Perception is truth and truth is reality from the perspective of the viewer. However, as anyone who's ever walked into a glass door will tell you, reality has a habit of sharply correcting perceptions when they stray from the truth of the matter.
It's true to say that how you perceive the world, a brand or company is the product of memory, experience, anticipation, emotion, prejudice, and dozens, if not hundreds, of other factors. But the greater your contact and engagement, the more time you invest in becoming familiar with it (the world, or the brand) the closer your perception will be to reality.
So what is the value of perception management? People innately understand stories, and perception management relies on developing a narrative, a story, around a brand or a company that can be told and retold. A story that has a ring of truth and a compelling plot. With the right story, you then need to tell it to the right audience.
Folk tales are a good example. Many of them are stories designed to shape perception and behaviour, to showcase good choices and illustrate the risks of poor choices, and they're aimed at a specific audience. Of course, in today's world of B2B digital communication, the folk tale is no longer the tool of choice for perception management professionals. Nowadays we focus on other media rather than fireside stories and dial down the fantasy and magic in favour of things like innovation and technology.
But the principle is the same. We use public relations methodology to achieve similar effects. Identify the audience, pinpoint their communications channels, and begin weaving our clients' stories into the collective understanding and perception of the audience or community as a whole, to further our clients' goals and build a positive perception of them that chimes with reality.
It's an art and a science. The art of perception management is in the storytelling, the creative purpose that drives interest and engagement. The science part is measuring whether it's working, and adapting the story and the channels accordingly. The nuts and bolts of perception management can vary wildly between clients. Sometimes a 'publicity stunt' is what's required, but more usually, it's a slower process of building a story up, brick by brick. In the B2B environment, we'll often target the trade press titles, where our clients and their competitors talk about their industry or sector and instigate follower campaigns on social media, and begin with introductory news releases and articles.
No single piece of content or output is especially significant, the important things to maintain are consistency and constancy. Consistency of message and constancy of output. Not every part of the story told will make it into the news, or cause any ripples on social media. But over time, we build up a library of stories for our clients that checks out and rings true (because it is), that has provenance and authority, and that returns positive results when anyone searches your company on Google (other search engines are available, apparently).
Why does perception matter and why should you manage it? Understand that your customers, competitors, and the public, all perceive your organisation in some way or they simply don't perceive it at all. You have the choice of whether to manage that perception or leave it to the vagaries of chance.