‘Perception’ and ‘Reality’ – which outweighs the other?

In your own organization, which of these two elements would you put greater emphasis on: 

1. Your efforts at building the client’s perception of what you’re offering them (Perception)
2. The actual quality/value of the deliverable that you’re selling (Reality) 

Please note that we all KNOW both are important. This question is not about dawdling in the middle of both concepts, its just a simple inquiry about which of the two carries a greater weightage in your opinion. 

Please refrain from diplomatic replies favoring both aspects- I would favor impulsive and partial answers that would state which of these undeniably significant terms is MORE important to you, and why. 

My pick  – Reality 

Having been in the marketing business for quite a few years, I’ve realized that impressions fade with time, and only concrete, tangible things stick around. Perception counts a lot more at the initiation phase of any endeavor, but is severely outweighed against concrete facts later down the road. So IMO, its better to ‘learn to walk’ before you ‘talk the talk’, as you’ll have to ‘walk the talk’ sooner than you expect.

I personally believe in ‘under-commit and over-deliver’, but most of my colleagues disagree with my approach, as it usually doesn’t get you the credit you deserve for your hard work, n it certainly wont make you a billionaire in a short span of time.


  • Tim Wolski

    I would say perception is more important to get the client and reality to keep the client.

  • Gary Nuttall

    The most effort should be applied to bring pereception and reality together. There should already be a close match on tangible items (e.g. solution is perceived as generating $200K and the reality should be an extra $200k in the bank). The challenge is with intangible items – e.g. customer service and quality improvements. The problem of perceived intangibles is twofold – firstly what’s perceived by you may be different to what’s perceived by your customer. Secondly what’s perceived may be disconnected from reality – so you may perceive your value has gained $200k for the customer but if there’s not that extra amount in the bank then there’s a problem.

  • Mark Hankins (startnow@flacorps.com)

    If I stand you on railroad tracks with a blindfold and noise canceling headphones, you will soon discover whether perception or reality is more important.

  • Josh Chernin

    Hi Zohaib,
    Trust is built ultimately on reality. We try to show our customers as much as possible…to be transparent.
    We try also not to under- or over-commit. We try to deliver what we promise.

  • Kristine Maveus-Evenson

    Excellent question! 🙂
    The adage is that perception IS reality. However, in the end what matters most is the reality, or the outcome.
    So, while it is important for your customers to perceive the value you bring, it is more important that in the end the reality matches the perception.
    Therefore, the adage of under-commit to over-deliver is more important. I agree with your approach.
    While it may not make you a billionaire, it does establish you as a person of your word.
    When I write proposals, for example, I focus on placing both tangible and intangible measures (e.g. metric measures such as traffic increases, anticipated conversion ratios, etc.) that I know we can realistically achieve. When we exceed those expectations, we can then look like the hero, which converts the perception to reality, and demonstrates the value we brought to the client.
    The key here is that we don’t provide measures and then let it ride out for months. We provide monthly updates, establish a secure page where clients can see progress on deliverables, etc. All of this “reminds” the client of what we have accomplished so there is a sense that we have meet the perceived outcome.
    One of the best ways you can establish your value in the mind of the customer (therefore meshing perception with reality) is to ask them what progress has been made. (It is also a GREAT way for you to get insight into real-life case studies!) As a former psychology major, you have to get the client to mentally acknowledge your efforts and see how they got from “there to here.”
    I keep saying this, but value — that is, having the client know what you do for them brings compelling value — far outweighs perception. And if you know how to eat and breathe value into all that you do, you’ll eventually make a name for yourself, while finding revenue making opportunities that your competition fails to uncover.
    Hope this helps!

  • Ray Cassick

    …because it IS reality.
    No matter what the REAL facts are, if the customers perceives something that is their reality. No arguments… They may be blind, they may be miss-informed but that is their reality and what they use as a base for their decisions.
    You want to win the hearts and minds of the customer then you need to alter their perception.

  • Dr. Jennifer Lupo

    I hate to say this about your question, but as a student of Philosophy you learn that perception IS reality. I won’t give the lecture on why this is true, most people understand this concept internally.
    Now to rephrase your question since you are curious about what is important to ME (my reality/perception) I have to go with #2. That is because I have a problem called, honesty, morals and values. I will not, to use a cliche, be a used car salesmen and set false expectations of what I deliver.
    I partner with my clients to fully understand their needs and I tell them what is possible or doable in the time frame we have for the budget we have. If I am good at my job, I can get across the reality of what I provide and how it will meet their needs. I stick to the actual deliverable — after all it will speak more for me than any words or promises.
    Hope this answers your question.

  • Talha Bin Hisaam

    the answer is conditional man. but if you want it in black and white, emphasis will be on perception.
    it is the color called perception that paints a cavas called reality

  • James Penman

    The most credible answer is to do both equally. The efforts should not a zero-sum-game. Your efforts to improve and enhance product quality should be synchronized and align with strategy marketing and sales efforts. Real wealth is obtained from delivery valuable products over many, many years. Repeat customers are important to the revenue stream. Lack of forthright honest in sales and marketing efforts do not produce repeat customers. And repeat customers are the best sources of referrals and references to new customers. Don’t compromise either effort — do both. And the inability to do both is a sign that perhaps your organization is not strong, and may not grow in the long-term.
    In my personal opinion only…

  • Mahlaqa Saeed

    sadly the Pakistani environment is all about perception aka shaskha (though i prefer the term tashan more ever since the movie ;). everyone likes to feel important, thus, people tend to portray rosier pictures than the reality to please the ego of their counterparts. however, i personally believe that false perceptions dont last long-one day the curtain falls and your bluff is called. reality is what we should aim for because success lies in being real, true and sincere.

  • Sandra Palmer

    There is no reality Zohaib. There is only perception. This question is biased.
    However, as “perception” in your view deals with the value customers anticipate before they buy, you must get that right because otherwise you’ll have no customers or not the ones you want.
    In this superficial day and age, under-committing is out of fashion. Do what you say you will do, and do it well. Every client will have their own perception, i.e.version of reality. Some will always be hard to please no matter what you do, therefore make the most of those who are easy to please and want their expectations met. If you manage to slightly exceed them in a way that’s extremely valuable to them, they will be your client for life, but do not be too modest, you’ll lose out.

  • Gregory Roll

    Hmmm. Such stringent guidelines. HA.
    The logic (formula) for me is rather straight forward: perception drives our sense of a reality. While we formulate our opinions, make judgments and take action based on our (perceived) sense of reality, we are ultimately being managed — by external forces (branding, for example) and internal ones (how we respond to things such as branding) — by perception.
    Let’s take a step back from what might turn into a branding and marketing trajectory (with apologies for my own contributions to setting us on that path) and look at all of human existence: the realities of the world were present from day one; our perceptions of the world (and our place in it, the universe, etc.) continue to evolve to this day.
    Over the span of this history, then, it has been our perceptions that have changed and have allowed for us to survive.
    I’d put that as a significant check mark in the win column for “Perception.”
    Returning to the business-centric query that Zohaib has put to us, please consider the links (URL), below.
    For the record, I view perception and reality as not being discretely separate, but as being interwoven, where perception drives our sense of reality, this new (sense of) reality informs our perceptions and the cycle continues. Fearful that Zohaib will be mad at me for this, ha, accuse me of hedging or, worse, of being diplomatic, my bottom line, one word answer here would be: “Perception.”
    Thanks, Zohaib.
    * http://de.scientificcommons.org/29671335
    * http://harvardbusinessonline.hbsp.harvard.edu/b02/en/common/item_detail.jht


    If you’re hired then Reality is important and weighted more than Perception and if you’re being considered one of the options then Perception is more weighted than Reality.
    So basically it depends on situation and frankly speaking reality is the ultimate outcome which gives you life time customers.

  • Sam Makhoul

    To the customer, perception is always reality. We need to constantly understand, improve, and manage the customer’s perception of our product and/or service.

  • Edwin Huertas

    I think building a strong client base will take more than perception. If you have a bad product you just cannot build a good following the way you can if you offer goods/services that are of top value to the customer.
    There’s no reason you can’t build up the perception of a product/service, but in my opinion, if you want ‘return’ customers and you want folks to recommend you or your product, you must first start with a quality offer.
    Tricking a customer into buying something because they perceive it to be ‘good’ is not a good tactic.

  • Toby Younis

    Perception. It’s the key to unlocking the doors, and entering the room of reality.

  • Peter Milburn

    Perception.Here’s why:
    Keeping this in the sales/marketing context, it’s pretty common to develop different brands/offers around the same basic product. For example, GM sold cars using the same basic frame (chassis) under different brand names to different demographics using different marketing. The reality is that they were the same basic car. The perception of the consumer was that one they were unique and distinct — and almost every car manufacturer including the Japanese do that.
    And Fallon (the big ad agency) shows clients a presentation deck on branding that at one point used the example of BMW. The car is a status car and primarily bought for that reason. It is marketed as a high-performance car (“the ultimate driving machine”) because BMW knows that if you say “buy the ultimate status car” it wouldn’t work as well.
    And in the beer market, is taste really the reason people consume one product over the other? You can also get into arguments about what aspect of a product is “real” — people who pay a lot for a meal tend to think it tastes better.
    A lot of the above comments are about selling technology solutions. It may indeed be that in that market steak is more important than sizzle. On average, across a range of markets and products, I think perception still has the upper hand. But almost all comments here add important nuance, especially about perception IS reality and perception being more important on the front end.

  • Martin Thomas

    perception every time. i find the ‘under commit and over deliver’ ethos rather annoying when I’m on the receiving end to be frank. i prefer accurate predictions on performance from my suppliers as it makes planning easier. but that’s a different question.
    if you want tangible proof of how perception is more powerful than reality look to a brand that has either lost its reputation or has a poor one and wants to improve how people think of it.
    there is a huge lag between actual performance and perceived performance. ie you need to be good for a long time before people begin to believe it.
    a concrete example? Skoda in the European car market comes to mind.
    or the 30 years it took Japanese electronics companies to be perceived as Quality rather than cheap and cheerful…

  • Gianluigi Cuccureddu

    I say perception, for the reasons that many others already stated in their answers.
    It’s a kind of servqual quality gap between expectations and experience, which can be related to reality.
    With the transparency created by the Internet, people must adhere even more to perception and reality, because in many cases it simply can be shared/experienced by many.

  • Nick Argall

    Reality. Because the truth comes out eventually, and if you’ve inflated perceptions of your value, then not having a reality to back it up will destroy your image forever. Whereas having ‘reality without perception’ makes you look like someone worth dealing with, even if it does make you less money.

  • Tommy Fristedt

    Hello Zohaib,
    Thank you for posting an interesting and very good question.
    I enjoy reading all good answers.
    My answer is that it is up to YOU to choose what you want to make most important.
    My advice is to make sure you choose well.
    Let me paint a background for you.
    I think we all realize that different people have different personal perspective, and from that personal perspective they build their personal picture of their reality.
    One person can perceive the extreme perspective of “everyone is for themselves and short term revenue is what I’m measured upon. I make a lot of money playing my business game, so all is well”.
    Another person may perceive the other extreme perspective of “we are all in the same industry and on the same market, so I’m working long term towards developing products with true and market leading end-user value, to maximize my revenue”.
    Both are doing the only right thing according to their own personal perspective.
    Both have the opportunity to make a lot of money if they are good at what they do.
    So, who do YOU choose to work with, and why?
    Anyone blessed with a broader, deeper and more detailed perspective than average person has the power of knowledge.
    This gives freedom to choose what to do with that knowledge.
    Is this easy? No it’s not.
    The bad news is that knowledge about more details does not make it easier when communicating with others or when making decisions, there is just more details to consider and more aspects to try to make others to understand and hopefully accept. Very few like to be proven wrong, and it may be wise to make sure that no one that you consider important are threatened by what you say.
    The good news is that the knowledge enable YOU to make knowledgeable choices. There is opportunity in finding those that are open to what you want to say.
    To do this it may be a good practice to find out perceived perspective and perceived values before anything else. From that knowledge, you may choose the customers that you want to work with, as well as chose what and how you want to tell them.
    Good Luck!

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