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Fitting In: The Business of Perception Management


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If you look up “perception management” in Wikipedia, you’ll find that the term actually originated from the U.S. Military.  To summarize the definition, it’s what you do to influence people, via their senses, to do (or think) what you want them to.  

Whether we like it or not, the most important sense is sight.  That means that how we present ourselves visually has the biggest impact on how our customers (and potential customers) perceive us.  

Just being conscious of this, as a business owner, is half the battle.

What kind of business environment are you in?  Do you have a business where standing out is good?  Or, do you have a business where standing out is going to run customers away?  

In photography, I have to walk a fine line.  If I’m not warm and friendly enough, then I may scare away family sessions.  But if I’m not polished and serious enough, then I can’t command the headshot industry.  

Professional isn’t always approachable, and approachable isn’t always professional.  

Sometimes, you have to be a different person, at different times.  Being “yourself” is not always good for business.

For example, say I’m shopping for childcare.  If the caregiver has spikes sticking out of her nose, eyebrows, and ears, is wearing goth makeup, and has on a black cloak with thigh-high leather boots… well, I don’t think that’s the person I’m going to leave my kid with.  She may be the greatest caregiver in the world, but that’s not the perception she’s giving me.

I just mentioned makeup above.  Makeup can be very important, as well as hair.  If you look tired and unkempt, then no one is going to think you can handle their business.  If you can’t take care of yourself, how are you going to take care of them?

I’m not saying that you always have to put on your best face.  To be honest, I like people who are real – you know, the ones that can admit to having a bad day every once in a while.  

Can I do a photo shoot in jeans?  Sure, depending on the client.  Do I have to wear makeup?  Again, depends on how well I know the person.  

BUT, if I’m wearing jeans or going sans makeup, it’s because I’ve already established a relationship with that person and they know, regardless of my appearance, that I am a great photographer.  That relationship probably took months and months to cultivate.  And I guarantee, I started it wearing makeup and slacks.  

There’s nothing wrong with you being yourself.  Unique style can make you memorable and help the perception of your business, especially when you are in a business that needs to keep up with the times.  

Before you step out the door, though, think about what you would think of a person that looks like you today, selling what you are trying to sell.

Would you buy from yourself?


Read the Comments +

  1. Gale Paige says:

    This is so true. I am often asked about this very thing with regards to networking. As much as I would like to tell my clients to "be themselves" they just can’t. People like to be around people that look like them. It’s called adapting to your target audience and it is vitally important.
    Great article Aliyah! Thank you for sharing your wisdom with us. You rock!

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