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Using Behavioural Science: Perceptual Fluency

Using Behavioural Science: Perceptual Fluency

Written by

Mel Fulker


August 27, 2021



Learn about a behavioural science bias and how to use it to your advantage.

What is Perceptual Fluency? 

Perceptual fluency can be defined as what we are familiar with requires less effort to process, and is therefore valued more highly by the autopilot part of our brain. This subsequently influences judgements of the quality of the experience.

Here’s an experiment to demonstrate it

The two images below were used by Marketing Professors Ryan Elder and Aradhna Krishna as a test to see which image would generate the highest purchase intent. The images are exceptionally similar, yet the result was that the image on the right had a 20% increase in purchase intention compared to the image on the left. 

A/B test showing the fork on different sides


The only difference in the images is the positioning of the fork. Why did this image have a higher uplift in purchase intention? It is simply because, as most people are right-handed, it fits better to what we normally perceive, and is thus easier for the autopilot to process.

What does this mean in the context of retail and hospitality?

Perceptual fluency is a driver to attract attention and provide value for customers. For example, a customer may see a TV ad one day, and implicitly learn a certain piece of ‘brand code’ from that ad. When in store a few days later, seeing the same piece of brand code (logo, strapline, sound etc.) makes it easier to process the information, being already familiar with it.

If you can create the perfect atmosphere and replicate it at scale, you’re effectively constantly embedding positive brand vibes with your customers and this can help build familiarity - which creates great cognitive ease for spending - and strong long-term brand perception.

Actions you can take now to harness the power of this bias

1. This effect can especially help in categories where the perceived value of products and brands are very similar. The key to get this to work is to ensure the visual, perceptual link between marketing communications and the packaging and point of sale is consistent and in sync and optimised. 

2. This bias favours replicating an atmosphere at scale, so that all experiences are of a consistent level that is synonymous with and expected of the brand. 

3. There is evidence that playing music that matches a brand saw a 9.1% uplift in sales compared to when randomly selected popular music was played. Startle’s expertly curated playlists, backed by cutting-edge tech and behavioural science, transform any atmosphere to something truly magical.

4. Don’t stop the music. It’s fair to say that the impact of the Covid pandemic and subsequent restrictions and protocols the retail and hospitality industry had to put in place have disrupted the atmosphere in store and thus perceptual fluency. Our Mind the Gap Retail and Hospitality customer research reports highlighted this: for example, half of post-Covid pub goers thought the atmosphere would be improved by the use of music.

Talk to us about how you might use Perceptual Fluency to your advantage throughout your customer journey.

Using Behavioural Science: Perceptual Fluency

Mel Fulker

Chief Customer Officer at Startle. It's my job to oversee marketing, sales, and customer engagement, making sure everything we do is aligned to deliver the best possible customer experience. When I’m not working, you can find me exploring quirky coffee shops and practising yoga. Oh, and running after my toddler, which is the real fun bit!

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