Mirror, Mirror: Is Perception Holding Your Company Back?

[from the September 2013 KidsBiz newsletter]

I have a new pastime: coining phrases. Whenever a clever (or clever to me!) saying pops into my head, I share it with friends, impressing upon them that they heard it here first. I recently shared one of these “gems” on Twitter. If you follow me there, you may have already seen it. It’s “brand dysmorphia.” I don’t know if I’m the first to coin this phrase but a quick Google search came up empty, and Google knows everything so as far as I’m concerned, it’s mine.

Just like body dysmorphic disorder, which makes people see themselves in an imagined way that differs from reality, brand dysmorphia is viewing your brand differently from everyone else’s perception. Body dysmorphia can be quite dangerous, even leading to death in extreme cases. In my estimation, brand dysmorphia can be equally debilitating.

Brand dsymorphia often afflicts aspiring entrepreneurs who are so new to the market that they don’t yet understand the environment their products will operate in. Without having a full understanding of how the industry works and experience selling product into (let alone through) retail, they don’t understand what will be perceived as positives, negatives and neutrals about their product or store idea.

But newbies aren’t the only ones who suffer this fate. For established brand owners, brand dysmorphia often befalls them when reality shifts. For instance, if consumers value different things than they did when the line first launched or the retail landscape changes or new competition emerges. Though these shifts are often gradual, they can have a big impact on your company.

This was illustrated for me recently when I went in to have my eyes checked. It turns out that the difference between how I’ve been seeing and how I’m supposed to see is quite startling. The doctor kept asking “Didn’t you notice this before?” But of course I didn’t or I would have come in for an exam earlier. That’s the thing with gradual changes; often you don’t recognize them until things have gotten bad. And it’s the same with business. The product and positioning that brought your company to market may not be what’s called for today. But if you don’t notice things changing around you, you can’t make the necessary adjustments to stay relevant.

Of course we’re all guilty to some degree of seeing our companies through our own eyes. They are our babies after all, and it’s tough to recognize that our “children” don’t represent the ideal for everyone else. But there’s real danger in not being able to step outside yourself to see your collection or store from other points of view. Obviously, you know what you’d want if you were shopping but does that represent a large enough portion of consumers to make it something to hang your hat on? Also, if you’re getting the same feedback from a variety of sources, it might be time to embrace the outside world’s perception of your company or figure out why that’s the case so you can change it.

Sometimes brand dysmorphia results because the company has failed to convey its vision and unique selling proposition to would-be buyers and shoppers. It’s not that the designer or shop owner doesn’t see clearly, it’s that the outside world needs help in order to recognize the product or store for what it is. They need you to tell them what makes yours better than the other options out there. It doesn’t help you to have superior fabrics or great pricing or novel design or any other product differentiator if no one knows about it. Perception really is reality so you have to help them see all that you have to offer.

What are you doing to see and be seen clearly and correctly?