Marketing Myth #2: Perception Is Not Reality

The concept that what others perceive – especially when it’s their prospects and customers – is more important than what is “factual” is one of the hardest tenets for business owners to accept. However, if you’re goal is to sustain a profitable business, you must. If not, you’ll likely end up committing serious blunders.

Remember, consumers also make their buying decisions based on their own “givens” and attitudes, and as we all know, they’re not always accurate! Additionally, everyone has their own unique perspectives – and if you’ve ever asked three people to relate the same story, you know what we mean.

Consider this… I recently heard a news story regarding the famous concert violinist, Joshua Bell – one who fills concert halls with $100 plus ticket holders

An extremely popular and recognizable artist, he decided to conduct a live public performance… in a Washington DC metro station. He played his 3.5 million dollar Stradivarius violin for 43 minutes but very few passer-bys stopped to listen. He collected $32.17 in tips.

What a great experiment in social perceptions! Although he is one of the world’s most renowned violinists, he was judged on the environment, not his performance. Onlookers assumed that this talent matched his venue and rewarded him accordingly. I bet there were a lot of Washingtonians kicking themselves the next day! You can read the whole story and see a video of Joshua Bell playing on the Washington Post web site.

Believers in this myth are easy to recognize because they:

  • Waste countless hours trying to convince unyielding clients to accept their version of reality.
  • Rarely ask their customers for feedback.
  • Make sure the facts fit their beliefs.
  • Assume that a good product at the best price wins…
  • Use meaningless platitudes (e.g. “Best Anywhere” “Friendly Service,” “Quality Products”) to describe their products or services.
  • Force consumers to choose them based on price or convenience alone.
  • Ignore the importance of contact personnel, environment, and other customer touch points, particularly in professional service companies.

Which results in…

  • The inability to earn a substantial income… let alone what they’re worth.
  • Disgruntled customers… unhappy about unfixed product or service flaws.
  • Missed opportunities.
  • Being forgotten or lumped together with everyone else– good or bad.

Okay, what’s the truth?

The following is a good illustration of how this might look in the “real world.”

Let’s assume that George is the most knowledgeable, educated and competent financial advisor in his area, having consistently earned and saved his clients a great deal of money over the years.

At a networking event he schedules an initial consultation with a qualified prospect, Jane, who’s in need of his services. However, upon arrival, she’s greeted by a bland waiting room with a threadbare sofa; a curt receptionist and dirty rest rooms.

After inviting Jane into his office, George shares his stellar track record and reiterates his professionalism – careful attention to details, reliable service, and thoroughly researched advice. Yet, as she’s about to leave he has trouble finding her forms because they’re buried underneath mounds of paper on his desk.

George, confident of his ability to help Jane, is baffled when he learns that she’s chosen another firm. You see, he didn’t understand that there was a serious gap between his words and his office environment and staff. One said “excellence and professional” and other said “mediocre and fly-by-night!” Whether consciously or otherwise, Jane probably surmised that George would treat her money the same way he treated his office: carelessly.

As the saying goes, “If it looks like a duck and walks like a duck, it’s probably a duck.” And you can either argue the point (i.e. one has nothing to do with the other) all the way to the poor house or do whatever is necessary to make sure that your inside reality matches outside perception.

This works the other way around, too. It’s a great idea to ask your current customers what you do well. You may be surprised to learn how much they appreciate things that you take for granted. I had a client who owned a hair salon and couldn’t come up with one thing that she did better than her competitors. So, she asked her customers and was shocked to learn that many of them were loyal to her business because they never had to wait long for service. Presto! A valuable differentiator handed to her on a silver platter!

Bottom line: “Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt!” Take the time to see how you’re viewed, fill in the gaps, become memorable, then communicate your unique benefits… often!

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David A. Scarborough is a gifted business writer, educator, speaker and certified Guerrilla Marketing coach, who draws upon his “real-life” experiences and expertise in business and strategic marketing to help businesses of all sizes get and keep more profitable customers. He is also the co-author of the book “The Procrastinator’s Guide to Marketing,” (Publisher: Entrepreneur Press, November, 2007). He holds a bachelor’s degree from Western Michigan University and MBA from Golden Gate University. Log onto his website: for free marketing articles, tools, tips and templates…or to learn more about his book and services.

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