible measurement such as perceived quality has this much of an impact on a brand’s very identity. It’s based on what the customer generally wants, according to their own individual personalities, character and various preferences. Relying as much on consumer emotion and mental factors as it does on actual, tangible product development and servicing. Having learned your fair share of general information about perceived quality, this is the perfect time to learn even more about it through your own effort, and maybe even learn a thing or two about other marketing tools.
Got an opinion you want to launch into the blogosphere? Let us know in the comments and give us your take on perceived quality.