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The Power of Perception
By: Andrew Davis
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The mind is powerful. So powerful, in fact, that people see what they want to see regardless of the reality that surrounds them. Hypochondriacs, even those that are self aware, suffer from the persistent delusion that they are plagued by a never-ending series of illnesses. In their minds, they are gravely ill, and no doctor can tell them otherwise.
Consumers can suffer from the same delusions. “There is no objective reality,” write marketing mavens Al Ries and Jack Trout in their book The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing. “There are no facts. There are not best products. All that exists in the world of marketing are perceptions in the minds of the customer or prospect.”
“The perception is the reality,” they continue. “Everything else is an illusion.”
If facts ruled the day in marketing, many of the top consumer brands would be bottom-shelf items. However, because those brands have established a perception of strength, quality, or leadership in the minds of consumers, facts are irrelevant. Consumers believe that leading brands are “better” than their competitors, and that’s all that matters.
Roger Dooley, a marketing consultant specializing in neuromarketing, recently wrote at his site about a new study that will be published in an upcoming edition of the Journal of Consumer Research. The study illustrates the power of perception in consumer behavior. “Individuals who are dieting or trying to eat healthy foods have learned to avoid some foods by name,” writes Dooley. “The researchers found that the same dish containing vegetables, pasta, meat, and cheese was rated as healthier when it was called a salad instead of ‘pasta.’ Another test showed that subjects ate more ‘fruit chews’ than ‘candy chews,’ even though the product was the same.”
What is the lesson for brands? Consumer perception — positive or negative — is a good place to start when developing any marketing campaign. It’s far easier to start with how consumers perceive your brand rather than developing an entirely new branding strategy or creating a new product. Doing so would require building a new idea in the mind of the consumer, which is much more difficult that altering a misperception.
For example, Porsche discovered through consumer research that its models were perceived as impractical as a daily driver. This perception was hurting sales, especially in a down economy. Porsche wanted to change the perception and began a multi-channel marketing campaign highlighting the value of Porsche as an everyday car, without actually changing the car. “We're not going away from the core brand values of performance, engineering and state of the art technology,” Porsche’s Vice President of Marketing David Pryor told DMNews, adding they simply wanted to focus on some of the more “every day” aspects of it.
For brands hurting in sales, the problem may not be with the product, but rather the perception of the product. The first step to turning around sales should be discovering how consumers perceive the brand, then building a campaign around that perception. The research can discover a weakness (or, even a strength), which can serve as a solid launching for rebuilding the brand. As the research shows, even changing the name of a product can result in an increase in sales.

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About the Author
Andrew Davis is a Charleston, SC-based creative services consultant to small businesses and non-profits. Follow him on Twitter here.
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