The Powerful Difference Between Perception and Fact
By Tom Dougherty
Perception vs. Fact in Brand Development
Typically, as human beings, we think of perception and fact as two different things. It is common to think of perception as “the world in which we see it.” It is the world that we can experience, feel, touch, and “perceive.” Interestingly, perception can change as we change from age and new experiences and changes from person to person. Fact, on the other hand, is something more concrete and definite. It also is less apt to change and is usually viewed as commonly accepted.
Great Branding is Based on The Truth
The truth of the matter is that the differences between what is termed perception and what is termed as fact are artificial. There is really no difference between perceptions and fact. To the vast majority of us, what we perceive at any given time is considered as fact. Right or wrong, as long as we believe it, it is fact. Unfortunately, most marketing and branding today is devoid of this understanding. Marketing, by and large, is erroneously driven by fact.
We see it all of the time: “buy our soap powder because it will get your clothes cleaner than any other soap powder on the market,” or “drink our beer because it has won the most awards for taste.”
While each of these statements is probably true (to a certain degree), consumer behavior demonstrates time and time again, that products are not chosen or, more importantly, preferred, based upon these “truths.” To illustrate this, lets look at the beer example. When a beer company chooses to market their beer on taste, they are attempting to go against the natural dynamic of the beer market as a whole. While Miller, Budweiser, Coors, and Sam Adams, all claim to be award winning beers that taste great, if you are a Miller drinker and one of the competitors tell you to switch to their beer because it tastes better, do you believe it? (Read a market study on the beer category here)
We have done a lot of research in this category and we have never seen a beer drinker sit at a bar, order a beer, drink it and say: “that beer was awful, give me another.” People who drink beer think that the beer they prefer tastes good. In fact, even in double blind taste tests, most consumers cannot even pick out their “preferred” beer from a selection of beers.
When a beer company says that their beer tastes better, they are in fact telling consumers that they do not know what good taste is, insulting the very audience they wish to convert. It does not matter, in reality, if Miller tastes better than Coors, or if Sam Adams tastes better than Budweiser. To most consumers, the perception that their beer tastes just fine is enough to get them to stay loyal to their preferred brand even though another brand of beer may actually taste better. To these drinkers, their perception is reality. Their “belief” is what drives their purchase decision.
The Key To Understanding
The key to understanding how to get consumers, beer drinkers or otherwise, to switch and try something different, lies in understanding their beliefs – not only about the product category – but the very belief systems that are at the core of each consumers.
Ask a consumer why they choose a particular brand and they will tell you that they like it best, it has a good price, it what they always have used, or a myriad of other reasons having something to do with the efficacy of the product. The problem is that in today’s market space, performance (efficacy) is what is expected. It is the bare minimum. Think a moment about the products and services that you use, don’t they all work?
There are some rule you should consider when undertaking brand development actions. Brand tenets if you will. Many are just commons sense but that has never been all that common. As a marketer, isn’t it safe to assume that products that are below standard, as far as efficacy is concerned, do not make it long in the market?
If one were to peel back all of the layers of the purchase decision, one would realize that people choose products that somehow reflect who they are as individuals. They choose Volvo not because it is safer, but because they see themselves as being careful, the protector of their children, or smart enough to purchase a car that may save them in the event of a catastrophic accident. Moreover, consumers choose Rolex not because a Rolex can tell time better but because it means that they have “made it” or have “arrived.”
Make Your Dollars Work Harder
Why then are so many products marketed based on efficacy (fact) rather than perception? The simple answer is that it is hard to do well and harder to stick to. It is hard to do well because traditional usage and attitudinal studies do not uncover belief sets.
It takes a focused and comprehensive approach to get at the core belief systems that drive purchase decisions. It is harder to stick to because as organizations, we can become so enamored by our “latest and greatest” product that it easy to revert back to branding on efficacy (fact) rather than belief; because we believe that the product should sell itself.
In some cases, products and great brands (like Apple for example) are so revolutionary that perhaps it does seem like a good idea to brand a product based on its efficacy. But, what happens when a competitor matches or improves upon your “latest and greatest?” Your marketing efforts have done nothing to build any equities in your brand, have not given consumers any reason to be loyal, and have spent hard fought marketing dollars foolishly in the process.