Saturday, October 27, 2012

Taking A Company Public: Here Are Some Lessons on Perception Management

As a CEO of a public or private company you will soon realize that as you grow, reputation is something that must be protected in a proactive manner. Perception management and PR will always be strategies that will be created and refined. Below are a few propaganda strategies from PR innovator Edward Bernays and adapted to a perception management setting.

This appeal presents something as being just normal. Most often seen in politics, it might feature a wealthy politician displaying himself as an average citizen. It might feature an authority figure supporting some common effort.
Common Man
This draws people to fit in, and to seek the same things everyone else has. It appeals less to the need for group involvement, than the desire to fit in and be normal -- and if being normal in your world means driving the right car, they want you to have one.
Appeal to Authority
Of course, if someone really doesn't want to fit in, one may always appeal to his or her sense of social propriety -- or downright responsibility to the law.
PASS! General Electric
Nothing measures how well an appeal to plain folks works as much as a product's rise from being a luxury to becoming an indispensible commodity. Things like light bulbs, stereos, and movies all count -- and they all go back to Thomas Edison and General Electric.
FAIL! Chevy Nova
It did fine in the U.S., but launching the model in Mexico failed because in Spanish "Nova" means "It doesn't go."

This exploits two anxieties, depending on the subject of the appeal. One is anxiety over being left out of an experience commonly shared. The other is anxiety over being alone in a new experience.
Join the Crowd
That metaphorical bandwagon can get awfully crowded with the basic appeal to be a part of a movement. This does not appeal to the security of belonging, so much as the anxiety of missing out.
Whether a literal nation's flag, or a figurative banner representing a cause, this appeal reinforces in-groups and out-groups
Inevitable Victory'
With in- and out-groups defined, inoculating the desired side against any thought of defeat assures an escalation of commitment, and facilitates a confirmation bias. It narrows thinking.
PASS! -Apple (1984-Macintosh)
It began with a commercial directed by Ridley Scott that aired but once in its entirety. While that involved demonizing IBM as it affirmed the Macintosh would show why 1984 would not be like 1984, the real appeal was to not be part of a mindless subservient mass -- instead be part of a mindful free-thinking mass of people. It also demonstrates how the best techniques interweave multiple propaganda methods.
FAIL! -Apple early 1990s (licensed to clone)
In the 1990s Apple finally licensed out its operating system for Mac clones. The problem was that while its earlier efforts had gained a solid market share of dedicated enthusiasts, the lines seemed solidly drawn. Instead of gaining new users, dedicated Mac addicts bought the less expensive clones, and Apple computer sales dropped.
PASS! - Apple 2000 - 2010 (iMac, iPod, iPhone, iPad
Apple ushered in the new millennium with a series of new and revolutionary products, beginning with the iMac and building up to the iPad. This reinvention of the company allowed it to reposition itself as the global leader in mobile devices.

Define competitors or out-groups with insulting terms or phrases, or at the very least clever defamatory expressions.
Appeal To Prejudice
The propagandist -- using the right words -- can make people laugh at hateful expressions, desensitizing them to the prejudiced content of some of these ideas. The out group is now perceived through a predetermined and often negative checklist.
Appeal To Fear
Convincing a target group that the out group poses some kind of real threat facilitates their turning that fear over to someone else who can handle it .
PASS! - Colt Firearms
This goes all the way back to the 19th Century when God created men equal, but Sam Colt made them that way. The success of Colt Firearms epitomizes the entire industry of personal protection firearms. It depends on "propagating" the belief that people must fear others.
FAIL! - Chik Fil-A
Boycotting Chik Fil-A over its corporate position on gays rebounded with a vengeance, while it remained a matter of controversy. Christian groups turned out in droves to support the company.

This means generalizing feelings about one thing and directing them either toward one's own firm (if positive) or a competitor (if negative).
Virtue Words
Positive and uplifting words keep positive association with a message.
Creating a positive mood proves indispensible for keeping a target market open to your message, even as their perception is swayed from any dissenting opinions.
Obtain Disapproval - Demonizing The Enemy
The other side gets thoroughly associated with the disparaging terms, and these get generalized among all similar associated people.
Time for a Revolution!
Whether a product or a government, people like to try new things.
PASS! -Jack in the Box
A 1990s crisis involving food contaminated with e. coli resulting in deaths of children could destroy some companies. Jack in the Box recovered by personalizing the company and making the public feel good about eating there. More recently another chain, though not dealing with a crisis, has employed the euphoria technique overtly, "Arby's, it's good mood food!"
FAIL! -Coca-Cola New Coke!
Slowly losing ground to Pepsi, Coca-Cola must not have thought it was losing ground fast enough. It broke the cardinal marketing rule of "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." New Coke did not meet a welcome wagon when it hit shelves, and gave Pepsi enough wiggle room to grab a larger market share than it might have otherwise achieved.

James Scott is the CEO of Princeton Corporate Solutions, a corporate globalization and political strategies firm, PCS offers a unique blend of think tank, corporate and governmental communication strategies to expedite the facilitation of long lasting relationship building in these necessary sectors. James Scott is a member of Chatham House, Aspen Institute and Manhattan Institute

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