As part of our BetterBookClub initiative this quarter, I read The Soul’s Code: In Search of Character and Calling. The book, written by James Hillman, challenges traditional ideas of psychology and suggests a new way of defining individuality. Hillman says that our character is neither the result of upbringing nor environment, but that our character is fate. He argues that just as an acorn inherently has the pattern of an oak tree, people have souls that are branded with our own pattern – our individuality.
Psychology and destiny aside, Hillman introduces his theory with a disclaimer: “A restructuring of perception is what I’m after in this book.”
“A restructuring of perception is what I’m after in this book.”
From psychology to PR, a change of perception can produce a change in reality. We see this every day at the Bradford Group. Customers and potential customers have a perception of the clients’ business, products or service. And their perceived reality is all that matters; it can trump the actual truth. As PR professionals, our job is to make sure the perception of the client is positive.
There can be a variety of perspectives on every subject, even about something simple like a glass of water. We all know an optimist sees the glass half full while a pessimist sees the glass half empty. But consider the following:
A salesman: How much water do you want in the glass?
A philosopher: How can you be sure there’s any water at all?
An engineer: The water is fine – it’s the glass that’s too big.
An accountant: Do we need all that water?
Donald Trump: If we build a wall, we can keep all the water out.
To each, his perception of the water is his reality. So we are tasked with conveying a message about an organization, a product, a service, an event, etc., in a way that will generate a positive perception. And it’s not always easy. The product isn’t always sexy, the event isn’t always glamorous. To shape the public’s opinion, we must first see from the public’s perspective. Why do they need x? How could they use y? What would they like or hate about z?
Some brands have done a great job at this – of understanding the user’s perspective and
modifying marketing tactics to change perception. Maytag commercials, for example, don’t focus on housewives and dirty clothes. They approach the public from the maintenance man’s perspective: Maytag appliances are so reliable, that they’ll put repair men out of work. Or what about Allstate advertisements — who knew Mayhem could be personified and would have a perspective? Some creative director put himself in the shoes of a disaster, and as a result, the public perceives an insurance provider not as stuffy and boring, but as honest and approachable.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether you’re selling dryers, insurance or a theory about individuality. People base their reality on their perceptions, and they will perceive something differently depending on how it’s presented. Before pitching an idea, put yourself in your audience’s shoes. Find out what they need, and convince them that you’re providing just that. Restructure their perception, and you restructure their reality.