Is Perception More Important than Fact?

Clearly, there are still hard feelings over the recent presidential election. A forthcoming documentary aims to blame the media for the Obama victory. Putting hard feelings aside, the studies commissioned for this documentary point to an important impact digital technologies have had on our culture. There are so many experts and details and facts that truth is anything but concrete. Is truth now defined by perception rather than fact? Does digital marketing need to embrace its own theory of relativity?

Over 100 years ago, Albert Einstein published his paper “On The Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies.” This groundbreaking work would eventually be known as the Special Theory of Relativity. While bringing up Einstein and relativity usually conjour thoughts of advanced physics, the ideas presented are really quite simple. In the absence of an absolute position for measurement (even as we stand still, we are not still – the earth rotates on its axis and circles the sun at incredible speeds) there can be no absolute measurement. All measurements are only accurate as they are relative to the position and movement of the observer.

As we have seen in just the past week with the Midol Moms campaign, the same may now be said about marketing in a digital age. Messaging is relative. We strive to brand and create positive perceptions about products. However, our best laid plans are often cut off by customers. More frightening, these plans are often upended by competitor customers. In the case of Midol, many of the outraged mothers were not customers in the first place. This campaign only solidified their aversion to the product. In non-digital mediums, this is not such a problem. In digital mediums, their voice carries.

So what can we do? The best solution is the same that has worked for years. Build a compelling proposition based on facts. Leave perception to the customers. By presenting fact or a compelling story behind the brand, we leave perception open to interpretation. Each customer can decide how the offering fits into their life. The power of social networks is the ability to take a story and craft meaning in hundreds of ways. Midol as a cure for the aches and pains of everyday life is a compelling story. Let the mothers decide what pains are best to cure. As an added benefit, truck drivers can redefine the story to fit their needs, office workers can further refine it and health professionals can make their own suggestions.

The role of marketing in this process is to facilitate – not create. Customers have control over perception more than ever before. While crafting a compelling perception may win one segment of customers (or lose them in the Midol case), it does nothing to speak to other segments that may have sold themselves.


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