Paul Jankowski | Forbes | September 10, 2015
“Perception is reality.” Really? Coined by political consultant Lee Atwater, the phrase has made its way into the lexicon of many savvy brand marketers. For the most part, it still holds weight, but it isn’t the catch-all it once was thanks to the proliferation of so many channels of communication, social sharing and the media’s unquenchable thirst for something to report.
We know as a society that the loudest voice tends to create a “perceived reality” when it comes to everything from social issues to brand awareness, but this perception is often extremely skewed. Take for example the perception of people’s sexual orientation in this country. According to a recent Gallup Poll, the American public believes that 23% of Americans are gay or lesbian, but in reality only 3.8% of the adult population identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. Wow! What a huge difference in perception and reality.
Perceptions are critical. A brand is made of hundreds of perceptions that create an emotional connection with consumers. While solid marketing directly effects many perceptions, consumers now have the tools to alter, undo, change and enhance brand perceptions from their point of view. Those dinner table conversations about a brand experience are no longer confined to the kitchen and carry more weight than ever before. Word of mouth and customer reviews is where the real rubber meets the road. Consumers, especially in the New Heartland, expect brands to know them more intimately, engaging them while they live life.
Think about your brand. Why do people like it? Why do they use it? What emotions are elicited when they think about your brand? If you aren’t sure about the answers to these questions, take a few steps to find out if your brand’s perception is reality.
Know your brand’s perception. To change a perception, you must first know what it is. Not what you think it is, because your opinion doesn’t really matter. Chances are you are already tracking what people are saying about your brand. You should be looking online at what your consumers are discussing related to your brand, reading review websites, and promptly responding to comments via social media. Listen to what people have to say. How did they hear about it? Would they recommend it to others? Why or why not? If this feedback doesn’t align with how you want consumers to perceive your brand, you have opportunities for improvement.
Know your customer. Beyond typical insights, really get to know your customer. Don’t take a “one size fits all” approach to marketing. For example, cultural marketing becomes a focus for many brands trying to reach a specific group of people with shared interests. New Heartland Group recently did a study on Millennials in the New Heartland versus on the Coasts, and found that they tend to be in very different life stages with unique buying triggers. Most brands tend to group Millennials together which can greatly limit brand-building results. Brand perceptions vary significantly by geography and culture. It’s important that you know these nuances.
Find touchpoints that connect. In the New Heartland, we’ve identified music, food, sports, outdoor activities and social media as lifestyle touchpoints that make an impact when brands utilize them correctly. While these touchpoints can also work with other consumer groups in other parts of the country, the way in which they are utilized is different. For instance, there are 68 million country music consumers in the New Heartland, compared to 34 million on the coasts. Country Music is one way your brand could adapt their messaging in the New Heartland to better suit the likes of consumers here. No matter who you are targeting, find out what touchpoints will impact your audience and help your message resonate.
For the final way to check your brand’s perception, read the rest of the article on Forbes.