To Think, Feel and Do: Three Clues to Perception

Understanding how our perception works and how it affects us is the clue to produce really effective messages, not just award-winning ones.

Portrait of Juanjo Junoy Juanjo Junoy Mexico City

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Design and advertising —as many other commercial communication and conduct-modifying tools— are not simply ways of expression, but have an ulterior purpose: to make audiences act. Its objective is to modify or reinforce perceptions regarding a product, good or service. I’m not against awards, but I think the best of them all is learning your message really attained its aim: the construction of a specific perception.

Perceptions are consequence of the sensitive process (external or internal physical stimuli processed by the senses and transmitted via the nervous system) and the previous experience/perception of each individual. The resulting mix of information coming from our senses with the pre-existing one in our brain, turns out to be the perception of something specific. The context in which this perception takes place also defines the end result. We don’t perceive in isolation from reality; it intrudes in our life in most subtle ways. There are countless instances that demonstrate the importance of the context in the perceptive process. For example, speaking of advertising communication, the context can be the media (Marshall McLuhan was talking about this when he said that the media is the message). It’s not the same thing to advertise a new product in a selective and respected magazine like The Economist than placing it in a mass-oriented publication like TV Guide. The product absorbs the features of its environment, kind of a patina that protects it; the aura of the media. 

The most important thing in this process is that the resulting perception leads us to three kind of answers always present and intimately linked: the cognitive (to think), the affective (to feel), and the conductual (to do) answers. All three are fruit of our perceptive process; they are undetachable and fundamental to conform the way we see and act in the world. 

For all practical purposes, this means we have to take into account those three aspects (to think, feel and do) in the conception of a design or advertising communication proposal. To achieve them, a simple formula that enable us to establish the objective of the communication piece, reaching an evaluation transcending subjective criteria; far away from the usual “I like it or I don’t”, guilty of so many of our headaches when it comes from the mouth of a client. 

It all comes to a definition of our target group. In my opinion, having that clear is the fundamental and unavoidable step of the communication business. If we don’t know who we are talking to, how are we to know if our message is the right one? Once the audience is defined, we have to establish what is its actual “thinking”, “feeling” and “doing” regarding our product or service and what is we want it to “think”, “feel” and “do” when they receive our message.

Implementing this exercise can expedite the subsequent process, to establish objectives, develop a strategy and, obviously, the appraisal of the creative material produced. Nowadays there are many voices defending the relevance of emotions in the decision-making process. Of course that is important, because time ago it was believed that decisions were to be made based solely on rationality, not taking emotions into account. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean the rational side has no weight in them. We must not tilt the pendulum to the other side, but reach a balance. Meaning that, as much in our messages as in the strategy we have to take into account the three elements that conform perception: “to think”, “to feel” and “to do”, and determine what we want our audience to think, feel and do.

Translated by Cristian Petit De Murat Atizapán de Zaragoza

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