I recently returned from a trip to Holland to visit my in-laws and the rest of my husband’s family who all live there. We hadn’t been there since just after we got married, about three years ago, so we were due a visit.
Because it has been awhile since we went, I completely forgot about the reaction we get from people when we go to Holland. It got me thinking about the implications of perception and what causes a person to form and share perception of someone or something.
Holland – The land of windmills and canals, or cannabis and red lights?
Here is what got me thinking. Whenever we mention to someone that we are going or have just been to Holland, we get a funny look, a bit of a nudge nudge, wink wink and some kind of remark about Amsterdam and “coffee shops” (ie, places you can buy and smoke marijuana!). This would happen almost every time over the years, and I was always surprised, because this was a very different Holland to the one I had come to know and love.
Sure, there most certainly are coffee shops and a red light district in Amsterdam, Holland’s largest city, and I have even seen them, but whenever I went to Holland, I would spend my time with my relatives where they live, in a little town about an hour south of Amsterdam.
We would spend our time shopping along the little canals in the picturesque town of Delft, renowned for its beautiful ‘Delft Blue’ pottery, drinking tea in little cafes on the historic square, enjoying some of the world’s best cheese and riding our bikes alongside green pastures, along with the rest of Holland.
My relatives and friends of my husband never spent time in coffee shops smoking marijuana and never went to Amsterdam either – now only a tourist Mecca for visitors from around the world determined to visit the Anne Frank House or Van Gogh museum. In fact, most of the people owning and running the coffee shops and red light district are not Dutch at all – they come from other countries, usually Eastern European, and can hardly speak a word of Dutch themselves.
The real Dutch, for example, my in-laws, would be surprised that the country’s reputation is focused almost solely on this very tiny percentage of its existence, rather than its awe-inspiring tulip fields, windmills that dot the country side, exciting cities like Rotterdam and The Hague, and iconic ‘appel taart’ (apple cake).
Perception – What Is It?
Coincidentally, my blog-colleague and new friend, Neroli Makim, recently talked about perception determining value in her article, “If Perception Determines Your Paycheck, What Are You (Really) Worth?“, and also shared a fantastic example of one of the world’s greatest classical musicians, and how public perception determined what he got paid.
There is no doubt that perception influences what people spend money and time on, and how much, but I was keen to discover why people formed a certain opinion or how they developed one perception over another.
Promotion – Does It Count?
Many businesses and individuals go to great lengths to promote a certain image or idea about themselves, all with good intention. Because in many cases, if you don’t promote yourself in a certain way, you are leaving it open for your audience to form their own opinion or perception of you, and it may not be favorable. If you don’t take any part in the forming of one’s perception, then it’s anyone’s game!
However, even if you do promote yourself, sometimes it is an entirely different perception that leaves a lasting impression. For example, the Dutch Tourism Board pitch the architecture and history of the cities and towns, the country’s nature and culture, and attractions including theme parks and museums.
When I visit the tourism website for Holland I see a lot of pictures of tulips and windmills, and of course Dutch clogs. No doubt there would be a small mention somewhere on the website that it is possible to visit coffee shops and smoke or ingest marijuana, but this is certainly by no means the focus of the promotional text or the website itself. So, if that is the case, why then does everyone immediately think of the Red Light District when you mention Holland?
Old Wives Tales Or Words Of Wisdom?
Sex sells, as does sensationalism and controversy. And, sure, the Dutch Tourism Board definitely does not want a reputation built on what is effectively only a very tiny part of the country’s reality, so how has the seedy part of its underbelly stuck so intensely in people’s minds?
Simply because sensationalism and controversy are more likely to be spoken about, and are more memorable. Holland is one of the only places in the world that has an infamous Red Light District, and therefore this is something unique. Everybody knows somebody who knows somebody who went, or saw something on TV or the Internet.
It’s interesting, because those people who have been to Holland themselves talk about the windmills, the museums, the bicycles. Those who haven’t are fixated on the drugs.
How can you ensure that what is remembered or spoken about when it comes to you or your business is indeed the truth or desirable?
Well, you can never be 100% sure, but here are some tips that will put you on the right path:
- Be different, unique and perhaps a little controversial (provided it is appropriate for your brand, business and/or clients). Try to look at your business from the outside in, and work out what is interesting or different about it. Then focus on that!
- Remember the importance of word of mouth promotion. Make it work for you by using social media, encouraging clients/members to talk about you and spread the word by giving them something of interest to talk about, like an exciting event or offer.
- If you go to great lengths to deny a rumour or promotion of a part of your business or reputation that you don’t believe should be the point of focus, you are just throwing fuel on the fire. Let it die down on its own. Focus instead on what you do want out there.
- Remember, you can never control exactly what is said about you. The best you can do is to be memorable, in a positive way or one that at least pique the curiosity of the public. In all the noise and confusion of everyday life, this is in itself, an achievement.