Perception Is Reality, Whether You Like It or Not!

You may not like it, and it may not even be true, but whatever your customers, consumers, guests, etc. perceive to be reality regarding your business, that's what the "truth" is.

To make my point about perception being reality in business I am going to show a couple examples of some huge PR blunders where the perception of companies was turned negative, despite what the actual reality shows. After the examples I will show the importance of avoiding as many of these issues as possible, but more importantly, how to overcome them if you find yourself in this situation.

I'm sure everyone is aware of the horrific terrorist attack that occurred during the 2013 Boston Marathon. While it was an extremely dark day in American history, the way the people of Boston, the surrounding areas, and all of America rallied to show their amazing spirit was incredible.

Now imagine for a minute that just four short years later someone from your company sent out an email to everyone running in the 2017 Boston Marathon, a day after the race, with the subject line, "Congrats, you survived the Boston Marathon!"

In case you haven't heard about this, it actually happened. Adidas has been a sponsor of the Boston Marathon for many years, and continues to be to this day. They are the ones that sent this unfortunate email out.

As you can probably imagine the backlash for the email was tremendous. Adidas very obviously didn't mean any disrespect to the victoms from four years earlier, the race, or anyone involved. That being said, it didn't matter.

The reason this isn't still talked about to this day, and frankly why Adidas was able to fairly quickly squelch the backlash, is that they handled this terrible blunder very quickly and correctly.

Adidads immediately took responsibility for the blunder, and issued multiple apologies and statements. Here is one of these statements issued to TIME Magazing:

“We are incredibly sorry. Clearly, there was no thought given to the insensitive email subject line we sent Tuesday. We deeply apologize for our mistake. The Boston Marathon is one of the most inspirational sporting events in the world. Every year we’re reminded of the hope and resiliency of the running community at this event.”

Clicke HERE for a link to the full article if you would like to read more about this.

Despite the quick reaction by Adidas, and their ability to get passed this huge error on their part, there was a period of time afterwards where the company was at best as deeply insensitive, and at worst down right anti-American. This was definitely not the case, but as the title of this posts states, perception is reality. It took time, and millions of dollars for their image to be repaired. They overcame this, but it was a major setback.

This video talks about more Instances where companies created a false perception, similar to what we have discussed

Wells Fargo Starts Over

You may be more familar with this next example that I will discuss. It was 2016 when the Banking Giant's momentum came to a crashing hault. You may have seen the commercials over the last few years where Wells Fargo does extensive damage control, but here is a very good summary of the full incident from LeAnne Graves at

"The US bank made history last year after it fired more than 5,300 bankers and has since forced two former executives to return $75 million in compensation – the largest in banking history – over the creation of two million fake banking and credit card accounts.
Employees moved funds from existing customer accounts into newly created ones without permission to meet high sales expectations. Customers were then charged for insufficient funds or overdraft fees while bank employees also signed people up for credit cards, racking up nearly a half million dollars in fees.
The bank announced an $185m settlement while pinning the fiasco on the former chief executive, John Stumpf, and the former head of banking, Carrie Tolstedt.
Mr Stumpf was allowed to retire in October after appearing before Congress to discuss the scandal while Ms Tolstedt was fired."

Click HERE to read more of the full article

It's been three years now and Wells Fargo is still performing damage control. You get too see some of the exorbitant numbers in the quote I posted, but this has cost Wells Fargo much more than that. All signs and indications at this point to date show that Wells Fargo has completely eliminated the fraud and misconduct that was going on. They have been extremely transparent since the scandal was exposed, and I would bet it is absolutely and completely safe to bank with them again (probably safer than other institutions considering how closely they are being watched).

All of that being said...... the public perception of Wells Fargo is still somewhat one of fraud and cheating. While that is not factually true anymore, the perception is reality, and people have plenty of other banks to choose from to place their money.

What Can You Do?

Ideally the best thing to do is avoid stepping in the perception trap altogether. That however is stating the obvious. If you are a business owner of any size you know that no matter how good you are, or how good the people around you are, you are going to run into trouble at some point. Really the best thing to do is keep an eye out for the big stuff, and manage the small stuff the best you can. However we just say in the case of Adidas, their problem came from one line in the Subject of an email.

It's actually really important that business owners are aware of articles like this and others that show mistakes other companies have made. Whether the company overcomes the blunder or not, there is so much we can learn from each case. The most important thing you need to remember regarding this issue is that there is no point in fighting it. It is extremely frustrating when the perception isn't the actual reality, but fighting it will only cause more frustration.

In both cases that I put forward here, the companies are huge, and the problems were very public, affecting many people. While the size of the companies had something to do with them being able to get passed these issues, how they handled them is also a major learning point as well.

You might be saying, "these companies are huge, mine is much smaller and there is no way I would receive that much attention for something like this." While this is true, keep in mind that your customer base isn't nearly as big as theirs either. Overcoming a negative perception of your company has ZERO to do with its size. The perception of your target market is reality, regardless of the size of your business.

I'm going to leave this post here and keep it short. I'd be happy to go into more detail on a one on one basis, but I just felt compelled to get this post out quickly as it is a huge issue that I am trying to get a brand new client through at this time. Hopefully this will help get through a tough time with your business, or even avoid one altogether.

As usual, I truly appreciate you taking the time to read this. It is humbling to know someone takes the time to read a piece that you put time and effort into creating. PLEASE Comment and SHARE!!