Put perception first when embarking on promotional campaigns
Speak to most comms, PR and marketing pros and they all exhibit a similar trait: a real passion for getting stuck-in, designing and delivering creative campaigns aimed at raising awareness, boosting public profile and driving sales.
But it's also a mistake to get too carried away with implementing any sort of campaign without first considering how you want to be seen by the audiences that matter to your success.
If you're not careful, you can spend a lot of time, effort and money on what appear, superficially, to be successful efforts but that may actually be creating entirely the wrong impression.
Take accountancy practices as an example.
A little while ago, we saw a Lancashire firm proudly showing-off its new branding, brochure and website. Whilst every element was technically very well executed, the overall look and feel was hardly inspiring.
The imagery was all tall glass office buildings, people in smart (but grey) business suits, calculators and reports (all of which look like stock photos). Look around the internet and its how most accountancy practices style themselves.
Just for fun, type 'accountants are' into a Google search and see what the first suggested search string is...
The company in question has clearly spent a reasonable chunk of cash on its marketing collateral only to present itself as being no different from every other accountancy practice out there whilst reinforcing that existing stereotype: that accountants are boring.
Great campaign execution but entirely the wrong outcome when it comes to engineering the right perception amongst potential clients etc.
If you portray yourself as you expect to be seen, that's how you will be seen.
Perception matters because...
When we look at a product, business or brand (even a sector, like accountancy) we take a pretty narrow view of it and use that to form value judgements. We all do it, it's how the human brain is wired based on a series of mental shortcuts called heuristics that, in turn, lead to cognitive biases.
The trouble is it's not always helpful.
If you're a double-glazing business, it's quite possible you've already got a mountain to climb because people see your sales people as 'pushy', based on their own earlier experience or the reported experiences of others. If you run a small mechanics workshop in a small side street (aka a 'back street garage') what impression do you think potential customers may have of you, before they've even engaged with you?
So, given that your potential customers, new recruits, suppliers, lenders, investors, neighbours and others are likely to already hold a preconceived idea of what you're all about, that may not be entirely accurate, fair or complete, you have to make sure they see you properly and that takes a bit of effort.
So, what should businesses do instead of eagerly diving straight into campaigns?
Here at 52M, we've developed a set of unique tools, strategies and approaches we call 'Black Dot Thinking' that help our clients get seen the way they want to be seen.
We start by creating a 'perception matrix' that lists key audiences, communications channels and a target perception for each so that all of this crucial thinking can be found in one place.
Only when we have a fully populated perception matrix in place will we then turn to devising the strategies and tactical plans needed to shape audience perception to fit.
Because we don't put the cart before the horse, the risk of our clients finding that they've inadvertently created the wrong impression is significantly lessened, avoiding reputational impacts and the potential costs of corrective campaigns.
Think of it this way: you wouldn't sit down in the hairdresser's chair, hand over your hard-earned cash and let them start snipping away without giving the stylist some idea of what you wanted to look like afterwards - it's the same with communications, PR and marketing; if you don't define how you want to be seen, you can end up with a bad hair day.