Selective perception is the mind's tendency to filter out what it deems unimportant and focus on what is important. Marketing of a bygone era sought to arrest potential consumers' attention by having the loudest and flashiest message. Increased understanding of consumer psychology has led many marketers to take a more subtle approach by attempting to understand what customers already want.

Selective Perception

Selective perception is a psychological phenomenon that refers to our tendency to notice things that are important to us and filter out stimuli that aren't currently interesting. A frequently used example is the newly expectant mother who suddenly notices that the world around her has filled up with other pregnant women. Where were all these women a month ago? The truth is that they were there all along but remained in the background of perception until pregnancy became a primary concern in the mind.

Trigger Events

A trigger event is something that causes a shift in selective perception. It can be as small as a craving for something sweet or as large as a traumatic experience like surviving a natural disaster. While trigger events are difficult to predict on an individual basis, marketers know that many triggers are common parts of the life cycle, so at a given time, there will be at least some potential customers that have just undergone a trigger event. For example, ads for all kinds of products tend to refer to graduation as the school year end approaches.

Selective Perception Marketing

Selective perception marketing is a divergence from many marketing strategies of the past. Instead of attempting to break through the customer's mental filters by having the most attention-getting message, marketers recognize that most messages will be filtered out and instead try to tailor their message to potential customers who are already paying attention. This is where market research that helps businesses understand recent trigger events for broad segments of the marketplace can be especially valuable.


Marketers who embrace the selective perception concept may attempt to apply it in one of two ways. The first is to tailor the advertising message for an existing product to connect with what the target customer is already paying attention to. This may create a weaker link by attempting to artificially associate the product with a trigger event that is actually unrelated. A stronger strategy is to actually choose the products offered based on recent trigger events; rather than using what's important to the customer to attract them to an unrelated product, the marketer understands what the customer is looking for and offers that solution to them directly.