Marketing Myth #3: Perception Is Not Reality

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This is one of the hardest concepts for business owners to accept. They waste countless hours trying to convince unyielding clients to accept their version of reality, which often prevents them from communicating their unique benefits; alleviating significant flaws and/or ignoring golden opportunities.

It is vitally important that any one who has responsibility for growing a business or organization understand and embrace this critical tenet. It does not matter if outside perceptions are factual. . .because consumers behave based on decisions formed by attitudes founded on their beliefs, which are often subconscious. (If this sounds familiar, congratulations!)

This has particularly dangerous consequences when companies are forced into an undesirable place primarily because they fail to communicate their unique benefits. Thus, their “inside reality” is aware of their distinguishing qualities but “outside perceptions” are clueless.

In other words, the public may look at your business; your competitors’ businesses; and/or completely unrelated businesses and view them identically, good or bad. This means that they base their purchase decision solely on price or convenience. Why? Because they don’t have any other information!

Some companies can operate in this environment for a while but over time it gets them nowhere (except closer to extinction). Remember this, competing on price alone is the quickest way I know of to ensure that you will never be able to earn a substantial income… let alone, what you’re “worth”. It is a no-win situation and no matter how tempting, do not fall into that snare. And businesses will continue to compete in this way until they do something to alter their prospects’ perceptions!

Avoiding the Commodity Ambush

You must be willing to face and accept reality… and as my daughter-in-law is fond of saying, “and don’t pretty it up!” This is the first step in making sure you don’t get lumped into the commodity pot.

The worst (or best?) thing you’ll discover may be that your customers and prospects do indeed see you as similar, or identical, to others. Once you obtain this vital information, you must identify specific areas where your inside reality does not match outside perceptions. For instance, you may need to do a better job of educating the public about your exceptional qualities (i. e. service, delivery, product benefits, etc. ) or conversely, you may need to fix gaps.

Let’s assume that you’re the most knowledgeable, educated and competent financial advisor in your area, having earned and saved your clients much more than your competitors. At a networking event you give your business card to a qualified prospect in need of your services and you schedule an initial meeting in your office. However, when the prospect arrives the waiting room is bland and the sofa upholstery is threadbare; the rest rooms are in desperate need of cleaning; your receptionist is curt; your office is a mess and you can’t find the forms you need.

Then you spend the next hour reiterating the professional qualities you posses – careful attention to details, reliable service, thoroughly researched advice, etc. You’re convinced that you have the know-how and abilities to provide the very best financial advice to him or her, but they choose another company. Why? Because there was a huge gap between what you said and what they experienced. Your words said, “excellence and professional” and your environment and staff said “mediocrity and fly-by-night”! As the saying goes, “If it looks like a duck and walks like a duck, it’s probably a duck. ”

What does a dirty bathroom have to do with sound financial advice? In this case, everything… So you can either argue the point (i. e. one has nothing to do with the other) all the way to the poor house or do whatever is necessary to create an office environment that reflects your level of professionalism.

Alternatively, your customers may continue to choose you over a competitor because you consistently deliver more product or service value that you’re not even aware of! And again, the only way to find this out for certain is to ask your repeat customers! For example, women may choose one comparable hair salon over the other because they are more careful schedulers and they never have a long wait. Presto! Instant differentiation handed to you on a silver platter!

The third, and possibly the worst, perception gap brings us back to the commodity “nowhere land”. In order to transcend this place you’ll need to force an apples-and-oranges comparison between you and your competitors. You must design, execute and communicate such significant differences between you, that your customers would be foolish to take their business anywhere else, regardless of price.

At this point, it’s enough to understand that this is an essential concept. Do not, however, worry about creating yours just yet… There’s lots of help in later chapters, so hold on for now!

Classic Symptoms of a Myth #3 Believer


  • Insist that their customers and prospects have no idea what they’re talking about

  • Believe that a good product at the best price wins

  • Put very little effort into retaining the customers they already have

  • Ignore the importance of contact personnel, environment, and other customer touch points, particularly in professional service companies

  • Lack any standardized quality program

    Mary Eule specializes in helping small and medium-sized businesses get and keep profitable customers. Formerly a Fortune 500 marketing executive; founder of two successful small businesses and award-winning speaker, Ms. Eule is President of Strategic Marketing Advisors, LLC. and co-author of a new book, “Mandatory Marketing: Building Your Business with Loyal and Profitable Customers". She has a BA in Journalism/English from the University of Maryland and earned her a master’s degree in marketing from Johns Hopkins University. Log onto her website: for free articles, newsletter and helpful marketing tools, tips and templates… and/or to purchase the book.

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