Ahh, Coca-Cola. The best tasting, most refreshing, highest quality cola you can buy. At least sales would say so. In Britain alone, we spend £1.15 Billion every year on Coca-Cola. If Coke is the Neil Armstrong of the Cola industry, then Pepsi is the Buzz Aldrin. Second.

It has been for as long as we can remember. Not only does Coke dominate Pepsi in terms of sales. But it dominates in social conversation. In 2015 people talked about Coke on social media 2.5 times more than Pepsi.

You would assume that Coke are the market leader because they have the best product. Not so. In fact, Pepsi consistently out-perform Coke in taste tests, and the underlying consensus is that most people cannot really tell the difference in a blind taste test.

Despite the fact there really is not much to choose between the products, people simply prefer Coke. And they have done for decades…

This phenomenon isn’t unique. Champagne sold at Aldi for £9.99 outscores higher end brands such as Laurent-Perrier Brut (£38) and Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label Ponsardin (£35). Yet if you rocked up to a party with a cheap bottle of wine from Aldi, you’d probably be considered frugal at best.

When a group of food critics was secretly fed McDonald’s disguised as gourmet options, many of them praised the food and had no idea they were eating Big Macs.

Honda is renown for being a safe and reliable car in the USA. If you asked someone in Japan about Honda, they would ask; “what kind of motorcycle are you buying?”. In Japan Honda are known for selling bikes not cars, despite having the same product portfolio in the USA and Japan.

What does all of this mean?

Products are meaningless

Ok, hear me out. I don’t mean to say that products and services are irrelevant. But when it comes to marketing, perception trumps product every time. Do you think those food critics would have praised the food (or even eaten it) if they knew it was McDonald’s? Do you think anyone would notice if they replaced the contents of Coke cans with Pepsi and the content of Pepsi cans with Coke? Would it have any effect whatsoever on Coke’s position as market leader? I’d be willing to bet my house that it wouldn’t.

To explain my point, let’s examine a quote from two extremely successful and knowledgeable marketers, Al Ries and jack Trout. (Google them – they’re the real deal).

“The only reality you can be sure about is in your own perceptions”

What do they mean by this? The reality is not objective. There is no objective truth when it comes to products because everyone has different tastes, preferences, and opinions. Everyone has their own set of eyes in which they perceive reality.

My reality could look very different to yours, even though we are exposed to the same external influences. How do you know if the red you see, is the same red I see? There’s no way of knowing because, among human beings at least, there is no such thing as objective truth in the way we perceive things. Perception is key.

The challenge lies not in convincing your market that you have a better product. The challenge lies in influencing their perception of your brand. Making sure that the red you see, is the red that your audience sees’s.

Perception is everything

As human beings, we are social creatures. We look to other people to form views and opinions of the world. For this reason and this reason alone, perceptions are absolutely vital to the success of a brand.

Instead of relying on our own perceptions, when we are in doubt we console in others. We ask their views and opinions on something and take it as an objective truth, not the subjective perception of another person’s mind. It’s human nature.

Think back to the last time you asked your friend ‘is that bar any good?’ or ‘where’s the best place to eat round here?’ or ‘suggest a movie I can watch this evening’. We value the perceptions of other people and use them to form our own perceptions of the world.

Author: Cameron Scott

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