By Frank J. Rich
Perhaps more than anything else people are occupied with their self-image. Effectively, the self-image is a reflection of what we think others think we think of ourselves. It’s the mental picture of the way we wish to be perceived—in the main, our appearance.
The technical term used by behavioral psychology is self-schema, and it means to collectively represent the experiences and influences on us that form the self-image. As one might guess, humans rely heavily on a view of their self-image for achievement. When it is positive we are more likely to carry a spirited view of people and things. When negative we find the route to self-loathing and the second-guessing and self-deprecation that usually follows. In short, we lose our sense of value.
Not coincidentally, the marketplace operates in much the same way. There is an inside view and an outside view, and combined they work to define our potential for success. The inside view of our organizations, not unlike the self-image that considers such things as personality, attitude, sense of humor, accomplishments, and societal position, is a measure of its skills, expertise, style, and ability to satisfy needs—what makes it good in the eyes of the customer. Ultimately, both operate from the same encoding—we make promises about ourselves that are measured by our ability to deliver on them. When organizations deliver on their promises their capital rises. Effectively, they become more valuable to customers (than for their products alone), and distinguishable as such.
The important math in this equation is that both inside and outside realities match up. Most organizations want to believe they are unusually gifted at one or more aspects of serving the customer. General Electric says “We bring good things to life.” Exxon Mobil says that they are “Taking on the world’s toughest energy challenges.” Avis says “We try harder,” and another company says, “You’re in good hands with Allstate.” All are promises from organizations with an inside reality they would like to believe is equal to the outside perception of them.
In the final scene of this market drama everything trades on value, which itself depends wholly on an outside reality. Simply, does the customer see value in your offering—product, service, attitude, citizenship, excitement, solutions ability, etc.? If this is also what you’re “selling,” you are likely to cause a conversion in the marketplace—that is, a sale and a relationship. Clearly, organizations cannot successfully sell what they do not have. Sadly, too many do. Why? Because they have not understood or measured the outside perception against its inside reality.
Too often, organizations prepare an image of themselves from their desires and not from their demonstrated ability. So common is this disconnect that most organizations fail to achieve their stated goals. They are either afraid to check the market for its view of them, or too arrogant to consider it necessary. Both are forms of denial and lead to self-destruction, a self-image even more frightening than the view of them by customers.
A simple behavioral model
We are on the firmest footing when we have learned to confront issues—early and straight on. It’s the simplest of behavioral models. Organizations, by definition, confer both the right and the responsibility to do so. It makes little sense to invest mightily in an imagined outcome without checking its potential for success. When we do, we usually get an answer we like, but absent any sense that it is the right answer. We must be able to impute predictability to every initiative we take. It may be as fundamental as a commitment “to do our very best” in the pursuit of it. But planned outcomes must endow both an inside reality that is matched by an outside reality. Called market confirmation, it is necessary in the equation that matches what we sell with what the customer wants, needs, or is in the habit of buying.
As we approach this market grail, it is useful to engage a communications effort that combines science with the art of the “sell.” As the saying goes: “If you want to know why John Smith buys what John Smith buys, you’ve got to see the world through John Smith’s eyes.” And that may take a little persuading, so crank up the marketing machinery and keep these few things in mind:
- You must cause an interrupt. That is, you must get the customer’s attention. There is so much competition for the attention of customers it is vital that you discover effective ways to accomplish it.
- You must facilitate the decision-making process. Uniquely qualify your value proposition, such as guaranteeing the “lowest price” or “same-day delivery.” If the customer is caused to qualify you in his decision-making you have failed to facilitate the process.
- Finally, you must reduce the risk of making a buying decision. An “unconditional satisfaction” guarantee will usually do it. This is the opposite of: NO REFUNDS, STORE CREDIT ONLY. Half the buying public will not buy from organizations with this policy.
We are never more bereft of resources than when we presume the mere “setting up shop” guarantees customers. Knowing what the customer wants is the key to forming an inside reality with market value.