Shaping Perception – Media, Marketing and Writing Your Own Story

I always question why people think the way they think, say the things they say, and do the things they do. They’re getting their information from someone, and where your interests are at stake, it might as well be from you.

I’m always fascinated by the collective conscience that seems to emerge from news stories, popular media, and manifests itself in our attitudes, points of view and conversations. The bombardment of media influences invariably impact our perceptions of people, situations, and products. Blogs and other forms of social media – while not “advertising” in the traditional sense of billboards, tv spots, or print ads that make up half of your lifestyle magazine – offer more than just an image, more than facts and figures, more than just the promise of an experience. They offer something to talk about around the water cooler, an analysis or, perhaps more importantly, a conclusion which you can share knowing that someone else has done the research! For better or worse, the resulting shared public opinion has real impacts on the credibility of individuals, the value of products, and the bottom line of companies. Therefore, how companies respond to and utilize social media is critical.

Example. BlackBerry is a company with an image problem. However, in spite of drastic year-over-year declines in revenue, management changes and a restructuring of the company has stabilized the sinking ship it was a year ago. Another positive change has been in how BlackBerry controls its own message, at least for its target market and its investors. The message in BlackBerry official blogs, press releases, and media has been the focus on enterprise, on security, and on device management, effectively abandoning the consumer market. That’s a good thing. The perception of BlackBerry in the consumer market is not favorable and is not about to change anytime soon – so leave it. People talk about BlackBerry as a smartphone company, where hardware sales matter to investors – it’s not, at least it isn’t any longer. BlackBerry recognizes an age old truth – haters gonna hate. ‘Berry gonna shake it off.

Media avoidance isn’t a strategy on its own. People will talk regardless, so you may as well give them something to talk about. One line I have seen repeated or reiterated by BlackBerry CEO John Chen is that “the dialogue [about BlackBerry] has changed”. So meta! As the company’s second CEO in as many years, Chen inherited and continued a massive restructuring of BlackBerry. They have stopped bleeding cash in a big way and have laid the groundwork for growth in enterprise services. They have effectively sold the turnaround story, if a little pre-emptively, to investors still holding onto shares. Everything else relating to phones – be it prolific users like Barack Obama or Kim Kardashian, or “marketing ploys” like an iPhone trade-in program – are meant primarily to keep BlackBerry and its story in the public’s field of view. The point is not to sell phones. It’s to generate another opportunity to remind people of the three words that it specializes in – security, productivity, and collaboration.

The topic of social media strategy treads into the more individual territory of “putting yourself out there”, but it’s influence on public opinion is evident in every time you turn on the National to hear your favorite political or business panel, Rex Murphy on Sunday afternoon, or when you view the comment thread on your favorite tech blog. I always question why people think the way they think, say the things they say, and do the things they do. They’re getting their information from someone, and where your interests are at stake, it might as well be from you.

– Gary Pardy has no position in any publicly listed companies mentioned above.