To understand what brand perception is, imagine an unknown person taking the podium in front of a large crowd of people and delivering a speech. As she gives her presentation each person in the audience begins telling themselves a story about that person, based on perceptions they make.
If one audience member notices that the speaker seems nervous, they may assume it’s the first time she has spoken in public. Someone else may interpret this reaction not as nervousness, but as excitement. One person may perceive the speaker as knowledgeable. Another person may have precisely the opposite experience, particularly if they don’t agree with what’s being said.
As the speech continues, each person listening will build up a narrative about the speaker, even though they’ve never met her, based solely on their limited interaction and preexisting assumptions they brought into the arena with them.
Now imagine each audience member can tweet to the rest of the audience what they think about the speaker. These tweets will influence what the audience thinks, and over time you’ll see consensus begin to form. Factions of people that agree about specific details will emerge.
By the end of the speech, there will be a few prevailing sentiments shared by most people in the audience. As far as the audience is concerned this consensus is the truth about the speaker. This is the speaker’s brand perception. It’s the overarching consensus view that her audience holds about her, a narrative that is the sum total of all of the stories people told themselves, both real and imagined.
The critical thing to recognize about this is that the speaker had almost no control over it. All she did was say what she said, and the audience took it from there.
So What’s the Value?
The value of brand perception is proportional to its favorability. If most of the people in the audience at our fictional presentation held favorable views of the speaker, the chances of her being asked back to speak again are very good. Her brand perception is then quite valuable, as it increases her notoriety and earning potential.
However, if the overwhelming sentiment was negative, then this presentation will likely be the speaker’s last, at least at this venue. When brand perception is generally negative, its value is also negative, transformed into a loss.
Therefore, businesses should strive to do everything they can to create and maintain a positive brand perception among their pool of current and potential customers, particularly when they understand that brand perception never has a neutral effect. It’s either valuable, or it’s a weight on their potential.
How Brand Perception Can Be Altered
To a degree brand perception is subjective. Every person looks for different things from the brands they interact with, and no company can be everything to every consumer. According to Harvard Business Review, 64% of people that say they have a relationship with a given brand give shared values as the primary driver of the relationship. This means that you will have a difficult time winning over consumers that see themselves at odds with your brand’s perceived values.
And you shouldn’t try. Altering brand perception, on an individual basis, isn’t a process you can perform directly. Brand perception is changed on a macro-scale. It’s about being the best ‘you’ you can be and letting the marketplace slowly shift its perception. It’s about living up to the things you say about yourself and the promises that you make. It’s about listening to what your customers are telling you about your brand.
What is Your Brand?
It’s important to remember that what you’ve decided your brand is, and the elements you try to build into your brand identity aren’t actually your brand. That is only what you hope your brand will be. In reality, your brand is determined by brand perception. What people think about your brand is an accurate indicator or your brand. So any definition of your brand must necessarily include brand perception, or the description is incomplete.
And therein lies another facet of brand perception’s value. It’s a mirror through which you can view your company. Your successes and your failures. If the brand perception of your company aligns well with what you say about yourself that means you’re either communicating exceptionally well with your customers about how you see yourself, you’re living up to the promises you’ve made about the things you do and the values you espouse, or both.
However, if there is a significant disconnect between what you think about yourself and how your customers see you, it should give you pause. It’s an opportunity to examine where you’re failing your customers.
For example, poor customer service is often cited as a reason for poor brand perception. Customer service is generally the one time you and your customers get to interact directly. If the impression is that you don’t care, don’t have the time to listen properly, or otherwise fall down on your responsibility to your customers you will be perceived negatively in the marketplace even if you do well in every other category.
Measuring Brand Perception
Before you can use brand perception as a tool to improve your relationships with your customers you need to be able to quantify it. Remember that your understanding of your customer’s perception of you is biased by the fact that you naturally hold yourself in high esteem. This could cause you to misinterpret signals your customers are sending you.
It’s important then to find objective ways to measure how your customers and prospects see your company. Some of the most common techniques include:
- Sending out customer surveys
- Reading online reviews
- Using Google Alerts to track mentions of your brand
- Using social media to interact with customers and track general sentiment
See Yourself As Your Audience Sees You
It’s important to look at yourself honestly. You want to make sure you see yourself as your audience perceives you, not as you want to be seen by them. The latter accomplishes nothing as it’s a refusal to admit that there are improvements to be made.
When you endeavor to learn how your brand is perceived in the marketplace, don’t stop if you discover unflattering things you didn’t want to know. Doing that removes any value you might be able to derive from a negative brand perception. Instead, accept that your audience sees some aspects of your business unfavorably and use this as a motivation to improve these areas and shore up our public perception.
If you use brand perception as a meter stick for improvement, then you’ve taken something with negative value and turned it into an item of inestimable value. Because when you work to make yourself better, based on an accurate assessment of your failings, you start a positive feedback loop that can radically change your company for the better.
If you’re serious about improving the perception of your brand, we can help. Our team is highly skilled in performing collateral refreshes as well as developing new print and digital communications that will showcase your brand in the very best light. We have the tools, techniques, and experience to build the creative vehicles that not only deliver your unique message to your target audience but do so in a compelling way. Give us a call so that we can discuss your situation and create a solution.