The Power of Perception
The power of perception cannot be underestimated when it comes to marketing, either online or off. The truth about a product, service, or company can matter very little in the long-run if the perception of the brand is bad. The same is true in reverse, too.
One example that is often given is bottled water. The perception was that it was drawn from deep wells and purified until the water had no impurities. It was trendy and healthy to drink bottled water, so the thinking went. It turned out to be mostly hogwash, bottled water was mostly just purified tap water. However, that has not stopped bottled water from becoming a worldwide industry worth billions of dollars. Is it healthier? Sure. Is it convenient in many cases? Yes. But, ultimately its success was built on a skewed perception.
There is a reason why hundreds of billions of dollars are spent, each and every year, on branding and marketing. Indeed, in 2010 alone, companies in the United States spent over $300 billion on advertising. This is because the perception of a product or service is nearly as important as the actual effectiveness. Half the battle is getting the consumer to pick your product, service, or company over the many competitors.
Framing the Discussion
There is a term in psychology called the “framing effect”. The framing effect essentially means that people will pick different answers or choices depending on how the question is framed, even if the end result is the same either way. It is a cognitive bias that describes how people who are given the same choices in different formats will make inconsistent selections. The first real documentation of the framing effect occurred in 1981 when psychologists Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman held a study in order to see how framing a question could change the answers participants gave. The end result was that individuals chose widely varying answers, despite all of the outcomes being statistically the same.
This framing issue translates to many other areas besides theoretical questions, too. Would you rather work with someone who “did not finish college”, or someone who has “some college education”? The result is the same, but the framing clearly indicates a better choice. The same is true of a reputation or of branding, where planning to present your product, service, company, or self to others will benefit you because they are more likely to perceive you in the way you wish.
The Evolution of Branding
Branding first really became a mass science when television began selling commercial items, particularly in the 1950s. If you fast-forward to the 1990s, then it took another giant leap with the advent of the Internet. Over the next couple of decades, branding on the Internet would evolve from the same type of mass-appeal marketing to a much more individualized process. Now, each Internet user's preferences, wants, and needs can be addressed by a skilled marketing and advertising team. What this means is that online reputations and online branding are more important than ever because it is not just about getting name recognition, it is about satisfying the specific needs of each, individual, customer.
How the Internet Effects Branding
Social media and networking, as well as search engines, have undoubtedly changed the field of branding. The Internet is a place where your reputation or branding is not necessarily under your control. Rather, it is under the control of Internet users who can hide behind shroud of anonymity, but who nevertheless have the ability to broadcast their complaints to the world. This is an extremely dangerous position for any brand or reputation to be in. This is not a problem that is likely to go anywhere either, as the Internet is only growing in importance.
People Believe What They Read—True or Not
Ultimately, people have a tendency to believe what they read. How many times has someone sent you a chain mail letter that was so obviously false or fictitious, but they believed it one hundred percent? On December 28th, 1917, H.L. Mencken, a journalist working for the New York Evening Mail, published an article celebrating the anniversary of the bathtub. The article detailed how the first bathtubs had been introduced in the United States in 1842 and had been composed chiefly of mahogany and lead. The article also described how bathtubs were not well accepted by society until Millard Fillmore had one installed in the White House in 1850. The problem is that none of this was true in the slightest. This did not stop the article from being reprinted in newspapers all over the United States, referenced by textbooks, cited by encyclopedias, and finding its way into the social psyche. Even today, the article can be found being referenced in magazine articles, books, and even a January 2008 Kia commercial.“A lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth can get it's boots on” is a quote that is often attributed to Mark Twain or Winston Churchill, but was actually first recorded by Charles Spurgeon, who called it an old proverb. Even in a quote describing how people believe what they read or hear, there is an example of too many people believing what they read or hear about who said it—such is the pervasiveness of the problem. Hopefully you can see why it is vital that companies, individuals, and organizations make sure that what people are reading about them is the truth.