You Can’t Control What People Think So How Do You Control Your Brand?

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.

Reputation “Fixing”

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.

Kerry McDuling

About Kerry McDuling

Kerry McDuling is a publicist and Director of her own public relations and publicity consultancy McDuling PR and exposure speciality business, Stratosphere Me – building brands and developing profitable business opportunities for companies, authors, speakers, and entrepreneurs.

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  • Great article. I love the key points at the end of the post that give people actual ways that they can implement the truth of your post into their own brand.

  • Excellent article Kerry! Branding is so important! Plus it takes years to build your reputation – and someones only minutes to destroy it!

  • That is a really interesting and thought provoking post. Its amazing how some places can have perceptions that are totally different from the reality. You’ve got me paranoid now about what people might be saying about Motivating Mum. Time to work on my image…

  • This is a good article showing how a simple mention of Holland can actually give people different perception just based on their immediate knowledge of that place. The same goes for everything else really.

    • Hi Ted, thanks for the feedback. What image was always placed in your head, out of interest, about this beautiful country?

  • Kerry,

    Thank you. I don’t know if I have much of an Internet reputation just yet but I have tried to be as “business” as possible. But for some reason, even though I don’t talk about my kids, husband or personal life much, I have been labeled as a “mom blogger”. This means people expect to see me talking about being a mom on my blog. I very rarely do that. I relate being a mom to working at home. But online my blog is business. I don’t know if I will even shake that.

    I do love how you stated “Try to look at your business from the outside in”. I am going to try and work at my branding from that perspective. Instead of how I want people to see me, I’ll actually try to see how they already perceive me and my blog.


    • Hey Allie, thanks so much for your comment. I wonder what message you gave them in the past for them to perceive you as a mom blogger. Can somebody be only a mom blogger and not a blogger on any other topic of expertise? But then again, if your audience love you and relate to you the way they do, is it worthwhile changing? Very interesting questions. I would love to stay in touch with you throughout your journey.

  • Great article.

    Reminds me of an article I read where world famous violinist Joshua Bell performed incognito in a subway station in Washington DC on a violin worth millions but received little interest. 2 days before he played to a sold out theatre with the average seat being $100!

    It goes a long way in showing, as Kerry says, how peoples perception impacts value and of course what they are willing to pay.

    Thanks Kerry for the great actionable tips here.

    Allie in your comment people you say people see you as a mum blogger! I think this could be beneficial for you as it sounds like they feel connected to you. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to drop a few comments about your struggles and successes as a mum blogger as it may help your readers know like and trust you

    • Kerry McDuling

      Hey Nick, thanks for your comment and I love your example. Amazing! Good advice to Allie too!

  • Oops I accidentally clicked publish before I got to add that that there is heaps of evidence to show that people are more willing to buy from you when they know, like and trust you.

    Good luck!

  • Interestingly, say the word ‘Holland’ to me and I will think of windmills and tulips. Say the word ‘Amsterdam’ and I will think red light and cafes!
    Perception vs reality is one of the toughest things to understand and control, but I definitely agree with you that the brand needs to try and steer the conversation their way rather than accepting their fate.

    • Kerry McDuling

      Thats true Emma. When you are aware of that, its easier to make it happen.

  • Great article. I really like the important points at the end of the post . Thanks !

  • Great one Kerry! Branding is definitely an important factor in business. It may be good or bad. Of course you would want to stick with your strategies that could bring good reputation and fix things that gives you a bad reputation…Great keypoints about reputation fixing.

  • Thanks for the useful tips! It can really help you improve the image of the brand. Your blog is truly interesting and very helpful, too. Thanks a lot for always sharing your ideas.

    • Kerry McDuling

      Hi Exreme John! Thanks for your comments. Tell me about you – your name and gravatar image has created all sorts of interesting perceptions for me!

  • Great analogy about Holland. I know exactly what you mean. Mrs Jason and I went there a few years ago, got plenty of nudge nudge wink wink but loved the canals, shops and museums.

    Perception is difficult. Once an idea is in people’s heads it’s difficult to get it out again. And the same for business perceptions, which is why it is important to get a good reputation from the start – and that’s down to you!

    • Kerry McDuling

      Good point Jason about getting a good idea in someone’s head from the word go. This is why business’ rebranding or changing their identity in some way often have a challenge.

  • Great post once again.
    You always are on the edge of thinking outside the box and very clever.

  • I really enjoyed this article, it made me want to visit Holland (and not the seedy parts of the underbelly!) 🙂
    It sounds like a great place, and since I speak a bit of Dutch I might fit in.
    I like the way you tied it all together at the end, especially the unfortunate fact that if you deny something vehemently, you often just fuel the fire.
    Nice one.

    ~ Rory

    • Kerry McDuling

      Hey Rory, thanks for your comments particularly about fuelling the fire. What is news today, tomorrow is the bottom of a bird cage (newspaper).
      How did you come to speak Dutch?

  • Funny, We were discussing about the top major global brands, and most of them have built their names over the year, but for a local business a brand is an important as for a major global firm. Its the way you position your image, how you want others to see you and to think of you. yes you cannot control what people say, but you can control the way you portray yourself and what image you give of yourself.
    Great article, makes you think the importance of a brand. Thanks.

    • Kerry McDuling

      Thanks Wasim and thanks for para-phrasing my article so well. Who were you discussing it with?

  • Great Article Kerry!
    I think you raise some good points (profound even) about how perception is what it is and you can only control so much.
    Reminds me of my favourite quote: “Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change” because really it all comes down to your attitude – or to relate to this post, you can only control your side of things – so do it bloody well!

    • Kerry McDuling

      Love it Alex – can I have permission to reuse your quote because its so true. Tell me more about yourself and your business.

      • Permission granted 🙂
        I’ll pop over to your blog and introduce myself formally.

  • Hi Kerry, really thought provoking article. Especially loved the points at the end; they brought it home and made it possible for actual steps to be taken. Reputation is crucial for those in my line of business. Anyone who offers services cannot afford to ignore reputation management and with the internet and social media, ORM has become even more relevant.

    • Kerry McDuling

      Hi Sharon, thanks for your insightful feedback. Let me know if there are any other tips I can provide – I am passionate about this topic!

  • Seth Godin calls it ‘the purple cow’ – determining what sets you apart from the rest. I really enjoyed this post Kerry. I too must admit that I have never been to Holland but when I hear of it, the thoughts of the red light district and smoking cafes does come to mind. Yes, we all know that sex sells – but good marketers do not need to stoop to such levels and compromise their brand to make a few bucks. Knowing your target customer and addressing their concerns with fresh ideas and solutions has always been my primary focus.
    Very thought-provoking read. Thank you.
    Sally O’Connor

  • Your Holland perception story reminds me of that popular saying.. bad news travels 10x the speed of good news. And yet, according to the media, no news is bad news! lol

    • Kerry McDuling

      Hey Sally, thanks for your comments and glad you enjoyed the post. You are right, businesses need to be very clear about their guidelines when it comes to how far they will go for attention. And that depends on the audience and industry. There is such a thing as bad news, most definitely! Thanks again Sally.

  • The old saying “Our perception is our reality” is very true. How we are perceived is very important and our personal and professional reputation will always precede us. People purchase from people they like so having a good reputation is vitally important.

    • Kerry McDuling

      That is very true Chris and something to consider when posting on facebook too! 🙂 Technology is moving faster than we can process the implications of it.

  • Excellent article Kerry! Branding is so important! Plus it takes years to build your reputation – and someones only minutes to destroy it!

    • Kerry McDuling

      Thats true Sudha! Thanks for the comment.

  • Nice post Kerry,
    I have been to Holland and you are absolutely right that those who haven’t want to talk about the controversial places but those that leave a lasting impression are the tulip fields. I really miss those.

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