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Is Image Becoming More Important than Reality?

April 30, 2012 - Ernest Hohmeyer
We use to think that image is only important for movie stars and politicians. What does image have to do with the rest of us?

Everything – and it applies to anyone who uses social media from Facebook to a blog. How you present yourself may impact your ability to get a job or a visitor’s impression of our community.

What you say today, may come back to influence what people think long after you said it.

Quick to the Draw

As we grapple with all the information we receive on a daily basis we may be forming quicker perceptions of people, places and product.

To get anything done it seems, we rifle through information so we can make a decision. In many cases we gloss over content and attempt to come to an impression of what it means, as quickly as we can.

We need to because we want to move on to the next piece of information. This information can be business or personal but we are getting a lot of it and if we push a button we can get so much more and the cycle continues.

As ability to get information becomes faster it seems to be spilling over to other things in our lives. Is it just me, or do we not have the patience like we use too? It seems that we become annoyed more quickly when the store clerk can’t code the watermelon or the waiter does not greet you as soon as your hand reaches to open the door.

With our affinity to spend more of our day “communicating” behind the cyber bunker, are we becoming too prone to list our complaints to our “friends” and not the store owner or community official?

Certainly the rage of the day – all of these review sites – seems to be proliferating. And folks are no longer waiting to come back home to tell folks about their experience – they are doing it almost in real time.

What May all of this Mean?

• That first impression may become the most important part of someone’s experience

• If that first impression is the wrong one, you may be explaining yourself to the long-arm of the social media sheriff – and you may wish to consider “protocols” on how to do that.

• That once a perception forms, it may be difficult to change it for the rest of the experience – no matter what you do.

• That we may need to be clear on what image we are seeking to portray

• That this image may need to be managed – constantly

• That developing and re-enforcing this image should be a key part of your strategy.

First Impressions

There was an interesting story in the Wall Street Journal with a quote from Michael Damelincourt, general manager of the Trump International Hotel & Tower Toronto “If you lose them at the beginning, it is very hard to recover. In their mind they have decided it is a bad hotel.”

“Checking In? Hidden Ways Hotels Court Guests Faster” by Andrea Petersen considers the “first, crucial 15 minutes of their stay.”

First impressions are becoming so important that “some hotels train front-desk employees to glean information during their check-in chitchat that they can later use to impress guests.”

Other hotels such as Denihan Hospitality Group’s Affinia, have “hired a body language expert to train employees how to read travelers moods to help figure out the best greeting approach.” This training suggests “When talking to a frustrated man, stand to his side. With a woman, talk face-to-face.”

Hold on it gets more Bizarre.

Hilton Hotels Double Tree which has offered “warm chocolate chip cookies at check-in for 25 years” decided to “choreograph” how they serve this to “get as much mileage out of the cookie that you can.” They discovered that it was important to give out the cookies before guests paid for anything. No lie, they claim in this article that doing so has a bigger impact on “guest perception.”

The article goes on to give examples of “Doormen are trained to surreptitiously look at luggage tags and radio arriving guest’s names to the bellman and agents. That way, guests can be greeted by name, reservation details can be pulled up…”

The article concludes that the first 15 minutes includes a guest’s first impression of a room. This includes “lopsided lampshades, crooked desk pads.” “That sends a signal to the guest that something is not quite right and maybe the room is not so clean either,” according to Tim Terceira general manager at the Ritz-Carlton, Toronto. But wait, that’s only the beginning in this new battle of getting it right – right away.

Folks today are not even waiting to get home to review your business. They are contacting review sites such as TripAdvisor while they are checking in. “Now, with guests tweeting and posting Facebook updates about their vacations almost in real time, a bungled first impression can be immediately broadcast to hundreds – even thousands” the article concludes.

The New World of Image

The Harvard Business Review (HBR) ran an entire magazine, that’s right a magazine’s worth, on “Manage Your Image.” Their opening editorial caption read “The Power of Perceptions” where “You have control over how these basic components of your identity merge into a full-blown opinion that others form.” How you build a good reputation “all starts with a strong first impression whether that’s in the form of an elevator speech, a presentation at a meeting, or what a Google search turns up about you.”

But here is the thing that may be just as important: It is not a one-time thing. You need to constantly “manage your image, not only in these types of situations but also in you were more routine interactions with clients…”

And perceptions and image goes beyond is our store clean or how we look. It’s everything from how we conduct ourselves to what we post on-line.

There was a further article in HBR, “We Googled You” that discusses the debate on how employers should handle information they find out about you on the internet and if that should affect the job interview. Could it be that something we said in the past can create an image that may hurt your job interview?

Either way, many of us are creating an image to some degree that even advertisers are using to understand more about your “preferences.”

Managing Our Image

Re-enforcing that image or perception is an on-going task going beyond that initial contact. With everyone getting so much information you have to remind folks every opportunity you can about who you are.

You would think that the HBR article “Three Ways to Pitch Yourself in 30 Seconds” is all about first contact. It is not. “… your personal 30-second spiel about who you are, how you’re different, and why you’re memorable is arguably more important once you have landed that great position…”

In “Shape Perceptions of Your Work, Early and Often” Jeffrey Pfeffer writes “Here’s a big one: What matters is not so much what you do, but what people think you have done.”

He espouses an interesting theory here. “Perception becomes reality” and because of that “you ought to manage your image and reputation as well as your actual work.” “Perceptions” he claims “become self-sustaining” for 2 reasons:

1. “… People tend to assimilate new information in ways consistent with their initial perception.”

2. “… After people have formed an impression… they stop actively gathering new information.”

What are some of the ways we can “manage our image”? Many of our small businesses and communities often reflect the personality of their leaders. As such we can take advantage of the new world of “personal branding” and the new field of “identity management.”

Stayed tuned next week.


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