Brand shapers and makers would like to believe that they own brand perception. However, that simply is not true. Any brand’s perception by definition does not belong to the marketing teams in the offices or the manufactures. Brands are created by consumers. Many brands have been propelled to brand status by providing consumers with a better mouse trap. Think “Kleenex” or “Post-It Notes”. By developing and building new categories with breakthrough, innovative products, these brands had not only developed the category, but ultimately had to defend their market position. But not before they became brands, rather not before consumers defined them as brands. If the consumer says it’s a brand, well, it’s a brand.
At the risk of stating the obvious, brand perception belongs to the consumer.
Yet time and time again, we as marketers and brand makers forget that basic premise. Marketers forget that the brand, more specifically the perception of the brand, is something that we cannot fully dictate or control. We can gently nudge it, define the core premise, accentuate and emphasize its features, build a story, maintain its tone, style and approach – but how consumers respond to all this stimuli is not ours to control.
There is a misconception that the brands we manage, create and advertise are viewed by consumers in the same way that we view them. And that is not necessarily true. We place labels on our brands and assume that just because we see things in a certain way, consumers will as well. That is where we are mistaken. At the core of it all, we are too close to the brands that we are responsible for. Our brand perception is not that of the consumer.
As marketers we create a brand vision and apply a lot of effort to develop that vision into an entity that we believe consumers will connect with. Sometimes they do, but often they don’t and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Once a brand vision is developed, it becomes its own persona. The brand develops its own relationship with consumers. Each consumer has their own brand relationship and as a result creates a unique brand reality. Essentially, that’s what brand perception is all about.