How Marketing Frames Perception

TED talks are fascinating moments of ideas. The speakers often pull ideas from different disciplines to present their findings or a theory about the world. In a recent TEDxAthens talk, Rory Sutherland, Vice Chairman of Olgivy Group, presented his thoughts about how “Perspective is Everything“. His basic thesis is that our perspective, how we see things, is much more important the reality of our lives. He goes on to say that when we feel a sense of control, this perception really determines how we see reality. The facts don’t change, our experience of the facts predominates.

“The power of reframing things cannot be overstated.”

Reframing is the practice of taking the experience of a situation and changing the description so it feels different. For example, you might experience buying a new laptop as expensive but change the experience so it feels like an investment.

Marketing is often about telling a story in a particular way to reframe the specific product so it seems more appealing than its competitors. A great example is Febreze, a household odor eliminator. In their most recent US marketing campaign, they create a situation where people tell the story of what they’re experiencing until the blindfold comes off.

We are led to believe that the people think they are experiencing someplace lovely. The intent is that we become impressed with the product’s ability to mask and/or eliminate foul odors. While there are other products that do also mask or eliminate odors, marketers want us to have a psychological shift here.

“Hidden shallows”

In Sutherland’s talk, he reminds us that our perceptions frame our interpretation of reality. He says, “Impressions have an insane effect on what we say and what we do.” This seems in synch with Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Blink in which he proposes that we make judgements in a very rapid fashion. So, are we really operating off of our cognitive biases? (Cognitive biases are distorted thinking patterns that cause perceptual distortions, inaccurate judgements or other irrationality.)

Marketing and the message

If perception is how we make decisions to a new product or continue our consumer relationship with a particular company, marketers have to understand where psychology and economics intersect. Cause marketing is one way that a for-profit company can introduce the perception that its products and/or services are better, It goes beyond “I just bought a widget.” The reframe the customer has now is the feeling that they are getting something more. They not only bought a great widget but they did some good in the world. They perceive that they have created some change in the world by using their money to buy that particular widget. Some will even pay a premium because of their perception that their money is doing humanitarian work.

“Perception is leaky”

Sutherland’s point about leaky perceptions is that we cannot tell the difference between the quality of the item and our environment. The perception of Apple products is that having an iPhone or iPad or any of their other products makes us hip, innovative and tech-savvy. It makes us part of a club, so to speak. There are things about their products that do not work well but somehow that is less important. The way they have marketed their products reinforces this perception. If you have SIRI, you can talk to your phone about the weather, food, music or your to-do list and your phone talks back to you. With the iPad, you can present on-the-go to your clients with all kinds of amazing applications that provide a “wow” factor.

It could be chicken and egg

We recognize the facts of a situation but we add our psychological twist to them. That iswhere the reframe comes in. Reframes are not always inaccurate. They can help us understand our circumstances or mislead us. Marketing has used this behavior to guide our reframes for years.

How is marketing really changing reality?

Do companies who do cause marketing understand the intersection between psychology and economics?

When reality and perception are completely asynchronous, how can a company connect with its customer?






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