A huge portion of our lives are comprised by a vast number of interactions. In some cases small conversations and in other cases substantial dialogues. Regardless, in every interaction there is someone delivering the message (the person speaking, writing) and someone receiving it (listening, reading).

With this in mind, have you ever thought about how many ways a single message can be interpreted?

Perception is reality right?

A mentor once told me that you can deliver the same message to derive hundreds of unique actions. Putting it into a selling point of view he would say, “You can tell a person to go to H-E-#-# (double hockey sticks) one way and get punched in the nose and yet say virtually the same thing another way and the person will ask you to escort them and their bags.

Stay with me here…

In marketing communications one of the first things that you learn about is the encoding/decoding of messages as it relates to the target audience. The purpose here is to teach the importance of having a message that is clearly articulated via the chosen medium to make sure that the ultimate reaction received is in line with the reaction that the marketer intended to create.

Marketing studies also introduce the concept of noise into this equation. Noise is representative of anything that creates ambiguity between the marketer and their message; essentially acting as an enemy to the marketers efforts.

From an oversimplified standpoint the concept is true. The message, much like the game of telephone that we play as children is best served when it is heard exactly the same by both the messenger and the receiver.

While idealistic, this hardly ever happens and the main culprit in my experience is primarily one thing.


Perceptions are derived from many things. Attitudes, Values, and Beliefs among other things are key in the forming of perceptions. In many ways a persons or brands success and failures can so often be closely aligned to less to the message they delivered, but more the perception that they create.

When dealing with people (And Brands) that we trust we tend to take messages at face value, at times even glorify the message because of the source. Whereas when we hear from a source that we have a lower trust/respect level for we often see the worst in the message regardless of its intent or context for that matter.

On the news some of you may have recently heard about Rush Limbaugh’s insensitive remarks. What he said about Sandra Fluke was outrageous and unacceptable. I will also say that the media coverage was extraordinarily bias based on their perception of Rush as a right wing radical. Most of the public heard nothing more than the one sentence where he used the profanity in describing Fluke. If the entire monologue was heard it would provide “some” understanding of what he was trying (in poor taste) to atriculate.

But the reality is that it really didn’t matter what the media did. People who tend to perceive Rush as a crazy conservative have already decided his intent. And chances are his supporters didn’t see any harm in what he did.

While perception plays a part in media every day. It also hits closer to home.

Recently I received an email from someone that was checking in to see how I was doing as well as looking for some very specific feedback in regards to something very personal to me. While this person and I have a superficially amicable relationship, I have been troubled by several personal encounters as well as a handful of actions that this person has taken toward others whom I trust. The email itself was well written and polite however my immediate reaction toward the message was inherently negative. This 100% due to the fact that my perception is the person is of questionable character/ethics.

For all I know, the person could be genuinely interested in checking in and could be doing it entirely with good intention but perception

As an exercise, think of a person that you trust emphatically as well as someone whom you generally dislike.

Now say that both of them called you up to see how you were doing or you ran into them. If both were to approach you and deliver to you the exact same message how would you react? Would it be similar or different? Why?

Regardless of what was said to you I propose that you would respond significantly more positive to the trusted person rather than the disliked person.

Why is this?

Most simply your perception to the message. You perceive the first person as trustworthy and therefore you trust their input. With the second your predetermined notions derail the message in its entirety regardless of intent.

So yes, perception is reality, but moreover YOUR perception is YOUR reality. With so many mediums and so much information out there this means our view and how others view us are being shaped more rapidly than ever before; Serving both as an opportunity and potentially as a risk.

For us as individuals (and for companies and their brands) this means we must ask ourselves…

  • What are we doing to earn trust and respect?

  • How are we shaping our message for our audience?

  • What are we doing to be sure it is delivered the way we intend.

  • Are we cognizant of how we are perceived? Are we sure?

Gary Vaynerchuk was quoted saying “It’s never the platform, it’s always the message.” Myself being more of an And/Also thinker I say it’s both so long as the receiver of the message perceives the source the way they want them to.

Daniel Newman
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Daniel Newman

Founder and President at Broadsuite, Inc.
After 12 years of running technology companies including a CEO appointment at the age of 28, I traded the corner office for a chance to drive the discussion on how the digital economy is going to forever change the way business is done. I'm an MBA, adjunct business professor and 4x author of best-selling business books including "The Millennial CEO" and "The New Rules of Customer Engagement." Pianist, soccer fan, husband and father, not in that order. Oh and for work...I'm the co-founder of V3B [Broadsuite], a marketing firm specializing in the digital space, helping companies be found, seen and heard in a cluttered digital world.
Daniel Newman
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