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Brands: The Architecture of Perceptions

Updated: Aug 30, 2021

What do you think of when you hear the word "brand"? A logo? A company name and tagline? The types of products/services offered? How about the aesthetic from storefronts to print materials, or the vision and mission of the organization?

Here's the thing: it's none of those.

A brand is an impression.

Brands are perceptions, and they have an incredible effect on our lives. They tell us what's popular, what to buy, and how to live. But in order for them to be successful, brands need to be intentional about the story they tell and how they want to be perceived.

What's the difference between perception and reality?

Perception is how you interpret what you see and hear. It's a bit subjective as we all have different perspectives that affect our beliefs about things. Perception also changes over time based on new experiences or information, which can change your current reality.

Reality is technically the facts of any given situation. But how we perceive things to be based on the world around us and our history with that object or experience becomes our reality. If something has always been bad for me, I may have a reality about it being bad - but if my friend tells me they love it, my perception of that thing changes because now I can see a second perspective from someone else's reality.

So which is more important? Perception or reality? It's not as easy as either/or. The two are intrinsically linked. Our brains are quite good at unconsciously bending our senses toward our desired outcomes, and at taking gaps in information and filling them in with past experiences. Which means our reality is constructed of what is actually happening AND what we want/expect to be happening. It's both.

Take a look at this image below. Focus on the black dot on the left and try to decipher in which direction the ball on the right is moving (without actually looking at the ball!).

It appears to be moving diagonally from left to right and back, doesn't it? But guess what? It's not. It's actually moving vertically while spinning side to side. See it? Trace it with your finger if you need to. The black and white portions of the ball create the illusion and confuse our senses. According to Dartmouth College professor and Glendon College fellow Patrick Cavanagh,

"It’s really important to understand we’re not seeing reality. We’re seeing a story that’s being created for us."

What is brand perception and why does it matter?

Brand perception is the collective consciousness about an organization from everyone that interacts with it. It's the impression an organization makes in the minds of customers, employees, stakeholders, media, and anyone else with the ability to come into contact with it. It's a fluid, highly impressionable, and deeply personal thing. It is the story that the world is telling about your organization. And,

"If you don't give the market the story to talk about, they'll define your brand's story for you" (David Brier).

The perception of your brand is the combined effect of every interaction that someone has with it. There are countless ways customers can interact with an organization - walking in the door or browsing online, purchasing products and services, customer service interactions, attending events and trade shows, getting on email lists - all of these give people impressions about your company.

Because our emotions play a huge role in how we perceive brands, it's almost impossible to separate them from one another, so you need to have a strong brand that people connect with emotionally. They are talking about you (in both good and bad ways) all over social media channels like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and more. The story you tell and the experiences people have with your company have the ability to sink your ship or light your fire.

Think about this symbol. What do you think when you see it?

By and large, Apple is perceived as a company that creates high quality, desirable products. Consumers who have Apple devices are proud to show them off and generally only purchase the latest models of iPhones or MacBooks when they upgrade.

They also create their own fan culture by attending events like WWDC in San Francisco each year where developers gather from around the world for workshops and sessions with top Apple executives on new iOS features and updates coming down the pipeline. These fans line up outside of stores overnight for limited edition items (like red colored phones). Some even camp out months ahead so they can be the first through the doors on launch day.

Apple's brand story has been crafted over time using different mediums including TV ads, product launches, and viral marketing efforts such as songs about Siri. They have competition. But their brand story has created a perception that makes competing so much easier!

How is Brand Perception Measured?

It's pretty simple. What are people saying about you? What do they think about your brand? Is it positive or negative? You can ask for reviews, send surveys, and analyze requested feedback. But the quickest way to know if you have a disconnect between your brand's story and your brand's perception is to look at what people are saying about you on social media channels.

If people are generally talking about your brand with language that reflects your story, your brand's perception is likely accurate. But if people aren't talking about your brand--or worse yet, they're offering negative feedback!--that means something isn't lining up with how you tell your story or who you say you are.

How Do You Create Brand Perception?

First, it's important to make sure that you have a story. Your brand needs some kind of narrative and purpose behind why the company exists, and it should connect with your target audience's values and goals.

While you don't necessarily need an official mission statement (although it's highly recommended), knowing what makes your company unique helps define who you are as a brand. And when people understand who your brand is, they'll be more likely to trust it.

This also applies internally--your employees need to know what sets their work apart from other companies' so they can relay that message on social media or in promotional materials, for example, without coming across like a walking advertisement (which nobody likes).

Once you've got your story down pat, start looking at how others tell their stories. What are your competitors doing to convey their brand's story? Do they have a tagline or slogan that encapsulates who they are as an organization and what sets them apart from the others (e.g., "Always at your service")?

What about other companies in the same industry? Do you notice any themes between how they position themselves on social media, etc.? How does this affect how people perceive them and potentially buy from one versus another?

Your brand story is important, but how you tell it is equally important. In this day and age, a strong social media presence with highly engaging content is imperative.

From Facebook to Instagram and Twitter, you have the opportunity to share what your brand's philosophy looks like in action via photos or videos. These are easy ways for customers who don't know much about your company (yet) to get an inside look at how things work on a day-to-day basis from employees and clients alike.

People will share content that they enjoy with friends/family via email, text message, etc. Brands are watching people share good experiences (e.g., blog posts) and engaging with those same brands online outside of formal advertising campaigns.

For this reason, when people visit your website they should see the same quality and professionalism that you put into social media postings or blog posts. You want to create a cohesive brand, across all mediums of communication online (and offline), so customers get the best representation of who you are as a company!

What is the value of brand perception?

Think of it this way. No one starts out believing they need a four-figure bag. Most people would admit that a bag does not need to cost $1,000 in order for it to function and serve its purpose. A $20 bag will do just fine. But the Louis Vuitton brand story begs to differ. Someone, somewhere, just bought a $1,000 bag. In the end, the story LV tells about its brand bends the reality of the customer into perceiving that a $1,000 bag is, in fact, necessary.

So how valuable is a brand? It might just be the most valuable asset your company has.

Every company, in one way or another, has a story. That story is the brand perception your customers and potential customers have of you as an organization. It’s important to do what you can to ensure that the message about your business is clear and consistent with how it actually operates - otherwise any marketing efforts will be for naught because no one trusts the messages they see from your company.

Do you have your story but need help communicating it? We specialize in the visual identity of companies. Contact us to find out how we can help!

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