In Marketing, Perception Is Everything

Influence...Not so much

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The mind is a deeply complex organ, at times influenced by small, seemingly trivial things, and at others closed off to any external stimuli. Think of it as an onion, with belief at the center and perception at the outermost layer. Subtle stimuli can alter perception not just more easily than they can belief, but also can alter perception in nearly imperceptible ways, as air overtime hardens and dries the top layer, not affecting the layer beneath.

Case in point: Associations with brand logos. No core belief is needed to deal with company logos and associations made with them, thus those associations are more easily influenced. A recent study showed people subliminally exposed to Apple’s logo were more creative with their tasks than people exposed to IBM’s.

Likewise, as posted on the Today show’s website, it’s easy to send subtle cues to other people physically in order to get them to associate certain positive traits in their mind. For example: having a picture of a dog on your desk to convey loyalty or wearing a black suit to convey authority. This is what is also referred to as "the power of suggestion."

In short, perception is easily manipulated because people are less likely to guard their perceptions than their beliefs. Changing someone’s faith, on the other hand, would be a much more difficult task, as belief is protected at the center of the onion.

Understanding this relationship is important when considering the implications of other studies and how those implications apply to marketing efforts. More than one piece of research has found, for example, that people are more likely to be influenced by friends and families than they are an A-list blogger. Part of that rests with the belief that someone is trustworthy versus the perception that someone is trustworthy. Some, though, take that information and jump to the conclusion that blogger endorsements and celebrity endorsements are over-credited for effectiveness.

The underlying assumption is that it all comes down to how much trust people put into a recommendation. People these days are much less likely to put trust in a celebrity they know is paid to say something. That distrust could extend to bloggers as well, either for that reason, or lack of certainty of the person’s identity (especially in light of recent hoaxes), or a myriad other reasons not to trust a stranger.

So, a consumer in the market for an automobile is more likely to trust a friend or relative, especially one with long-term brand experience than a blogger in another state. Yeah, well, when you put it that way, it’s not such a surprise, is it? 

Veteran communications specialist Shel Holtz doesn’t think it should be shocking, either, and criticizes competing viewpoints that trust is the most important metric in marketing:

“Whatever happened to the importance of building awareness?” asks Holtz at his blog. “While the influential bloggers—the so-called ‘A-listers’—may not have influence, they do have eyeballs. They are A-listers, after all, because people read them. I may have greater trust in my friend in the next cube, but where did he hear about it? And if he heard about it from a trusted friend or family member, they read about it from a source that gets broad distrtibution [sic]. The information has to start somewhere.”

A good place to start, it could be argued, is search ads (regardless of direct ROI), especially if a marketer has strong organic rankings with specific keywords. Exposure to the brand, with reinforcement along the discovery process (sponsored plus organic), sends a subtle message to viewers that will sit somewhat idly and relaxed in the perception areas. If not there, a nice endorsement from someone respected is also a good start, just for those subtle associations people don’t take too seriously but do allow to alter their behavior just slightly, either negatively or positively.

This is why branding professionals are so careful (and sensitive about) the person spreading their message. It’s not as much about trust as it is about association and perception. Perception and associations can change very quickly, which is also why OJ Simpson doesn’t get endorsement deals anymore.


In Marketing, Perception Is Everything
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  • http://pixelbella.com Dana Lookadoo

    This is one of the most captivating marketing articles I’ve read. The first paragraph set a captivating emotional visual. I was hooked to read the rest, including the referenced links!

    Your article breaks down the layers of marketing perception. Depending on how emotional a product or service is to the target audience could be a key factor to how many layers need to be penetrated.

    Thanks for the approch. Keep them coming!

  • http://www.mybusinesspayments.com marshall

    I whole heartedly believe a consumer’s perception about a brand, company or web site has so much to say about the business.

    We’ve all seen company websites that haven’t been updated in a while or that have broken links and errors and I always wonder how the consumer thinks about that experience. Bad web experience = bad business/transaction experience…is that the perception…is that the reality?

    While others can come across creating the perception that their company is wonderful and below those layers (of onions) you come to find out, the company is not what it seems.

    Great article, I look forward to reading more as you’ve earned your way into my RSS with this post!

  • Guest

    2 Things…

    Awhile back on  Top Rank Blog there was a huge dustup over a video that was created by one group, promoted by another, for a particular product, and vilified by all those who had seen it. The perception was How dare they! The association between those involved quickly took on a " I didn’t do that, it was them" type of theme. But the damage, was done. The blame was as much on the PR firm as it was on the agency who produced the piece as it was on the company and product promoted. Though the overall effect was viral, and in today’s case, that’s what everyone wants. it’s overall perception was of a very very negative experience. So though all parties involved may do "good things", the reality is from here on out, all conversations may start with, "Weren’t you the guys who…"?

    For marketers, perception is reality. It is there to be tweaked and molded to fit the reality of the consumer that they pursue.

    Now you know why Word of mouth marketing, though not new, is now THE thing in marketing.  A trusted or known source tells you about a product. Because you know them, your belief is that it must be ok. Not neccessarily a novel concept but then again we as marketers reinvent everything anyways.

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