Marketing is about perceptions

There’s an incorrect assumption that the product that wins in any vertical wins by virtue of being the best. There’s an idea that if a product fails, it just wasn’t good enough. Well, frankly, that’s completely wrong.

The success or failure of a product has less to do with how good or bad it really is, and a lot more to do with how it’s perceived by its target audience and key demographic. 

Take the brand new iPhone. It doesn’t matter if Android is better than iOS in any way. All that matters is that iOS is perceived as being higher end, more popular.

The perception around that operating system comes from a range of different sources — the celebrities who use it, Steve Jobs’ legacy, Apple’s other products, the build quality and design of the devices that house the operating system.

These and other factors all contribute to the perception that iOS is the better operating system, regardless of whether or not anyone who is qualified to judge would agree.

This shouldn’t be big news to you — it’s one of the most basic tenets of marketing. It’s been widely accepted since the birth of business.

Here’s a quote from Pamela Miles Homer, from the Journal of Business Research:

The “meaning” of a brand resides in the minds of consumers, based on what they have learned, felt, seen, and heard over time (e.g., D. Aaker, 1991; Keller, 1993, 2003). Such “brand meanings” include functional, utilitarian, economic, and rational benefits; and associations with hedonic and sensory properties such as image and brand personality.

When you’re trying to market anything, it is no different. You don’t have to have the best product, all you need is for people to perceive it that way, based on how they perceive you, your history of making other products, the price of the current product, their negative or perceptions of your competitors and so on.

Therefore, if you were building a note taking app, the objective isn’t to create an app that is better, as a product, than Evernote or OneNote. It’s to build up a perception as being better, whether that’s through adoption by influencers, pricing it higher (trust me — that actually works), portraying unusual or alternative use cases etc.

I want you to think about Elon Musk.

As a result of the public’s perception of him as a genius, the success of Tesla and his ability to take crazy ideas and make them work, any product or company that he creates is going to be perceived as being of a higher quality by default than many of his competitors’.

That doesn’t necessarily mean it is better or it will be better — but it will have a greater advantage, and a better chance of winning, because of that perception.

The same works in reverse. If Steve Jobs had announced the Apple Watch, there would have been a hugely different reaction to Tim Cook announcing it. That’s because the perception around the Watch came, in part, from Apple under Tim Cook and Cook himself. The perception of Cook’s Apple comes (often negatively) from the perception of Steve Jobs’ Apple.

The way your product is perceived is going to depend not just on how you market it —  but how you market every other aspect of your company, your users, your use cases and yourself. There’s more to marketing than just having a great product and telling people about it.


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