When customers buy your products, they purchase much more than physical objects. Successful marketing involves building a brand with sensory and emotional triggers and then working daily to reinforce the image that your brand triggers in the hearts and minds of customers.

The consumer perception that can make or break your brand may be carefully cultivated through clever and effective advertising. Changes in consumer perception of brands can also spring seemingly out of nowhere, as when the Hush Puppies shoe brand became a fad during the '90s with little engineering from the company itself.

Whether your company has painstakingly fostered customer perception or had the great fortune to unwittingly benefit from it, the importance of your brand's reputation should never be underestimated.

Importance of Marketing and Action

Successful marketing is a process of reaching out to customers through advertising, selling strategies and the product itself to create an impression that inspires loyalty. However, that impression is unlikely to endure unless you work hard to maintain it. The outdoor apparel company L.L. Bean has a return policy of replacing any product that a customer returns for any reason, regardless of how long it has been worn. This policy surely costs the company extra when unscrupulous customers choose to take advantage and return items that have been worn for a considerable period of time. Over the long term, though, this legendary return policy has worked to the company's advantage by building trust and extraordinary loyalty.

Influence of Negative Perceptions

Negative consumer perceptions can be at least as powerful as positive ones especially in the era of social media when stories about companies' bad behaviors spread quickly and can have devastating repercussions. When United Airlines had a ticketed customer dragged off a flight in April 2017, the story spread through both social and mainstream media, creating a backlash from consumers who boycotted the airline and canceled credit cards affiliated with it. The negative publicity rippled among shareholders as well causing the company's price to plummet by $1.4 billion.

The Power of Referrals

Referrals are a powerful way to foster positive consumer perception because they often come about organically through customers telling their friends which products they buy and why they buy them. Because they come from customers rather than from marketing or advertising, referrals give your company genuine credibility. Referrals grow out of brand loyalty and generate additional loyalty to your brand. You can give customers incentives to make referrals such as by offering free products or services, but if you've done a good job fostering positive consumer perceptions, you'll get customer referrals whether or not you reward customers for them.

Your company's brand isn't only about what you want customers to see, it's also about how they already see you. Public perception can make or break a business today, making it the most valuable commodity you have in your sales and marketing arsenal.