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As consumers, we’d like to think we make all our decisions based on logic: which product is objectively the best or which company will provide the highest quality service for the least amount of money spent. The truth is, whether consciously or not, studies show that we as human beings most often make decisions based on how we feel.

When it comes to marketing, therefore, perception is reality. If your target audience sees your hospital as outdated and rural, they’re going to drive 15 minutes past your facility to the provider they see as higher quality, even if you actually uphold the exact same standards. They may even be consciously aware that they would get the same quality service at your facility. But if another hospital seems more modern and well equipped to them — if they feel better about walking in those doors for whatever reason — they’re going to choose it every time, even if their assumptions are not accurate. So even if your brand is great in practice, the feelings of your target audience toward your brand have to be positive as well if you want them to buy in.

The problem is, brands don’t often know why people are skipping over their product and moving on to another. Marketers often refer to the pie chart of decision-making, an illustration which indicates that we typically understand only about 50 percent of the motivations behind why people make purchasing decisions. Fortunately, market research can bring that percentage of unknown data down dramatically.

Market research can help a brand drill down and discover the actual perceptions their target audience has toward the company. How do they describe the brand? Why do they feel that way? What is preventing them from taking the actions the brand would like them to take? These questions can all be answered using market research. Sometimes a past experience with a brand can color perceptions. Sometimes hearsay or cultural assumptions determine a person’s attitude toward a certain brand. Regardless of the reasons behind their perceptions, uncovering the associations people make with a brand is crucial when it comes to determining how to better reach its target audience.

Once the perceptions are identified — whether they reflect truth about the brand or not — the company can decide whether or not those specific perceptions matter, what they’d like to change and how they are going to change it. If perception drives decision-making, understanding existing perceptions about your brand is essential to success, and market research is the best way to do it.

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