In a sneaky job interview technique, Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, asks a candidate, ‘What would you say is the biggest misperception people have of you?’, then follows up with the killer question, ‘What’s the difference between perception and misperception?’ Which is what we quoted.

Quite right. ‘Misperception’ shouldn’t be confused with ‘misconception’. Your perception may be based on a misconception but, right or wrong, it is what it is. Let’s take a practical example. It’s a misconception to think of me as tall, because I am exactly the average height for a British male. However, if you’re smaller than me, your perception of me may well be that I am tall.

This is important in business. Perceptions aren’t about facts. The customer is always right, even when they’re wrong. If your customer has an unfavourable view that is not based on facts, it doesn’t matter that you can prove them wrong, they will probably continue to believe what they believe or resent you making a fool of them. What matters is to understand how they came to that view. Only by understanding your customer and sympathising with them can you hope to persuade them to take a more favourable view of you and your product. In any case, that’s one customer. Ultimately you will need to change your marketing to stop others perceiving your product in the same way.

A good example is price. If customers have a perception of your products as ‘expensive’, you have your work cut out, not only because their definition of ‘expensive’ may be different to yours but they may well have an image of your company as upmarket that is not really to do with price at all. Waitrose’s prices are about the same as Tesco’s but they have had to go to great lengths in publicising price matching and bringing in ‘Essentials’ to try to persuade potential customers that this is the case. I don’t think they have succeeded. In fact, I think that lately they seem to be embracing the perception of Waitrose as the store for upmarket shoppers and concentrating on carving out the lion’s share of that part of the market.

We often need to create or change perceptions of our brand or products. We don’t mind if the perception is not in line with reality, provided it works to our advantage.

Sometimes a personality helps. Bernard Matthews may have run a turkey factory but he fronted advertising campaigns as a jolly Norfolk farmer with an amusing way of saying ‘beautiful’. Sometimes packaging helps. Kettle Chips’ old fashioned fonts and detailed descriptions of how they are made belie the fact that they are still mass produced crisps. Sometimes it’s trickery. Encouraging supermarkets to place Sunny Delight in the refrigerated section gave the impression it was a fresh fruit drink even though it contained only 5% fruit juice. Sometimes it’s price. An £50 bottle of wine may taste the same as a £15 one in a blind test, but most people will perceive that the more expensive one tastes better.

So the answer to the interview question should have been along these lines, ‘Some people perceive me as being whatever which isn’t true but all perceptions are valid and I realise I have to work hard to show that I’m not.’

This is a link to the full article on the techniques Tony Hsieh uses to get behind job interviewees’ standard answers.

This blog was written by Paul Seven Lewis, owner of the marketing consultancy Seven Experience and former Head of Marketing and Operations at The Mayflower Theatre. You can connect with him on Google+ and LinkedIn. A version appeared on the Hampshire Workspace website.

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