Product or Perception! Which comes first? Don’t you think that your mind does shopping much before you get the product physically?
When Apple launches its product in India, most people think that very few people will buy them because they are costly. But people keep on buying Apple gadgets across India and the world. The company has crossed the $2 Trillion market cap. You might have noticed that a person once started using Apple products, they maintain this for several years. They upgrade them but with the same brand!
Once you start using products, be it Colgate or Maggie or Automobile or Household appliance, you really do not bother about cost much. Many people think marketing is a battle of products, but in the long run, perception becomes a key differentiator.
Marketing people are preoccupied with doing research and “getting the facts.” They analyze the situation to make sure that the truth is on their side. Then they sail confidently into the marketing arena, secure in the knowledge that they have the best product and that ultimately the best product will win.
It’s an illusion. There is no objective, no facts. Also, there are no best products. All that exists in the world of marketing are perceptions in the minds of the customer or prospect. The perception is the reality. Everything else is an illusion.
All truth is relative. Relative to your mind or the mind of another human being. When you say, “I’m right and the next person is wrong,” all you’re really saying is that you’re a better perceiver than someone else.
Most people think they are better perceivers than others. They have a sense of personal infallibility. Their perceptions are always more accurate than those of their neighbors or friends. Truth and perception become fused in the mind, leaving no difference between the two.
To cope with the terrifying reality of being alone in the universe, people project themselves on the outside world. They “live” in the arena of books, movies, television, newspapers, magazines. They “belong” to clubs, organizations, institutions. These outside representations of the world seem more real than the reality inside their own minds.
People retain firmly the belief that reality is the world outside of the mind and that the individual is one small dot on a global spaceship. Actually, it’s the opposite. The only reality you can be sure about is in your own perceptions. If the universe exists, it exists inside your own mind and the minds of others. That’s the reality that marketing programs must deal with.
Is Product a Hero in Marketing?
There may well be oceans, rivers, cities, towns, trees, and houses out there, but they’re just isn’t any way for us to know these things except through our own perceptions. Marketing is a manipulation of those perceptions.
Most marketing mistakes stem from the assumption that you’re fighting a product battle rooted in reality.
What some marketing people see as the natural laws of marketing are based on a flawed premise that the product is the hero of the marketing program and that you’ll win or lose based on the merits of the product. This is why the natural, logical way to market a product is invariably wrong.
Only by studying how perceptions are formed in the mind and focusing your marketing programs on those perceptions can you overcome your basically incorrect marketing instincts.
Each of us (manufacturer, distributor, dealer, prospect, customer) looks at the world through a pair of eyes. If there is objective truth out there, how would we know it? Who would measure it? Who would tell us? It could only be another person looking at the same scene through a different pair of eye-windows.
Truth is nothing more or less than one expert’s perception. And who is the expert? It’s someone who is perceived to be an expert in the mind of somebody else.
Why are so many marketing decisions based on factual comparisons? Why do so many marketing people assume that truth is on their side, that their job is to use truth as a weapon to correct the misperceptions that exist in the mind of the customer?
Marketing people focus on facts because they believe in objective reality. It’s also easy for marketing people to assume that truth is on their side. If you think you need the best product to win a marketing battle, then it’s easy to believe you have the best product. All that’s required is a minor modification of your own perceptions.
Changing a prospect’s mind is another matter. The minds of customers or prospects are very difficult to change. With a modicum of experience in a product category, a consumer assumes that he or she is right. A perception that exists in the mind is often interpreted as a universal truth. People are seldom, if ever, wrong. At least in their own minds.
Honda, Toyota, and Nissan
It’s easier to see the power of perception over a product when the products are separated by some distance. For example, the three largest-selling Japanese imported cars in America are Honda, Toyota, and Nissan.
Most marketing people think the battle between the three brands is based on quality, styling, horsepower, and price. Not true. It’s what people think about a Honda, a Toyota, or a Nissan that determines which brand will win. Marketing is a battle of perceptions.
Japanese automobile manufacturers sell the same cars in the United States as they do in Japan. If marketing were a battle of products, you would think the same sales order would hold true for both countries. After all, the same quality, the same styling, the same horsepower, and roughly the same prices hold true for Japan as they do for the United States.
But in Japan, Honda is nowhere near the leader. There, Honda is in third place, behind Toyota and Nissan. Toyota sells more than four times as many automobiles in Japan as Honda does.
So what’s the difference between Honda in Japan and Honda in the United States? The products are the same, but the perceptions in customers’ minds are different.
If you told friends in New York you bought a Honda, they might ask you, “What kind of car did you get? a Civic? an Accord? a Prelude?” If you told friends in Tokyo you bought a Honda, they might ask you, “What kind of motorcycle did you buy?”
In Japan, Honda got into customers’ minds as a manufacturer of motorcycles, and apparently, most people don’t want to buy a car from a motorcycle company.
How about an opposite situation? Would Harley-Davidson be successful if it launched a Harley-Davidson automobile? You might think it would depend on the car. Quality, styling, horsepower, pricing. You might even believe the Harley-Davidson reputation for quality would be a plus. We think not. Its perception as a motorcycle company would undermine a Harley-Davidson car—no matter how good the product.
‘Everybody Knows’ Principle
What makes the battle even more difficult is that customers frequently make buying decisions based on second-hand perceptions. Instead of using their own perceptions, they base their buying decisions on someone else’s perception of reality. This is the “everybody knows” principle.
Everybody knows that the Japanese make higher-quality cars than the Americans do. So people make buying decisions based on the fact that everybody knows the Japanese make higher-quality cars. When you ask shoppers whether they have had any personal experience with a product, most often they say they haven’t. And, more often than not, their own experience is often twisted to conform to their perceptions.
If you have had a bad experience with a Japanese car, you’ve just been unlucky, because everybody knows the Japanese make high-quality cars. Conversely, if you have had a good experience with an American car, you’ve just been lucky, because everybody knows that American cars are poorly made. Excerpt from one of the outstanding books on marketing “The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing” by Al Ries and Jack Trout.
People see what they want to see and what people want to see never has anything to do with the truth – ROBERTO BOLAÑO