Why is perception important?
How customers perceive the product determines their behavior and their behavior determines the outcome. So the facts do not determine the success of the product as much as the perception does. Product Manager therefore has to focus on creating a perception among the minds of existing and prospective customers that reflects positively on the success of the product.
But, what kind of perception does Product Manager want to create?
Every product will be built only with the basic premise that what is being built will be valuable for customers and they will readily embrace it. So ideally there are 2 elements
- What do customers really need or want? Ideal focus should be on ‘NEED’ and not on ‘WANT’
- How does product create value for customers?
While building a product, Product Manager ensures that there are lots of synergies between (1) and (2). Otherwise there is no purpose in building the product. Basically the value rendered by the product and customer needs should overlap to a greater extent for better product-market fit. But does it suffice for product success?
For product success, customers should perceive that the product addresses their needs in the most optimal manner in comparison with competition. How the product should be perceived by the customers should eventually determine the marketing message for the product. The marketing strategy should strive to create a perception that is basically derived from the understanding – ‘How we could like our customers to talk about the product, what we could like our customers to believe about the product’. Therefore the (3) aspect of building a commercially successful product is to derive the right marketing strategy to ensure that customers’ perception of the value rendered by the product aligns with the actual value delivered by the product (ie the perception should match the reality). Otherwise customers might feel that the product does not fit their purpose. So essentially Product Manager needs to ensure that (1), (2) and (3) overlaps for a successful sale.
Let us consider the example of selling a brand new car. The car under discussion is a multi-purpose family vehicle catering for a larger family of 6 people. It is reliable and well-designed with utmost driving comfort. Product Manager wants to create a perception about the car that is aligned with reality. The marketing campaign or the engagement points, albeit they deliver messages with varying depth, each of them should aim at creating same perception among the minds of the customer (ie the car is a family car which is reliable and well designed with utmost driving comfort). The information that is delivered to customer during various stages of the buying process should essentially focus on how the car is delivering on those parameters and it not worthwhile for someone to talk about the off-roading capabilities of the car or it ability to go from 0-100KMPH in x seconds.
When to create a perception?
The necessity for creating a perception starts with sending the 1st message about the product and thereafter at every opportunity customer interfaces with the product during the buying cycle and pre/post the buying cycle, there is a necessity to manage the perception. It is essential to frequently measure the perception and ensure that the customers perceive the product in a way we like them to do.
Otherwise, customers’ notion of the product contradicts the reality. If such customers enter the buying process, the probability of successful sale will be minimalistic. In such cases each engagement point in the various stages of the buying process should also be leveraged to influence perception positively in the minds of the customers. All engagement should work like a well-orchestrated symphony to create and manage a consistent perception. ‘How do you want customers to perceive the product’ determines the behavior of each of the engagement points as well.
How to create a perception?
Amazon is known for putting its customer first and they succeed in creating a similar perception among customers as well. Every customer too opines that Amazon is ‘Customer friendly’. I presume everyone in Amazon believes what they stand for. To ensure creating and managing appropriate perception across all engage points consistently, it is critical for every stakeholder involved to understand what the product and the brand stands for. What the product and the brand stands for should be religiously imbibed into the thought process of every stakeholder and it should act as guidance for any engagement with customers. Doing so, every engagement point can act in-harmony to manage a consistent perception. Apart from the engagement points involved in the buying process, every organization needs to have mechanism to deal with perception threatening events that might shake the foundation of what the product stands for. Product failures and recall of car plying on the roads might have serious impact on how customers perceive the product. In such cases, even though engagement points can be tuned to influence the perception, there should be other dedicated ways to restore the perception. Similarly there should also be focus on perception enhancing events through ratings by recognized agencies, product endorsements by persons with lot of authority in the related space.