Friday, June 26, 2009

Perception vs. Reality: Function vs Philosophy

"Only in quiet waters do things mirror themselves undistorted. Only in a quiet mind is adequate perception of the world." -Hans Margolius

"Reality is only an illusion, albeit a very persistent one" -Albert Einstein

Here's a test for you. Check out this image (from Akiyoshi Kitaoka's site with many more like this):

What colors do you see?

Pink, orange? Others? If you said blue and green, then congratulations! Your perception is just as fallable as 100% of your fellow human beings. The blue and green spirals are the same color.

'No way' you say. Check it out for yourself in Photoshop if you like. You'll see that the RGB values of both spirals are exactly the same.

How can this be? Look closely at the boundary between the spirals moving left to'll notice that the orange stripe doesn't cross into the apparently 'blue' spiral. That's the source of the illusion...the mind judges things based on what's around it and fills in the blanks...but that doesn't make it true.

So What?

It makes evolutionary sense that an organism might perceive the world by its immediate surroundings first and fill in the blanks. Afterall, most challenges to survival come from what's right in front of--or behind--you...and you may not have time to fill in the missing information about a growling bear's intent.

But for marketers, does survival mean that perception IS reality? That if we can control perception, we can control the reality of the survival of our brands, our products...our jobs?

Well, that depends...on whether you adopt "perception is reality" as a statement of function or philosophy.

Perception as functional consideration

From a functional perspective, perceptions are acknowledged as an influence that must be addressed in customer decision making.

GM (aka Government Motors) asked for trouble when it failed to deal with perceptions about product quality until, some would argue, it was too late (here).

In a functional context, perceptions are acknowledged as having their origins in the very real customer experiences that take place outside the scope of marketing. These experiences are often communicated among those who are closest to the experience: the customer and the communities to which the customer belongs (i.e., the basis for social media)...oftentimes with the experience gaps among the community members being filled in.

The good news is that a functional view of perception means that marketers can use facts to fill in the blanks that surround perceptual filters. Better yet, they can start by designing a positive customer experience and do marketing from there.

The obvious news is that facts aren't the same as assertions. If a company provides a crappy customer experience, no amount of advertising or communication to the contrary can unfill the fact, in a globally connected, socially networked world, it might just make things worse.

Perception as a philosophy

For marketers who casually adopt a philosphy of perception as reality, well, good luck. Such a philosophy has a long, dark history of leveraing stereotypes about people's personality traits, values, and other, darker dimensions to assert control, exercise power and manipulate people as if they were, well, not people.

And in this day, no one wants to be pigeonholed without their consent.

At least that's my perception. What's yours?

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