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Perception Shift: Unlocking the power of brand transformation

How do you build a brand that stands out and operates from a position of elevation compared to its competition? The answer lies in perception.


In the ever-evolving landscape of marketing and consumer behaviour, it is impossible to underestimate the power brand perception has to enable or limit your opportunities for growth.

Today, the perception of a brand goes beyond the mere quality of its products or services, with 70% of consumers saying their buying experiences are influenced by emotions, according to a recent survey by McKinsey. Stats like this highlight how the perceived value bestowed upon a brand transcends the realm of mere functionality and instead occupies the more ethereal world of feelings and emotions.

Building a positive perception of your brand can foster greater loyalty and trust, while a negative perception can lead to downward price pressure, brand stagnation or even erosion. But what if your brand finds itself stuck in a perception rut? In this article, Richard Broughton, Associate Director at MTM, outlines the strategic steps you should follow to revamp your brand’s image and trigger a perception shift that can breathe new life into your business.

Step 1: Understand the current perception

In the words of Ogilvy vice chairman Rory Sutherland, “When you listen to consumers, don’t just listen to what they say, listen to what they want.” This may sound simple, but many brands have no systems in place to receive this sort of feedback from their audiences, and many have no insights into the current perception of their brand at all.

So…before embarking on a perception-altering journey, brands must first get a clear picture of how they are currently perceived. To gain a level of actionable insight, you need to consider conducting a research programme, employing a mix of tactics to gauge current public sentiment around the brand, with a sample size large enough for the results to be representative and reliable.

Through qualitative and quantitative data analysis, you can begin to understand your audience and how they actually feel. The methods of research you choose will reflect your specific requirements, but surveys, focus groups, and sentiment analysis, as well as engagement and analytics data across all your channels, should be considered the as potential sextants of perception, navigating the terrain of feelings and beliefs.

You should combine the intelligence you uncover about your audience and their opinions with an analysis of the brand’s current positioning compared with its competitors in the market. Identifying gaps and opportunities for differentiation will inform the direction of the perception shift.

Step 2: Set clear objectives and points of differentiation

With your insights in hand, the next stage of your brand perception transformation is to define a sense of direction with clear objectives and a set of measurable goals that you aim to achieve through the transformation process, setting your sights on relevant and time-bound milestones. Clear objectives serve as a guiding compass, directing you towards your desired destination. By setting specific and measurable goals, you gain the ability to measure progress and navigate your efforts with purpose.

The key to these goals is ensuring that they are informed by your research and realistically attainable. For example, if the perception of your brand is currently low cost, low quality, your goal could be focused on shifting attitudes towards ‘low cost and high value. However, moving to a position of high quality and premium pricing is likely too significant a shift to be achievable, at least in the short term.

Equally, you should agree on specific goals related to how you wish to differentiate yourself from your competitors. While altering perceptions can involve a range of tactics, differentiation should be a central focus. By identifying and amplifying the brand’s distinctive attributes, companies can effectively reshape how consumers view their offerings.

Moreover, differentiation reinforces the credibility and authenticity of a brand’s message during a perception shift. Consumers are more likely to embrace changes in a brand’s positioning when they can perceive tangible value and advantages over alternatives. Emphasising differentiation gives the perception shift a solid foundation built on the actual value the brand brings to its customers.

Step 3: Embrace storytelling and brand narrative

Humans are naturally wired to respond to stories. Great storytelling has the power to captivate emotions and change perceptions. Brands should craft narratives that resonate with their target audience while conveying their values and vision.

According to a study by Psychology Today, storytelling activates multiple areas of the brain, including language processing centres and areas responsible for sensory experiences. This means that a compelling brand story can leave a lasting impression on consumers.

Step 4: Leverage influencers and advocacy

Influencers and brand advocates wield significant influence over public opinion. Partnering with individuals who align with your brand values can amplify your message and positively impact perceptions.

According to a study by Influencer Marketing Hub, 63% of consumers trust influencers more than brands. Additionally, 58% of people have purchased a product or service based on an influencer’s recommendation, demonstrating the potential impact of influencer marketing on brand perception.

The role of social influence is still growing, reflecting that we are fundamentally social beings, investing in relationships and building an emotional connection with others, whether in real life or online. As a society, we often buy products not because they serve a material need but because they serve a social need, so understanding how you can tap into that need can be transformative for brands.

Step 5: Deliver consistent experiences

Consistency is vital to building a strong brand perception. Every touchpoint with the consumer, whether your website, social media presence, or customer service interaction, should reflect the brand’s new narrative and values. Consistency breeds familiarity and trust, leading to a more positive perception.

A study by Forbes revealed that 64% of consumers cite shared values as the primary reason for their relationship with a brand. By consistently embodying the values communicated through the perception shift, brands can forge stronger connections with their audience and give them ‘reasons to believe’.

Step 6: Foster two-way communication

Perception shifts are not a one-way street. Brands must actively engage in two-way communication with their audience. Encouraging feedback, listening to concerns, and promptly addressing issues are critical to demonstrating your commitment.

This often represents one of the most significant shifts in internal mindset. Too many brands are still scared to engage with negative comments on social media, or they respond with stock replies that give the impression of a faceless, soulless corporation instead of a brand that exists to serve its audience. However, suppose you are bold enough to put your head above the parapet and engage with the good and the bad. In that case, this open dialogue can help foster a sense of real community and demonstrate the brand’s commitment to meeting its customers’ needs.

According to a study by Sprout Social, 83% of consumers say they appreciate brands responding to questions and feedback on social media. Moreover, 68% of customers are more loyal to brands that engage in such interactions. To drive real change, brands, therefore, need to view and treat their customers as emotional beings who seek value, not just in the rational, functional sense but also in the emotional sense.

Step 7: Monitor progress and adapt

A perception shift is a journey, not a destination and a strategy that ignores the possibility of change is destined to fail. Constant monitoring and analysis of your progress is crucial. Use metrics like brand sentiment, social media engagement, and customer feedback to track the effectiveness of your efforts and be prepared to adapt your strategy, learning from successes and setbacks.

Case Study: Apple’s transformation

In the late 1990s, Apple Inc. faced a perception challenge. It was seen as a niche brand with a small but dedicated following. However, the tide turned dramatically with the introduction of the iPod in 2001, marking the beginning of a strategic transformation that revolutionised the company’s brand perception.

Apple’s strategic focus on its audience and a deep understanding of their desires set the stage for the iPod’s unprecedented success. While Apple was not the first company to enter the MP3 player market, it distinguished itself by grasping the profound impact the iPod could have on its target audience. By recognising the potential for seamless integration between hardware, software, and services, Apple crafted an unparalleled user experience that resonated with consumers. With a keen focus on its customers, Apple communicated this understanding through every touchpoint.

From product design to advertising campaigns, Apple portrayed the iPod as more than just a gadget but a beautiful and ergonomic tool of empowerment and self-expression. This captivating storytelling formed the cornerstone of the brand’s marketing strategy and helped create an emotional connection with consumers. The iconic “Think Different” campaign further solidified Apple’s new brand perception.

By celebrating individuality and aligning the brand with rebels and visionaries of history, Apple positioned itself as a company that embraced innovation and creativity. This narrative not only resonated with the target audience but also attracted a new wave of enthusiasts and advocates who felt connected to the brand’s purpose and ethos.

As a result of its strategic transformation and differentiation, Apple’s iPod sales reached a peak of $8.27 billion in 2008, propelling the company to new heights. The success of the iPod not only boosted Apple’s revenue but also positioned the company as a global tech leader. Consumers no longer perceived Apple as just a computer company; it had become a symbol of innovation, design excellence, and forward-thinking technology.

The iPod’s triumph also laid the foundation for Apple’s continued success with subsequent product releases. By fostering a devoted community of brand advocates, Apple created a cycle of loyalty and enthusiasm that extended to its other products.


More than ever, perception is the lens through which consumers view a brand, and it can make or break a company’s success. To change perceptions effectively, brands must understand their current standing, set clear objectives, differentiate themselves, and engage consumers through storytelling that truly resonates. Married with consistent delivery of brand promises and open communication with its audience, you have the tools to build and maintain a positive perception.

The journey towards a perception shift may seem daunting, but with dedication, creativity, and a willingness to embrace change, brands can transform themselves and thrive in an ever more competitive marketplace.