If you could see into the future and put words in your audiences’ mouths, what would they say about your company? This is not a newsletter about time travel or manifesting realities, but it is about creating perceptions.
Perceptions are a key ingredient in your brand story and marketing strategy, in fact we think defining perceptions is a more clarifying and actionable exercise than writing a positioning statement or developing brand values (apologies to the agencies of the world).
But first an announcement…or two…
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Covered in this post:
🔮 What is a perception?
💡 Examples: Hypothetical perceptions for real companies
🧘♀️ How do perceptions relate to positioning?
🏁 How perceptions help you create better goals, content & messaging.
🥳 Featured jobs from the MKT1 job board (skip down to bottom)
What is a perception and why should I write them?
Marketing perceptions are what you want to be known for as a company and what you want your audience to repeat back to you. They are the tenets of your story for the next year or so. When you write perceptions properly they guide your marketing efforts, so you stay focused and tell a repeatable story that is uniquely your own. Perceptions then trickle down and shape marketers’ goals, messaging, and content roadmap. When you don’t write perceptions, your story is likely all over the place.
(Hypothetical) Examples of perceptions
We’ve created some perceptions, pretending we were marketers at these companies when they were starting out—so much time traveling in this newsletter.
Stripe (hypothetical) perceptions, ~9 years ago
Developers should focus on building what’s core to their product.
If my product accepts payments, it’s a no brainer to use Stripe.
Stripe is building for developers—they have the best documentation, community, and support of any developer product.
Salesforce (hypothetical) perceptions, ~20 years ago
Software is moving to the cloud. We are leaders in this movement aka “No software”
My sales team’s administrative burden can become more automated.
Tradeshows are boring, Salesforce events (aka Dreamforce, etc) are actually informative and fun.
Asana (hypothetical) perceptions, ~8 years ago
Please note, while Emily was at Asana for 4 years, she didn’t know how to make perceptions when she started building the marketing team in 2013, and these are not real.
Teamwork should be more effortless.
Project management tools aren’t just for PMs or project managers.
Teams are doing great things with Asana.
When and how do you write perceptions?
When: Before positioning
We like to think of perceptions in 1 year horizons, and map our annual goals to them. Some may stay the same, but most will need some updates based on trends, competitors, and internal progress.
We recommend writing perceptions after you’ve done audience analysis (see our previous newsletter) and competitive analysis. But, perceptions should be done before positioning work, since perceptions are broader than positioning. Positioning only focuses on product differentiators for your audience. Perceptions state what is unique about your entire company—from the market you’re in to your culture and your product approach.
How to write your own perceptions
We typically recommend writing 3-4 perceptions. You can do more than that, but perceptions should be memorable and repeatable, ideally by the entire company, and at least by your GTM and executive teams.
Typically, we think about creating a perception for each of these buckets, keeping in mind you’re identifying what your company stands for:
Insights or trends: What’s your unique insight or take on the market?
e.g. Software is moving to the cloud. We are leaders in this movement.
Company story: Does your company have a unique culture or story that will play heavily into marketing, brand, and content efforts? Do you have a unique mission or vision?
e.g. Asana makes teamwork more effortless
Product: What is unique about your product? Especially compared to competitors or how this problem was solved in the past.
e.g. My sales team’s administrative burden can become more automated.
Community or Customer: What do your customers have in common or what stories do you want to tell about your customers? What are you creating for your community?
e.g Stripe is building for developers—they have the best documentation, community, and support of any developer product.
The combination of these perceptions also matters. You’ve nailed it if no other company can claim this combination of 3-4 perceptions. They are uniquely your company’s.
How can you use perceptions in practice?
If you’re thinking to yourself that perceptions won’t actually be useful, give me a couple more minutes here. Oftentimes busywork gets prioritized over impactful work in marketing. You need to stay focused, and stay relentlessly focused on staying focused (tongue twister!).
Use perceptions to help you set marketing team goals
Perceptions, as well as intentional goal setting, are essential for marketing teams to stop doing busy work and start prioritizing high-impact work that drives both short and long-term growth.
As you’re setting goals, go through your perceptions and identify the big projects that will help you manifest these perceptions. You should also go through KPIs and identify the highest leverage activities. When you combine these two exercises, your goals have basically written themselves.
Perceptions + KPIs = Fuel for writing goals
Use perceptions to create a content strategy & roadmap
Perceptions help you brainstorm content ideas:
For each perception, list content that you think will help most in driving that perception. Add these to your content roadmap.
In your content roadmap, add a column for “Perceptions.” Always fill it out.
Then, when you’re writing a piece of content, include a content brief at the top of the doc. Include what perception the content maps to again so it's easy to stay focused when writing and editing.
Use perceptions to shape messaging
Perceptions combined with positioning and audience analysis are guidance for your messaging. Whenever you write copy for a page on your site, an email, a webinar...whatever it is...start by identifying the perception you are trying to drive towards. This will help you identify the takeaway for that asset and keep it focused.
As an example, assume the perception is “Stripe is building for developers—they have the best documentation, community, and support of any developer product”
If you are creating a “how it works” page, the takeaway for the page should be “I can add this code to my product right now.”
The page should include quotes from developers on how easy this was to do.
The page should then have sample code on it and link to documentation.
Perceptions test: How do I know I’ve got this right?
➕ No other company can claim this combination of perceptions.
🐘 You can remember them the next day.
💬 You have signal that your specific audience will care about each perception and/or your most obsessed customers already say some version of these.
📚 When you think about your most successful content or your best content ideas, they ladder up to these perceptions already.
⭐ If your audience repeated back these perceptions to you in a year, you believe you’d be wildly successful as a company.
When done right, perceptions become the guiding force behind the story you are telling, what you create, and how marketing operates. Combine perceptions with audience analysis and positioning; measurable goals and analytical rigor; a clearly mapped out funnel and channel strategy...and you’re off the races on marketing strategy. We’ll be covering all of these topics in upcoming newsletters.
Live Control - Sr Product Marketing Manager - LA
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XCLAIM - Product Marketing Manger - LA, Remote
XCLAIM - Growth Marketing Manager - LA, Remote
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Range - Growth Marketing Lead - Remote
Iggy - First Marketer - SF, Portland, OR, Remote
Emily & Kathleen of MKT1