Perception: If We Only Knew What They Were Thinking

An error doesn’t become a mistake until you refuse to correct it. Orlando A. Battista

As I’ve said many times, perception is reality – even if it’s not factual. Therefore, understanding the place your products or services occupy in the public’s minds is vital to the success of your business and necessitates that you continually check to make sure that your internal reality matches external perceptions.

For example, even though you think you’re communicating “classy and elegant” your prospects perceive “stuffy and boring.” Can you see how this misunderstanding could hurt your business?

Or you might see your products as “medium–priced and high-quality” while your target audience think they’re “high-priced, medium-quality.” Again, this is not a good thing.

Worst of all, what if you worked hard to create a unique clothing line for women – top-quality, trendy, all-natural-fiber, easy-care garments for traveling – and when asked, your target audience said your company “sold clothes?” Yikes!

Many entrepreneurs overlook another important aspect of perception – that is, how well they manage the public’s expectations. They fail to consider that each one of their customers has his / her own benchmark – standards for assessing whether an experience was below par, average or superior. As a result, they don’t know whether they’re measuring up!

For instance, let’s assume that you’re shopping for groceries at your local market. At a minimum you expect the following:

  • Wide aisles.
  • Fresh produce.
  • Large selection of canned goods.
  • Shopping carts.
  • Milk and eggs.
  • Clerks who know where to find anchovies.
  • Cashiers who give you the right amount of change.
  • Someone to pack your bags.
  • Check-out lines with reasonable wait periods.

These then, are your realistic expectations. However, upon arriving you discover that there’s no milk; the floors are dirty; the cashier charges overcharges you; no one knows where to find anchovies; you have to pack your own bags; and the lines are incredibly long. You’re understandably disappointed and frustrated because you’re realistic expectations weren’t met! Will you continue to patronize this store? Probably not… but even if you do, you’re sure to complain to friends and family.

Conversely how would you feel if your shopping experience exceeded your expectations? That is, in addition to their great selection of canned and frozen vegetables, they offered locally grown, fresh produce. And you strolled your shopping cart down extra-wide, well-lit and spotlessly clean aisles. Then, when you asked a clerk to point the way to the anchovies, they escorted you to the right aisle. And to top things off you waited in line less than a minute, the cashier was enthusiastic and friendly; and the bag packer insisted on helping you put your groceries in your car. What a nice surprise, huh? Will you go back to this store? Absolutely! And you’re sure to recommend it to family and friends.

So, how do you know if your inside reality matches outside perceptions? The simple answer is: Ask! Gathering prospects and customers is the most time-consuming part of the process, so consider using online or in-person surveys email or “snail mail” questionnaires. And you’ll find that most people are happy to give their opinions, especially if you offer an incentive (e.g. food, discounts, or free merchandise).

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Mary Eule Scarborough, an unassailable marketing expert and thought leader, helps businesses of all sizes get and keep more profitable customers. She is also:

  • A former Fortune 500 marketing executive, …
  • The founder of two successful small businesses, …
  • An award-winning speaker, …
  • A Certified Guerrilla Marketing coach, and …
  • Co-author of three books (to-date): “The Procrastinator’s Guide to Marketing“, (Entrepreneur Press, November, 2007), “Mastering Online Marketing” (Entrepreneur Press, January, 2008), and “Guerrilla Marketing On The Internet” (Entrepreneur Press, July, 2008).
  • Qualified with a BA in Journalism / English from the University of Maryland, and …
  • Qualified with a Masters degree in marketing from The Johns Hopkins University.

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