Books ARE judged by covers: How ‘Northern Territory’ is your business?

Marketers understand books ARE judged by coversI was listening to one of my favourite podcasts this week, the Skeptics Guide to the Universe, when they reviewed some scientific research into human perception.

They referred to a study where subjects were given white wine to taste and describe, but the wine had been dyed to look like red wine.

The result: subjects used ‘red wine’ terminology like ‘berries’ to describe the wine.

If ever you doubted how powerful visuals are in relation to our perception, I think this study should make you think again because anyone who has tasted white wine and red should be staggered that the two could ever be mistaken.

This experiment confirms that the proverb ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ is doomed to never be practiced because humans seem to be hardwired to judge quickly on first impressions. Evolutionary biologists might even argue we have had to!

So what does this mean for your business?

First impressions DO count

One of the first lessons learned in Marketing is that you must determine the ‘positioning’ you wish to achieve for your company/product/service.

In this case, that means determining how you would like your target market to ‘perceive’ you and talk about you with others.

This means paying attention to various aspects of your goods and services, a few of which include:

  • pricing (too cheap creates one impression, too expensive creates another)
  • packaging and design (too rough’n’ready creates one impression, too slick or polished creates another, let alone the perceived environmental credentials of the packaging)
  • where your product is sold (a ‘gourmet’ product in a service station downplays the ‘specialness’ of the product)

All those factors are themselves subject to interaction with other factors in a way that is easy to dismiss as mumbo jumbo.

However, thinking about how a little red dye in white wine can completely change our taste and experience of the wine reminds us that there is something very important in these considerations surrounding the management of perception of your goods and/or services.

Does the Northern Territory ‘colour’ my business with a certain hue?

Absolutely. Most Australians hold ideas and notions about life in the Top End. Some of the more common ones I have encountered are:

  • Laid back
  • Rough
  • Close to nature/wilderness
  • Extreme weather
  • Dangerous
  • Unsophisticated
  • Fun
  • Hot
  • Friendly
  • Behind the times
  • A bit crazy (referring to those wonderful NT News front pages)

I know that some of these are true, some are way off and that the Top End is more diverse and surprising than most Australians realise.

The same exercise with people from overseas might yield very different terms like adventure, exotic, etc.

As business people, it is important to consider the geographical, political, social and economic context in which you operate. The simple act of operating in the Top End as an NT business automatically means different market segments will think of you in different ways.

You might take someone for coffee at one of the best cafes in Darwin, only to have them dismiss it as ‘ordinary’, not because the coffee was ordinary but, just like the dyed white wine, they had convinced themselves ahead of time that Darwin does not have a serious espresso culture.

Similarly, you could offer them an ‘ordinary’ mango slightly out of season from a stall at the Katherine markets and have them rave about its sweetness, juice and flavour simply because they are immersed in the the tropical surroundings and just spent two hours talking to Norma Higgins!

Our task is to assess what our NT context means to OUR target market and either make the most of it or minimise it.

And I am not just thinking about outsiders. Locals will view local businesses in different ways because of their ‘localness’. Sometimes that will instil virtues of trust and value, at other times it will trigger doubts about ‘is this really the best’. This happens in every market. Again, your marketing mindset needs to evaluate this and deal with it.

So where do I start?

While a thorough planning session can be critical for evaluating your business, goods or services, especially through an outsider pair of eyes, there are some useful approaches to take.

Primarily, we need to look for where a prospect or customer’s expectations are not met, met, or exceeded. The latter two are more preferable.

Next it is useful to assess whether external factors might be detracting people before they have had a chance to judge, test, or use our products or services. This can be a simple as the exterior of your building, the usability of your website, or the state of your service vehicle.

Ultimately, we need to determine what impression we WANT people to have of us and whether that is achieveable and in line with our goals. Humans work best when they have something to aim for or measure themselves against, whether or not they achieve the goal is sometimes secondary to the benefits of having an outcome to strive for.

Books ARE judged by covers and in business we need to learn how to make that work FOR us and NOT against us.

 

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