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In 1928, Edward Bernays, known as the father of public relations, wrote in his book Propaganda (“propaganda” being the predecessor to the term public relations) that, “In theory, everybody buys the best and cheapest commodities offered him on the market. In practice, if everyone went around pricing, and chemically testing before purchasing, the dozens of soaps or fabrics or brands of bread which are for sale, economic life would become hopelessly jammed. To avoid such confusion, society consents to have its choice narrowed to ideas and objects brought to its attention through propaganda of all kinds. There is consequently a vast and continuous effort going on to capture our minds in the interest of some policy or commodity or idea.”¹
This vast and continuous effort is known as perception management. You may be familiar with that term; it’s used by public relations professionals and refers a set of tactics designed to affect perceptions of the image, identity, or reputation of an organization. The idea is to actively manage the perception customers will form of you and to not allow their perception to be formed without your influence. What does this mean in practice; what is the goal of doing it; and how can it be accomplished?
A national corporation may desire a certain demographic to perceive it as upscale, in favor of workers rights, or as family-friendly. This might be accomplished through large-scale ad campaigns that associate the brand with a good cause, a style, or anything else with which the company would wish to be associated. The ultimate goal is to generate more profit: the management of perception is simply a way to help raise the perceived value of the brand.
For independent or small appliance repair firms, techniques like those described above may be too large of a task. On a smaller scale though, there are many ways to influence the perception your customers will form of you. If your plan is to increase your rates while not scaring off customers, one way to accomplish this is to begin to brand your business as a high end, high quality service. Perhaps you already offer high quality service, but do your customers perceive you that way?
Perception is a funny thing, it does not always match reality. This is because perception is a subjective interpretation of objective reality, and it is malleable and often shaped by less important factors, such as appearance. You may be a superb technician but if you show up to a customer’s home dressed like a slob, chances are the customer will not see past that, and a negative perception will be formed even though style of dress is irrelevant to technical skill.
For example, you can get an excellent haircut at a barber shop for $12, yet some people will pay $100 at a high-end salon for a haircut of the same quality. Why? It may be that they perceive the salon to be of higher value because of the way the salon is presented. The barber shop has hair on the floor, worn out benches, and maybe a couple of old men in the corner smoking cigars and arguing about boxing. But the salon is clean, well-lit, has nice décor, etc. All of this factors into the perception people will form when they walk in the door, and none of it is relevant to the quality of the haircut they will receive.
The same goes for appliance repair companies. A company that sends out clean, well-dressed, well-spoken technicians with quality tools, clean shirts, clean pants, combed hair, and up-to-date technology will be perceived as more valuable—and that company will command higher prices than one whose technicians are perhaps just as skilled but not as presentable.
So how can you manage the perception the customer will have? First you have to observe yourself and your company from the perspective of a customer. How does your website look to someone who’s never heard of your company? How do you look to a customer when you walk in the door and greet them? How do you sound to someone else when you explain the diagnosis and tell them the price? Do you come across as confident and assured, or unsure of your diagnosis and price? Are these factors that you react to only when necessary, or do you intentionally work on improving them, taking an active role in the way you are perceived? All of these elements play a part in customers’ perceptions of you and your value. So if you want to make more money, your customers need to perceive your service as one of high value and high quality—and that is entirely up to you.
1. Bernays, Edward. Propaganda. Routledge, 1928. 11.