Perception is 9/10s of the game

When I was a kid, it seemed like every sitcom ran a joke or a whole plot line around that old adage that possession is 9/10s of the the law. I don’t know where it came from. I don’t even know if it’s true. {Fact check: Apparently it’s true? Maybe. I don’t speak lawyer.} I just know that it’s ingrained in my brain.

And because it’s ingrained in my brain, this thought popped up in there today and had to make its way to you here:

Perception is 9/10s of the game.


Now, I’m going to explain what I mean in the context of your marketing, I promise. But, first...

There’s a glaring example that’s hammering this idea home for me right now. It feels like an extreme one. But I’m a mom and I can’t ignore it. This school shooting epidemic that’s continuing to plague the States is continuing because people are polarized, and so, paralyzed to address it.

“These school shootings have to stop. This is crazy. My son’s football coach died...I don’t want to get into a gun debate. I really don’t. What are you going to do? Confiscate everybody’s guns?...I’m a gun owner. I don’t want the government taking my gun.” That’s a dad. In Florida. Yesterday.

What’s the perception here?

The perception is that any conversation at all about guns, including in the aftermath of a school shooting, will lead to the government taking away everyone’s guns. There’s an opposing perception that this view values guns above people’s lives. Those taking diametrically opposed sides of the issue can’t be brought to the table, largely because of their perceptions of each other.

And so the conversation doesn’t happen. And so nothing happens. Except more bad stuff.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Here’s a story {pretty sure it was NPR...if you’ve got the source, please send it to me}.  

At a heated gun control protest, a police officer crossed over to talk to someone on the other side. He explained why he was rallying for gun control. Because some of the most dangerous calls police respond to are domestic violence calls. Because that’s where they can and do get shot by an armed and already violent person. And you know what? He changed that other guy’s perception of the ‘other side.’

Because he told his story that connected what mattered to him with what mattered to the other guy. How did he do that?

Told you -- extreme example. Here’s a simpler one.

Lightning Rods For Controversy

Let’s say you’re a charter school. In certain communities, charter schools have become lightning rods for controversy. You’re not like one of those schools, though. You’re a great school led by dedicated, caring teachers, helping to foster happy, smart, creative kids.

So, certain parents in the community perceive your school a certain way. And they might choose to not reach out to you, or not even look for you at all, because of this.

Suddenly, the phones aren’t ringing so much and not only is the waitlist dwindling, but the school population is, too. Maybe that’s the worst-case scenario. But it can happen.

To continue to thrive, then, you must change people’s perceptions of you.

Parents in your community won’t perceive your school as another one of those lightning-rod charter schools if you’ve given them the right things to build their perception around.

Fostering the Right Perception Takes Focused, Honest Communication

So what does it take for a charter school {or any small business} to foster the right perception?

Fostering the right perception is about connecting with what matters most. Show people what matters most to you, and show them where that overlaps with what matters most to them.

Once those parents in your community know what you’re about, and that you’re about the same things they’re about -- or that you most want the same things they most want -- then they’ll give you a chance. They’ll take a look at your website. They’ll give you a call. They’ll come by for a visit. {This works in the case of the intractable political debate we’ve found ourselves in for years, too. More on that later.}

This is not manipulation, mind you. This is honest, helpful communication.

You start by doing some serious thinking about who your school is made for. You find out what those people care about. You find the places where what you do and who you are intersect with what those parents care about most. And then you shout that from the mountaintops {or, more likely, from your blog or Instagram or Facebook, and through happy parents who do the same}.

Simple, right?

Unfortunately, not so simple. Or everyone would be doing it. And no one would struggle with marketing. I’d be out of a job. And most political or social challenges would probably be solved handily.

Why Don’t We Do This? We Get In Our Own Way.

You want to attract more parents to your school. Or...you want to attract more of the right people to your business. Or...you want to inspire the ‘other side’ to entertain conversations with ‘your side.’

But you get in your own way.

Because you’re afraid...

You’re afraid to limit the size of your audience -- to speak to this person, and not that one.
You’re afraid to stand solidly for this, and not that.
You’re afraid that if you don’t say everything about yourself, people will hear nothing.

But those fears are self-defeating and they’re feeding you information that’s just plain wrong.

When you don’t limit your audience to only the right person -- the person you’re made for and who needs you most -- then you don’t build the right perception with anyone. You don’t matter to anyone. Basically, speak to everyone, and you speak to no one.

When you don’t stand solidly in the one thing you’re best at, the one thing you want to be known for, people don’t know what you do or what makes you different...they don’t know why you matter. So they don’t pay attention, and their perception isn’t based on the right stuff.

When you say everything about yourself, instead of just the most important things, people are overwhelmed by the details. Say everything, and people hear nothing. So practice transparency without creating a deluge of triviality. Or people’s impressions will be scattered and confused and inconsistent.

A Path to the Right Perception

1} Decide who your ideal customer is.

This is the person your business is made for. This is the person who fits with where you see your business going. It’s the person you want to help, the person who needs your help, and the person who is willing to invest in your help to solve the problem you’re solving. Note: Best to narrow it down to one. But up to three can be ok in some businesses.

2} Explore what matters most to that person.

What does this person worry about most? What do they care about most? What’s their greatest hope? What’s their life like? What do they want it to be like? What do they want the world to be like? Not all of these questions will be relevant to your business...pick the ones that are and move on.

3} Separate what’s essential about you from everything else.

You know too much about what you do. And perceptions are about headlines, not details. What do you want to be known for? What’s at the core of what you do? What do you do that no one else does? Now, find where what matters most to your ideal customer connects with what’s essential about you.

4} Shout it out

What’s essential about you should come across in every way that people can build their perceptions about you -- every way that they can experience your business. From what they see to what they read to what they hear. In real life and online. Straight from you and through word of mouth. Put the right stuff out there and you foster the right perceptions.