In an ideal world, everyone knows about your brand. After all, the goal of every marketing campaign and social push is to spread the word about your brand, even if you’re already a household name.
But brand awareness is only half of the equation. How you look and sound to your customers—or brand perception—is just as important to establishing your brand and attracting loyal customers.
Many companies launch large-scale marketing campaigns without any idea of how they might be perceived by their customers—wasting money and time, and, even worse, negatively impacting their reputations. But through listening to customer feedback, you can avoid these common missteps.
Everyone’s version of reality is different, which is why it’s so important to ensure the brand story you’re telling is the same as the story your customers are hearing. Every time a customer interacts with your brand, they collect information that drives their perception. Advertisements, customer service, news articles, and word of mouth all influence how you’re perceived by customers, even if you don’t feel you’re in total control of the message.
Based on all of these experiences, each customer thinks, feels, and reacts to your brand differently—and their personal perception of your brand might differ from your company’s intention.
In today’s market, where purchase decisions are driven by brand values instead of the product itself, it’s even more vital to communicate what your brand stands for in a way that resonates with your customers. “Brands do not just satisfy our material needs,” says branding expert Dipanjan Chatterjee. “They also speak to our subconscious. The best ones connect to us emotionally in ways that help secure them an unassailable position.”
If you don’t have a clear understanding of how your brand is perceived, it can get lost in the crowd, causing you to lose future customers and damage existing customer relationships.
Even worse, customers can develop strong negative perceptions toward your brand. In today’s digital age, brand misperceptions can spread like wildfire. Your customers’ negative opinions about a recent ad campaign or a poor customer experience don’t just get shared with close friends, but instead blasted on the internet to thousands. So how can you prevent something like that from happening? Know how customers perceive your brand and incorporate their feedback into your marketing strategy.
Listening is key when developing your positioning and campaigns. Continuously listening to customer feedback helps ensure their thoughts are aligned with your intentions for your brand.
Pay attention to what your customers say about your brand and react to feedback that already exists, like customer service inquiries, online reviews, or social media posts. A lot of feedback is organic, so don’t miss out on this valuable information from your most proactive and passionate customers.
Not all customers are as vocal about their opinions. So directly gathering input from customers through a variety of research methodologies—such as surveys, focus groups, or interviews—is also an important step in learning about your customers’ perceptions.
In my role as a director of strategy, I primarily conduct research to inform brand and product marketing strategies. Using research tools like brand trackers or value proposition studies, I help our clients understand not only brand awareness, but also how their brand is perceived versus the competition and which key values they should prioritize when developing their brand positioning. Message and creative testing are other powerful methodologies for gauging customer perception before the launch of any campaign.
Knowing how your customers perceive you is important—but the most critical step is to act on that information. By adapting to the needs of your audience, you build trust with existing customers and gain new ones who are attracted by your improved brand image.
Acting on your customers’ feedback includes framing and structuring customer research, as well as using this new information to influence your marketing channels, messages, and imagery. Agencies are well suited to take over these responsibilities, especially those that offer an embedded model in which their creatives act as an extension of your team, quickly incorporating this research into campaign and marketing strategies.
To attract new customers and retain existing ones, you must ensure your customers’ perceptions are the same as the vision you have for your brand. While it’s not likely to happen overnight, make sure you’re flexible to shifting your marketing strategy after hearing what your brand looks and sounds like to your customers.