This article explores the concept of perception in the modern age, where reality and virtual reality interconnect.

Preparing for the family grocery shopping, I begin my list: tea, cereal, fruit.

Not terribly interesting or revealing you might say. That is until you get to wondering about which particular tea I’ll buy, or exactly why I prefer to shop for fruit and vegetables at the local market rather than the supermarket. What is influencing my choices?

Perception influences customer awareness about a brand, an organisation, or a generic product or service. This awareness derives from our collective memory and our related thoughts and emotions. Evolving over a long period of time, they form into an associated meaning, otherwise known as our perception.

But to the unaccustomed eye, the intangible, abstract concept of perception can be difficult to define.

In 2016 where digital and real worlds collide, perception matters more than ever. It’s important we understand the deeper, wider meanings behind the choices customers make.

Whilst embracing Consumer Directed Care (CDC) and the roll out of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, the Health and Aged Care sectors should also consider perception.

“Marketing is a battle for perception, not product or service” (Jack Trout – The 22 immutable laws of marketing, 1993).

As babies, we develop an instinctive curiosity – an insatiable urge to explore and make sense of our environment, to remove uncertainty. It’s necessary for our survival. We all experience the world differently and this is how our unique identity is born.

As customers, our perceptions are extremely useful – they help us identify value, and they guide us towards more rapid decision-making, especially when faced with a large number of choices.

In this modern age, your average customer is exposed to your organisational offering through various contact points, both online and offline.  As such, your customer is also building their perception of your organisation based on the clarity of value you offer, as well as the degree of message-consistency across your customer contact points.

Back to my shopping list. Why might I choose Weet-Bix as our family’s cereal selection? It’s a practical choice: healthy, low in sugar, available exclusively from our preferred supermarket. And as a parent of young boys, the fact it’s available in a value pack makes me feel, well … reassured. Besides, Sanitarium’s an established Aussie brand. This feels good.

The point is these thoughts race into our minds in fractions of a second. We have little or no active control over these thoughts. We’re unlikely to question them. And despite the fact some of those ideas don’t even make it into our conscious mind, we fuse with them, as well as the feelings they invoke. Often we act on those feelings. Thus our buying decisions are influenced by our perceptions.

So, what does customer perception mean for your organisation?

It may have been a while since you considered why your customers use your brand or organisation. It’s actually very hard to assess this without gaining direct feedback (eg. market research) from your customers or stakeholders.

This brief ten-minute activity may be helpful in opening a discussion about perception:

  • Identify your organisational brand, and then ask yourself, ‘why do our customers use it?’
  • What are the top thoughts that come to mind with your brand?
  • Why do these particular thoughts come to mind?
  • Do they have strong memories of your brand in the past?
  • Why do they feel this way about your brand?
  • And, what emotions do they experience when considering your brand?
  • Think about your responses. Perhaps make a brief note of your answers to help clarify the process.

It’s important to remember that your customers own your brand’s collective perception in the market place – not you. And a perception, once lodged in the brain, is not easily shifted. It can take years, even decades to change it.

This highlights the considerable power of marketing in today’s world – managing not just your customers, but also their perceptions.

Photo sourced from www.iStockphoto.com