Perception is everything
by Andy Wright
Perception for many brands is so powerful that purchase decisions are a formality for their loyal customers. Years of successful Brandhabits have banked valuable quantities of trust, respect and delivered expectations.
Many of my posts here on Brandhabits have described my beliefs on the practice of good or bad habits. These are usually based on observations and reading. I’d like to change tact slightly with this post based on my own recent purchasing experiences. I’ve been in the market for a few things recently – a holiday, a car service, a new apartment in a new city and a new camera. These experiences have really brought home the power of perception.
I believe there are 4 key elements that can help to build positive perceptions for brands (if you’d like to skip the personal experiences they’re at the end of this post).
My experiences relied heavily on my perception of various brands, products and services. Moving to a new job and a new city I’m about to embark on a plethora of unknowns. My perception radar has had to be finely tuned.
The majority of travel decisions are now influenced by online reviews and booked via the web. The rest are decided by my wife. We agreed that we needed a break before our big move from Sydney to Melbourne and to a new job (likely to be very demanding). We quickly whittled down our options to Fiji.
Whenever we book any travel, or indeed any restaurant, we check out every review possible. On this occasion, Tripadvisor was our guide. They’ve become my Google of travel. The first place I’ll look. Everyone else’s experiences in one place. We’d spoken with a travel agent also to understand special offers that were available at the time we were looking to travel (I still find this to be an irreplaceable experience when it comes to booking a holiday). We then used Tripadvisor to narrow down our options based on the experiences of others.
It came down to two. A new Intercontinental resort vs a resort that had been recommended to us by some friends. Our experience of either was limited. The reputation of the Intercontinental of course was influenced by brand cues of luxury, premium and professionalism. The value equation was based on price, package, facilities and fit for our needs (less kids the better). We chose the Intercontinental. It was slightly more expensive, the brand name added reassurance and the facilities and room appeared more luxurious. Given the time we were travelling and potential for rain, this became an important factor for us. I’m writing this in the airport on the way back. We had a fantastic time.
The car service
We’re going to be driving down to Melbourne. A 13 hour journey and therefore one that I’d like to make with complete peace of mind. We have a Mazda 3. We bought it 3 and a half years ago and we’re very happy with our purchase. It looks good, drives easily and has been very reliable.
Our experience of buying the car wasn’t as enjoyable. Admittedly, we played off 2 dealers to get the best price via negotiation. But the barrage of abuse I received from the losing dealer was unpleasant. As a result, I certainly wouldn’t buy from them again. This also means they don’t have a chance of getting my service or repair business in the future.
I don’t know a great deal about cars and even less about what makes them tick. Therefore, we’ve left the service provider choice up to my parents-in-law. They have a relationship with a garage that has always looked after their car. My only concern? It’s very cheap. When you’re dealing with something that cost over $25k you want to make sure it’s in safe hands.
We have no experience of the garage, no idea of their reputation and only know that we’re getting a low price. The value equation is unkown. All we do know is that we’re not going back to the dealer that sold us the car in the first place and if you can’t trust family, who can you trust?
Searching for a property is also an ‘online first’ process for us. Especially, given the fact that the property we’re searching for is over 1,000 km away. The aggregator sites are first stop. Realestate.com.au vs Domain.com.au. Neither really outperforms the other through significant benefits. Essentially, the same products in different uniforms. However, Domain has recently introduced ‘radar search’ allowing you to search for property located close to a desired school, gym, park etc. Both are linked to newspaper mastheads from News Limited and Fairfax Newspapers. We ended up using Domain, perhaps because of their alignment with The Age and perhaps the new feature.
We found an apartment after 4 weeks of searching. This wasn’t an active search, rather a ‘set up the alerts and lets see what comes our way’ search. Friend recommendations narrowed the location, but we settled on the centre of Melbourne given our overall lack of experience of the area as a whole. Situating ourselves in the heart of the city would allow us to explore and find an area for the longer term once we arrived.
The apartment was let by what appeared to be a boutique real estate agent. Their website and identity was slick and colourful. The name was typically two partners. The agent herself was very friendly and helpful and she even let us speak to the landlord of the property directly. There are many bad examples of experiences with real estate agents whose numerical incentives often overtake their motivation to provide a rewarding customer service. Given our first couple of impressions with this agent we were happy to trust them. We took the apartment without actually viewing it, thanks to the number of photographs and information about the property available on the website via the agent and landlord. A good experience and reassuring service. (I’ll update if anything changes).
I’m still in the research phase with this one. I’ve had a Canon Ixus for the last 4 and a half years and it’s served me well. Good quality, lightweight, compact and easy to use, with a quality of photo that seems to be better than most others. But now I’d like to upgrade. I know what I want, a higher optical zoom than 3x and enough megapixels to make the zoom worthwhile.
First option of course is the latest Canon. However, I’ve also heard and read positive reviews about the Nikon equivalent. New features such as viewing an image of the picture live on a screen on the front of the camera as well as a built in projector. Pretty cool, and I like these, but they also have me questioning Nikon’s credibility and photo quality.
I’m not a hardcore photographer, although part of me wants to include an SLR as part of this process. The Nikon’s features impress me, but concern me at the same time. They’re adding bells and whistles for a ‘point and shoot’ unprofessional segment of the market. I want to think of myself as better. So I have 2 options. Upgrade within the Nikon’s (ho seem to building their reputation within the communities I’m reading) until I feel like they’re taking me seriously or keep faith with my Canon. Neither brand is looking to speak to me proactively (yet) so I’m still to be influenced.
Overall, I think this process has highlighted 4 key points about what works for brands in developing successful Brandhabits that can influence perception. I haven’t really test driven any of the experiences above. My perception of the products / brands I’m choosing has decided for me.
Experience is a head start for your brand. Customers know you, they have pre-defined expectations. Use this to your advantage. What’s the likelihood of me choosing another Canon? Relatively high compared to the Nikon, who I don’t quite trust yet.
The heritage, size, popularity and currency of your brand can influence purchase without any other considerations. If Apple released a camera, I’d seriously consider teaming it with my iPhone, Mac and iPod. The Intercontinental brand got me across the line in Fiji.
How does the customer perceive the value of you brand? Is it just low price? Is it peace of mind or additional bells and whistles? All are valuable, but make sure you understand what’s most important in the eyes of your target customer. Make sure you understand your own core competencies and strategy before choosing the right segment though.
Help your customers believe in the decision they’ve made. Do you have a network of ambassadors that will recommend you? Do you reward loyalty? Do your sales staff (like my real estate and travel agents) put the customers mind at ease? Can you connect new customers with existing customers to share help, knowledge and positive experiences? The WordPress blog platform and forums does this excellently.
Perception is immensely powerful, a virtual reality before the real deal of a purchase. Make sure that you’re a step ahead of the competition. Treat every first-time experience as a precedent for future interaction. Continue to build and promote your brand’s reputation and ensure that you’ve identified the actual value you’re offering your customers. Lastly, help reassure your customer that they’ve made the right choice. Surprise them with after sales service and help to welcome them into your community.