There is only one thing that matters for any business to be successful – Perception.
In marketing, perception is 9/10ths of the rule, always!
Whether it’s positive or negative, the perception of your startup or small business – product or service – by any, and every, customer is all that matters. It happens within in a mere 3 seconds and can last through a customer’s entire experience with your company.
It happens in everything you say and do, where you say and do it and how you say and do it – advertisements, video, graphics, website design, logo design, tagline, media stories, social media posts, emails, customer service…Everything.
Create Instant, Positive Perception
If you want to build an instant positive perception for your business, utilize public relations. I even wrote a book to help you DIY PR: Pitched: A Simple DIY Guide to Public Relations for Small Business.
Public relations, or generating positive news stories about your business, is the only element of the marketing mix that can generate instant, perceived credibility for your business.
Reporters and journalists often work their beat for years, decades, making them experts in our eyes of their subject matter; people we should trust to know and ethically report on only the best, most honest things, situations, stories, products, etc. Think about it. Are you swayed by film or restaurant critic reviews?
You see, when someone we perceive as a reputable journalist, media outlet, or, today, celebrity-influencer, mentions a company product or service, we’re 10 times more likely to buy it, or at minimum click to the website to learn more, make an evaluation and determine whether we’ll buy or not. The perception is that this influencer that we trust is referring readers to the company and giving it a big thumbs up, even if, more often than not, the celebrity influencer is being paid. The perception that a brand is connected to that celebrity is enough to make people open their wallets.
Moreover, if someone hasn’t seen those news stories on your startup, but find you through search, they will form a positive perception of your business when they see the media logos on your homepage. Psychologically, it makes a difference. It may cause them to scroll farther or click to another page. The perception of being connected to someone or something the majority of people deem reputable is so powerful.
These are the main reasons that public relations is such a crucial tool for companies looking to grow. And why so many use it and use it well.
However, PR is just the first step in a customer’s interaction with your company. A good first impression often leads to high standards of experience, which you must deliver.
Why does perception matter?
As individuals, we’re encouraged to be ourselves. Let the freak flag fly and not care about what others think about us. However, in business, the standards are higher and the consequences far greater.
Perception creates the way a customer feels about your business. If a customer feels something positive they will buy it now. If they feel something negative, they’ll bounce to a competitor. How a customer feels about your company should be the driving force of your marketing. Your communications goal is to always, through every marketing platform, make that emotional connection with a customer.
Their perception of you is also their judgement of you; the opinion they’ve formed within an instant of their first engagement with your product or service (how does your website make them feel?). Once a customer has set their perception, made an opinion driven by emotion, it can be difficult to change, good or bad. After all, it is their judgement to give.
This is why online reviews are so important. Real individuals discussing their perceived experience with the company, product or service has the power to change opinions, or validate them. Reinforce someone’s choice to purchase, encourage the person on the fence to buy it or send them searching for alternatives.
And, even if the person changes their opinion and decides to give it a try, they will continue to build their perception of your company from the click to buy to delivery and first use. Every step of their experience with your company is an opportunity for you to be part of forming a positive perception with customers. Why? So, they will be repeat customers and refer friends and family.
If there are any flaws or issues in your sales experience, if the product purchased does not meet the perceived value of the customer, their opinion of your business dwindles, increasing the high risk of a bad review either online or word-of-mouth to a friend.
You will not make everyone happy, but it shouldn’t stop you from trying.
As a business owner, it can be hard to remember that someone’s perceived experience is truly their own, whether you intend it or not. It’s something to remember when responding to negative online reviews.
In my experience, oftentimes, bad reviews have nothing to do with you or your business. Many things can color a person’s perceived experience, including their personal life experiences, situations and memories. All of which you cannot control. Just employ the best product, service and customer experience that you can. I promise that you will satisfy the majority of your customers.
Note: I feel it’s important to say that online reviews have been around for a while and most consumers are pretty savvy when it comes to negative reviews written by people who are very obviously and unnecessarily going too far. While important to still respond to these people, we do need to have trust that consumers will acknowledge when someone has clearly and unfairly picked a business to wail on.
Moreover, every person perceives “value” differently in conjunction to their current needs. If they don’t need your product or service than they’re likely to be indifferent. If they need it but the website fails to communicate and make an emotional connection and urge to buy now, then they will go find a competitor’s site that does, or worse, when they do need it they will not come back to you.
So, make sure that all of your marketing and messaging are consistent across the board. A customer might not know how to verbalize it, but they will notice that what enticed them to your website is not aligned with your website. When things don’t match you have high traffic and a horrible bounce rate.
Perception Also Matters Internally
Perception actually matters to every key stakeholder in your business – investors, vendors, partners, employees. You need investors to perceive you as a risk worth taking. You need vendors to perceive that you’re going to build a solid business and pay your bills on time.
In fact, perception can either help maintain or build up the amazing company culture you’ve developed, or it can break it. If employees have a poor perception of the company, then how are they to help you maintain a positive perception through an incredible customer experience? If they’re not happy why will they be motivated to make customers happy?
It all trickles down.
Recap: You can control the perception of your business through awesome marketing communications, but, no matter how hard you work, there will always be a few who will try and taint the positive perception just because. Let it go.
Tips for Creating Positive Perception:
- Develop your amazing company story and pitch it to media
- Share that compelling story through all of your marketing. Every touch point a customer has with your business should be the same, and yet lead them closer to the “Buy” button.
- Translate that story internally by creating a company culture that lives and breathes the story/vison you’ve developed in every shipping label, every phone call, every email, every social media post, everything in every way, and lead it.
- Get your employees on board – share the story/vision and get them excited. Studies show that employees that care about the businesses they work for help the company be more successful.
- Share that culture with your vendors, investors and partners – make it contagious. I promise they will tell everyone their perception of you, or rather how great you are, how amazing the company is….
- Put your customer first in every company strategy. Always be thinking about “what this means for the customer” or “how will this impact the customer experience” and make the process better, easier and faster for them.
Jennifer Fortney is President of Cascade Communications, a boutique, virtual PR and marketing communications company in Chicago, and author of “Pitched: A Simple DIY Guide to Public Relations for Small Businesses”. In her 20+ year career, she has worked with top Fortune 500 companies and a wide variety of small businesses and startups across the country, generating millions of media impressions. A Journalism major from The University of Kansas, she has written broadcast news, worked in sports, broadcast marketing and corporate agency, was the PR Instructor at SCORE Chicago/Small Business Administration for 5 years and contributed to NBCChicago.com “Inc. Well” blog.