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Brand perception: Everything you need to know

11 min read
Customers, not companies, own brand perception. Brand perception is what customers believe a product or service represents, not what the company owning the brand says it does. Brand perception comes from customer use, experience, functionality, reputation and word of mouth recommendation - on social media channels as well as face to face.


Until target customers have experienced your product, believed your brand promise, and developed a sufficiently positive perception to buy (and rebuy) it, your brand will not grow. When a brand delivers or exceeds customer expectations, it has the potential to establish a whole lifetime of loyal brand equity.

With an average person receiving up to 10,000 brand messages a day, your messaging must stand out in order to make an impression in a crowded marketplace.

What is brand perception?

Whenever customers buy a product, read an online review, compare experiences of it with friends, or talk to your employees, they make judgments about your brand. Brand perception is what customers believe a product or service represents, not what the company owning the brand says it does.

You can control how you target your brand’s messaging to customers. This can be done by carefully-crafting a brand personality that represents your vision, mission, or culture, and connects to the customer.

If you want to create a brand perception that sticks, try connecting your company’s personality to all five of your customers’ senses. It will resonate with customers on a visceral level and leave a lasting mental impression. Some ways to use the senses include:

  • Visual: Instantly-recognizable logos (Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Disney (Mickey Mouse), Cadbury, PG Tips), and high budget, entertaining commercials.
  • Auditory: Catchy musical jingles (Intel) or catchphrases (the cheesier and more annoying the better) that make their way into popular culture (eg ‘Give Me a Break!’, Kit Kat).
  • Olfactory: Our sense of smell has a remarkable ability to trigger memories and emotions. Smell marketing is as simple as a café wafting the scent of frying bacon out into the street, or as complex as airlines’ use of patented scents in their cabins, hot towels, and on their crew to enhance their brand experience.
  • Taste: Free samples or special offers to taste new products.
  • Emotional: Heartstring-tugging Christmas TV ads (John Lewis, Marks, and Spencer, Sainsbury’s)

Brand perception surveys can help you understand how your brand is perceived in the mind of customers, prospects, employees, and other stakeholders. Find out more about brand perception surveys.

Why is brand perception important?

Having a positive brand perception is a shortcut to success. If customers believe in your brand they will be more confident in purchasing your products. Other businesses will be more interested in partnering with you. It will be easier to launch new products.

The ultimate goal of brand perception programs is to develop brand equity. Brand equity is the extra value a company gets from a product with a recognizable name, as opposed to a generic equivalent. You want to get a high level of brand equity so that your customers, when confronted with a buying decision choice, feel more confident and comfortable to proceed with your brand.

As a result, customers who are influenced by a product with a higher level of brand equity will also purchase the product, even if the brand-name product is more expensive than the generic equivalent.

How to measure your brand perception

It’s important to measure your brand perception regularly, benchmark it over time, and identify what drives improvements. There are several things you can do to measure how customers perceive your brand:

Brand focus groups and forums

It’s a little turn-of-the-century, but it still works. Getting small groups of people together, either face-to-face or remotely, gives you the opportunity to hear the positives and negatives of your brand from those who use them and feel strongly enough to share their opinion. You’ll be able to gauge how customers feel and develop a genuine understanding of what works well and what doesn’t.

Online brand forums are particularly useful in more complex supply chains. In a B2B2C chain, for example, a manufacturer may find it hard to reach their end user customer, as they deal directly only with the distributors or retailers. An online forum of customers fills in this knowledge gap, informs product development, and strengthens the brand.

Brand perception surveys

Surveys help you understand who your customers are and what they think of your brand. They’re simple and painless to do, so customers with an opinion (both good and bad) can respond to targeted questions and use open text to say what’s on their mind. They use reliable metrics such as the net promoter score and CSAT to deliver the data you need to know. You really need to be running brand perception surveys at least quarterly, although you can also tie them in with advertising campaign frequencies to track how these are contributing to your brand.

Social media monitoring

People don’t hold back on social media, so you need to track mentions of and reactions to your brand across Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram. Social data can be an important window into the performance of your social messaging. When you know what people are saying about your brand, you can respond rapidly and grow your social presence faster. The best tools have a single hub dashboard that monitors a brand’s social presence, and can reveal insights such as:

  • Which social media platforms are growing your brand most (and least)
  • The type of content that gets the most views
  • The number of mentions and shout-outs of your brand, often in real time
  • Reviews and comments
  • Influencer reach
  • Dwell time (how long someone spends looking at your brand)
  • Which paid content performs best

Measure your brand’s uniqueness

Every brand wants to lead the way in delivering quality products and fantastic customer service; what makes your brand different? This is where open text feedback comes into its own – customers can write exactly what they feel about the brand, and the right analytics software will analyze their words, grouping them by topic to identify the strongest associations. You’ll be able to track opinions specific to your brand.

How to act on insights to improve brand perception

Take a fresh look at your brand

If the results of your brand perception research suggest your brand is not working, you can consider a brand refresh. Giving your brand a makeover can revive the brand’s image in the eyes of the consumer. For example, not long ago Mastercard modernized its 1960s logo. Design studio Pentagram chose to emphasize Mastercard’s simplicity, connectivity, and seamlessness. The new color palette ‘appears bright and glowing against different backgrounds’.

Put the right leaders in place

You’ll need a senior leadership team that shares and embraces the vision for brand perception change. Changing brand perception can be an involved and resource-intensive process that requires unfront leadership buy-in. Make sure leaders are on board and can see the difference they are making in real-time, using data dashboards.

Ask your customers

You can’t tell your customers what their perception of your brand is – they need to tell you. Send out and process customer feedback surveys, but also prime your employees to have genuine conversations with customers and really listen to what they say before reporting back.

Ask your employees

Your employees are the ones who make, sell, market and manage your brand’s products and services: who better to help gather and communicate brand perception? It’s important to include and consider everyone’s opinions when you are changing perceptions, whatever department they work in. Try an anonymized employee online suggestion box to gain honest suggestions or ideas. Use our free employee online suggestion box template to get you started.

Let content lead

Once you have identified the target audience for your brand, you need to send them the right content. Make sure your website, blog, and social media channels reflect the brand messaging and are optimized to reach as many people as possible.

Examples of brands that have changed their brand perception

Volvo

The Swedish car brand Volvo is synonymous with safety and excellent build quality. However, the cars’ somewhat boxy design has created a negative perception in the public’s eye, suggesting that Volvos were dull and their drivers sensible, unadventurous people.

From the early 2000s onwards, Volvo underwent an image revolution. It kept its core values of quality, safety, and environment care, but embraced minimalist and fashionable Scandi-chic design. As a result, the Volvo brand perception went from dull to premium.

Volvo

Burberry

English designer-wear brand Burberry is famous for its trench coats with a distinctive black, tan and red check pattern lining. 50 years ago, Burberry’s image was starting to become associated with frumpiness and delinquency. Creative director Christopher Bailey updated the designs to fit a modern-yet-classic British audience, and invested in a celebrity face – the popular fashion-forward actress Emma Watson. This helped turn around the brand perception and created a savvy, professional, and current impression in the minds of the customers.

Burberry

McDonald’s

The 2004 documentary ‘Super Size Me’ brought attention to the health concerns of eating food from this leading, global fast-food brand. At the time there was also growing unrest around the lack of transparency in McDonald’s meat origins. This created a negative brand perception for health-conscious customers and families. McDonald’s turned their brand perception around by offering healthier food choices, like salads and fruit. Their branding focused on families and young couples. They also created transparent brand campaigns that revealed the origins of their meat. This provided evidence to change opinions and create positive brand equity.

Mcdonalds

Measure and change your brand perception

Want to learn more about how to take control of and improve your brand perception? Dig deeper with our guides:

Download our free brand awareness survey template