Perception is reality. How many times have you heard that cliché? In sales and marketing, it rings oh so true.
I was reminded of this during a recent meeting with a new Atlanta-based client. This company is a proven performer in a special niche industry. The owner knows nearly all of his customers and prospects by name. If not, he knows how to find them.
For the past two decades, customers have learned they can depend on the company for a full line of quality products that have stood the test of time, for service after the sale and for technical problem-solving assistance. But while its product is a good one, it has remained basically unchanged for 10 years, while a number of new, competitive products have entered the marketplace. So, whats the marketing dilemma?
The chief competition is from an up-and-coming company that seemingly introduces one new product after another, each supported with a slick, massive marketing blitz. Therefore, the perception in the marketplace is that of the conservative, reliable company vs. the innovative upstart with new products and new ideas.
People like to associate with and buy from winners. So the new company is gradually eroding my clients market share.
Perception can be expressed in the same way as effective verbal or written communications. Theres a sender of information and theres a receiver. Perception problems occur when the sender is vague or the receiver doesnt interpret information in the intended way.
The key to developing customers most favorable perception of your business is to take a proactive approach to managing your business reputation, which is among your most valuable assets.
Its critical that you carefully craft and control the messages your audience is receiving and understanding about you and your products or services. The next step is to leverage customer response to your best advantage.
Fortunately, my client has a solid base from which to build. However, like many other companies, it needs help in actively shaping, then promoting its reputation in the marketplace. Im encouraging the company to become more aggressive in telling its good stories to existing customers and prospects. If you keep a low profile and think of yourself as quiet and dependable, others may perceive you as having your best days behind you.
Modesty can be a noble virtue in an individual. But a business that doesnt share its success stories with customers is one that is asking for trouble.
Before you can effectively manage your reputation, you need to understand how your business is perceived.
Find out what your investors, employees, vendors, customers and even your competitors are thinking and saying about you. Ask them for honest answers about whats good about your company and what areas could use a little work. Ask for suggested solutions, too.
Next, consider the perception youd like for your company. Develop clear messages that define your business while building your desired perception. Create a strategic, integrated marketing communications plan that delivers these messages with consistency.
Some of your tactics may include advertising, publicity, direct marketing, a Web site, personal sales calls, customer social events and frequent mailings. However, what may be right for one business or situation may not be right for others.
In the case of my Atlanta client, my firm will help it communicate the proven staying power of its time-tested products while touting recent innovations in ways the products can be used, progressive approaches to customer service and technical support. A new graphic look to the companys promotional pieces will add an element of freshness to its perception among audiences.
Regardless of the tactics, the key is to leverage to the fullest your companys reality to forge the best possible perception.
Jeff Krakoff is president of Krakoff Communications, a Pittsburgh-based marketing communications firm. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Reach him by phone at (412) 434-7718.