Brand Perception and Ketchup

The Dilemma of the Business Owner vs. The Consumer

One of the hardest challenges in marketing for businesses is challenging perspectives that are ingrained in a business owner. As the experts of their industry, many business leaders view marketing as an amplified voice for what THEY want to communicate. Herein lies the challenge: What they want to say is NOT what the consumer want's to hear.

So what's one disconnect?

Here's an example. In over 20 years of marketing businesses, 80% of owners will ask me to include this at some point in their advertising. What is it? How many years they have been in business. The harsh reality is the consumer could care less that you have been in business since 1984. It means nothing to them.

Some businesses say they have the best (name product, service, or bragging points here). The theme is simple: business owners tend to use their advertising like a personal bulletin board. When marketers allow this to run rampant, advertising sounds like a crowd of gimmicky circus barkers.

For marketing to be effective, business owners must understand that it is not about their perspective; it's about the consumers. How we convey messaging is the priority.

I like to use a ketchup bottle as an analogy. Inside the ketchup bottle lives the business owner. They know all the ingredients, how it's packaged, and how it tastes. They live and breathe the INSIDE of the ketchup bottle. Their perspective is not wrong, but their marketing perception is. As marketer's, it's our job to communicate perception from the outside of that bottle. After all, that's what the consumer sees. Great marketers want to help the consumer connect and identify with the brand.

Advertisers have to seduce the subconscious. Good messaging isn't just in the words we say; it's visceral. It's how we make them feel that leaves an impact. Business owners would do well to recognize this skill in deciding who leads their marketing efforts. By understanding the motivations, values, and beliefs of your target audience, you can connect what it is about your brand that appeals to their unique needs, wants, and desires.

There are stages of perception

How your brand is perceived comes in layers. Communications scholar Joseph Devito (The Interpersonal Communication Book 2009) identified five stages of perception in interpersonal communications that can easily apply to a brand.

1. Stimulation

The stimulation stage is the initial moment a consumer experiences an element of marketing. It engages the sensory processing phase of recognition, where the element appeals to the consumer's sight, smell, touch, hearing, or taste. For example, you might recall Abercrombie & Fitch as one of the pioneers of using scents (olfactory marketing) when you walked by their stores. Restaurants can create smells that appeal to customers as they walk by. As people experience many senses constantly, they might unconsciously use selective perception based on biases or preferences.

2. Organization

The organization stage is when consumers process and organize their thoughts on particular stimuli. This is when the customer selects what marketing elements they may respond to, commonly because of predetermined views. For example, if a consumer passionate about pesticide and chemical free foods sees a sign declaring organic products, they'll assign value to it. This can also include appealing colors, texts, and images that consumers might respond to.

3. Evaluation and Interpretation

The evaluation, or interpretation, stage is the next layer of perception. Here, a consumer assigns a value to the materials they experience. This brings in a consumer's preconceived idea about the messaging or brand. For example, suppose a consumer is viewing your website on a mobile device for the first time, and it's easy to use and organized. In that case, they may determine that your company is professional and want to engage further.

4. Memory

Memory is when a subject passes beyond initial processing and registers into a consumer's short and or long-term memory. Companies that create content to appeal to the earlier stages of perception effectively may earn a place for their brand or products in people's memories.

5. Recall

Recall is the final stage in perception and is crucial for next-level marketing. This is when a customer remembers, or recalls, something they viewed or experienced previously. For recall to occur, a brand, advertisement, product or other form of content is already locked in the consumer's memory. For example, if a customer saw an ad that appealed to them, including a company's logo, they might recall this moment when they see the logo in the future. At even greater depth is recalling your brand because they identify with your message. Nike has done a phenomenal job of positioning itself as a premier sports brand. Followers flock to them because they communicate the identity of their consumers (see the video below). That consistent level of messaging has created a recall in identity that helps to create the awareness and consistency other companies hope to achieve.

Next Steps

There are several ways to gauge your brand's perception. 

1. Practice social listening. You can do this by reviewing your interactions on social media. What areas receive positive or negative conversations?

2. Review your reviews. Reading your company's reviews is an obvious area to look at too.

3. Create surveys. Run a survey every quarter with open-ended questions to receive customer feedback.

4. Conduct a focus group. You can do this in person or remotely via video calls. I love these because you can see the facial expressions and body language that comes with the feedback.

5. Consider a brand audit. This review process evaluates a brand's position in its market. It looks at your internal and external branding and customer experiences. You can run a brand audit internally or hire a company like Innovate. The results can show how the company compares to others within the industry. It's a great way to identify your "flavor" in the competition.

Need some more help or guidance? Contact us at Innovate; we'll give you some outside perspective.
Michael Novelli

Michael Novelli

Michael Novelli is the Founder and CEO of the digital agency Innovate. With over twenty five years of experience in marketing and advertising, he has firsthand helped hundreds of business owners achieve remarkable growth. Novelli enjoys finding entrepreneurial ideas that drive positive change in the world and giving them the legs to run.