You’ll be hard-pressed these days to find a viable market situation that isn’t competitive. To make headway against competitors, fortify your ROI, and boost revenues, your brand must stand head and shoulders above the crowd. Buyers, whether in B2B or B2C scenarios, respond to a compelling customer experience (CX) — one that sticks out with a meaningful difference.
This brings us to two critical cogs in the marketing wheel: brand image and customer perception.
Businesses throughout the US constantly fret about conveying the right corporate messages that converge on an overall brand image. They spend billions of dollars cumulatively developing content and design in websites, social media ads, outdoor media, radio, TV, and more, communicating a central theme for their brands. It doesn’t matter if it targets our eyes, smell, ears, taste, or fingertips; a consistent message that’s not confusing can do wonders for a company. Of course, that intended image has to resonate with the customer. If not, all the money and time that went into it goes down the drain.
What is customer perception?
Marketing executives must ensure that their designed brand image is on the same page as the customer’s perception of it. If customer feedback confirms it is, the next question is this: Is this connection in the customers’ minds motivating them to buy?
Let’s break it down. Customer perception embraces the way customers configure the elements of the message coming at them. They cognitively prioritize, interpret, and convert them into a bottom-line conclusion. This somewhat dynamic interaction of thoughts emerges as an overall impression. From the brands’ viewpoint, the latter can fall into one of three categories:
- Neutral (neither for nor against)
You may ask, “How can the intended brand impressions differ so much from the actual reception of them?” The quick answer is: it doesn’t take much to create confusion.
For example, suppose a company creates the following underlying message: “We support you every step-of-the way in using our App without hassle.”
Then this happens:
- Customers buy into the benefits and connect with customer support to guide them through the usage process.
- They queue for an hour in a phone line-up, then get through to a person incompetent to address the questions.
- Pushed to another, then another, they end up with an agent showing irritation and impatience.
- They leave the experience dissatisfied, without a precise solution.
The description above is not an exception. It happens all the time. This micro-series of customer touchpoints — only in the support area (a small subset) — is enough to disrupt customer perception versus the brand theme.
The more CX advances and matures without diversion, the more customer perceptions solidify positively for the brand. A Deloitte study claims that repetitive customers regard brands as a family or give them “best friend” status. To demonstrate, there are Apple and Samsung “cults” — huge groups that hang on every word said by brand spokespeople.
Why is customer perception important?
From the above, we can conclude that customer perception drives customer experience from the first touchpoint to the last. We only need to take our cue from looking at loyal customers, the bedrock of customer retention and an energizer of rising ROI strategies. Marketing Charts underlines that a customer’s trust in a brand is tied to their loyalty to the brand.
Therefore, the golden ring for any marketer fighting for more traction in the target markets is to earn customers’ trust. It’s the very pinnacle of customer perception. You derive it by mapping out the customer journey and connecting every touchpoint to a positive CX. Erase or minimize touchpoints that obstruct or slow things down — a painstaking process but more than worth the effort.
A focused study of B2B marketing actions (as recent as 2019) left no doubt that building new opportunities aligns closely with getting the most out of CX. Additionally, did you know that 86% of buyers place a premium on a better customer experience? They show appreciation by paying more for their favorite brands by up to 18%. That’s huge, in anyone’s language.
Sometimes, products in a market space are so similar; there’s nothing in it — functionally speaking. In the B2B arena, it happens a lot. The competitive edge comes from perceived added value — mostly intangible qualities (e.g., the way you convey your message, friendlier agents, better graphics, more straightforward web navigation).
Taking this further, when a product or service vests itself in psychographic influences, it cannot escape the task of harnessing itself to deep customer perception. Examples of this are love, nurturing, achievement, and self-image — all emotional dynamics.
What influences customer perception?
It boils down to two forces interacting with each other that are essential to marketing success, namely:
1. The customers’ predispositions
Customers’ behavior conforms to marketing segmentation rules on many levels. They give an in-depth insight into thought patterns, psychological receptors, influencers’ role, emotional triggers, unshakeable beliefs, social norms, and the impact of age, language, location (and more) on shaping reactions to different stimuli.
For example, the symbol of a cross shown to a Christian group is likely to trigger an entirely different reaction than, say, a Buddhist community.
The enticing thing about all this is that it creates behavior similarity in significant population segments where there’s evidence of shared profiling. That’s what constructs volume markets in the end, translating into customer perception sameness. It drives bulk customer journeys forward, latching onto selected marketing programs that empathize with the group’s customer perception.
2. How well the brand’s presentation matches the customer perception demands
Marketers face the challenge of developing a central message in all their customer engagement channels through an integrated communication package. It must take the following items into account:
- Logo and slogan
- Display in stores
- Website design
- Social media advertising
- Customer support
- Additional services
- Dealing with customer reviews
- Company ethics
- Employee activity as seen by prospects and customers
It’s not enough to be aware that all these “tools & devices” are integral to brand success. Their use and emphasis must also take touchpoints into account to emerge at the right times in the customer journey and with a consistency that dispels message confusion.
There’s a difference between customer perception in the early stages of a selling cycle (i.e., discovery, attention, and perhaps mild interest) and intense interest, conviction, buying, and after-purchase-experience down the line. Again, it all circles back to CX and guides the customer journey to a customer perception that consolidates brand loyalty.
Online marketing and customer perception
There’s no escaping the impact of eCommerce, website marketing, social media, digital apps — indeed, the entire virtual arena — on customer perception.
- There are massive segments of the millennial Hispanic population that rely on mobile online shopping, just as one example.
- Buying habits, especially given the country’s pandemic running rife, have shifted substantially. Social distancing and working remotely have highlighted why we cannot ignore customer perception in our marketing strategies.
Failure to focus on the here-and-now lifestyle forces at work on your customers’ minds and emotions will ultimately lead to disappointment.
Another behavior shift observation shows that:
- B2B buyers prefer to communicate via Zoom conference calls, shunning travel, and seller rep visits at the office.
- They want time to peruse promotional material, customized to their needs, on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Linkedin, and the like.
- They insist on decision influencers (e.g., engineers, IT, HR, sales enablement) inclusion in the sales process, relying on software that facilitates collaboration. Committee buying is supplanting individual decision-making.
The above converges on buyers insisting on a different way of engaging with sellers, resulting in differentiation that lifts ROI. It comes along with a diverse customer perception outlook, which, if ignored, can make the difference between winners and losers in the market race.
Online customer reviews
Arguably, there’s no better look into customer perception than online customer reviews. It stands at the pinnacle of customer feedback, giving marketers a penetrative look into customer motivations, ideas, interpretations, and feelings — all the critical clues to customer perception.
Companies like SoGoSurvey — professional entities immersed in unearthing customer perception influences — can speed your programs up immeasurably. They have templates connected to conducting a useful NPS survey and other customer overview techniques that work well under different circumstances.
The most important takeaway from this article is that customer perception embraces a vast field of crucial considerations. It starts with customer segmentation options and includes every company’s brand presentation move. It colors touchpoints in the customer journey from end-to-end, guiding C-Suite executives on their long term customer perception strategies. SMEs and even Fortune 100 enterprises need the assistance of experts like SoGoSurvey to save both time and money in the pursuit of aligning marketing initiatives with customer perception.