Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Perception - The battle that cannot be fought.

I'm not much of a gamer - however I have played quite a bit of Prince of Persia. The interesting level in the game was the one where the Prince meets his mirror image - they are equally matched and fight each other to a standstill. Only when our Prince withdraws and sheaths his sword - does his alter ego merge with him ; and he moves on. This is an exact parallel to the perception battle.
Most of us think inside out. "I do all these things - therefore I must be doing a good job." Things change when you start thinking outside in - "If I could not see all these things being done, would I still think I do a good job ?".
Big Difference !
As producers we are exposed to all we do. As consumers, we are exposed to only the things that cut through the noise. Here lies the mystery of perception. Very few things are good enough to cut through the noise - therefore, only uniqueness builds perception. If what you do is benchmarked, best practiced and extremely thoroughly thought through - you have probably already failed. This is difficult to swallow.
Therefore, when we are presented with research and feedback that shows we have made no impact on the consumer - we promptly move into denial. To the consumer we are irrelevant, but we refuse to believe this and attack the research, question the sampling and find numerous intelligent and analytical excuses. We have joined the battle of perception - and the more we fight the more we lose.
Suppose for a minute we were to accept. What relief !!! Now we can actually do something about it. What should we do now ? The best option is to think through customer scenarios using an experience walk through model. A team member of mine recently created a framework which I thought was exceptional in doing precisely this.
1. Describe the experience stage : Broadly any marketing activity would generate experience stages for the intended consumer. These would typically bucketise into initial connect, awareness, interest, engagement, participation and closure. While these would be the buckets, thought needs to be applied in generating the right experience stage description.
2. Decide Messaging for each stage : When we interact with the consumer at each of the stage, we need to develop clarity in the messaging available to us for that stage. If a stage has no message, it will not have any noise cut through - and therefore should be dropped. If enough stages have no message, the whole activity should be dropped.
3. Create the implementation mechanism for each stage : Typically the experience will be provided by an artefact created by us. This could be a website, a demo zone, a promotion et al. Without an implementation mechanism, the experience degenerates into a communication exercise - typically without a call for action. This hurts the most at the engagement and participation stages of the experience walk through.
4. Communication Vehicle : For the consumer to actually have an experience, there has to be a communication vehicle - whether an Ad, a direct mailer, a telephone call or any other. Typically, such vehicles will add to both cost as well as noise. The more frugal we are in allocating vehicles to a stage - the better the probability of impact.
5. Desired Response : This is the final and most important variable. Without this you cannot focus or measure. Typically, each experience stage should have a unique call for action - and that should be the desired response. As an example, if you run a webinar - the desired response at the interest stage should be registration.
Now that this exercise is done - the job is well begun. Now you can start the question stage.
Question 1 : Is my messaging uniquely designed to generate the desired response ? If No - revisit, pare, change etc so that it is.
Question 2 : Will my implementation mechanism create a unique experience ? This is where benchmarking becomes key.
Question 3 : Is my communication vehicle the best suited given the message ? A message in the high fashion zone renders poorly in standard newsprint. Problematically, communication vehicles have large impact on unconscious perception - how many times have you disregarded a premium brand because the brochure was printed on poor quality paper ?
Question 4 : Is every element tuned to - and only tuned to - generating the desired response ? Anything which does not pass this, is additional cost with no incremental perception value.
Question 5 : Will my desired response move the consumer effortlessly to the next experience stage ? If not, the experience will become disjointed.
Question 6 : If I forget who I am - and try this whole thing on myself (a good trick, change brand name for this) ; what would my perception be ? Would I say "Awesome" - or "Dont hassle me".
This is an indicative (and not exhaustive) list of questions. The point is - sit down with the complete map of experience stages and keep questioning, probing, asking unconnected people - till you find that you are convinced. Being sceptical before is better than being defensive after.
This thinking can be applied from the smallest campaign to the largest. By and large - it is best applied in the following situation.
I've got the research. My brand perception sucks. Lets go back to the drawing board and start again.
You realise the advantage above - you at least have the humility to ask the questions. And you have at least built the knowledge to design the experience stages. I can tell you thats a lot more than you will have in a new exercise.
"If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things through narrow chinks of his cavern." - William Blake.


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