This post by James D. Roumeliotis and Violetta Ihalainen of Whitefield Consulting, absolutely challenges my worldview as an unabashed meritocrat, but includes some fascinating points – particularly that absolute (objective) quality is far less important for consumers in their decisions about brands than perceived quality.
As the authors explain, “perceived quality” is your customers’ view of the quality of a product or service both in terms of what they expect and also in comparison with how they perceive the quality of competing offerings. That means “perceived quality is defined as a measure of belief”.
So – if consumers believe you are the best, then you are. Regardless of the measures you may put in place. Regardless of what the critics might say. Or the awards you may have received.
For those of us who believe in the power of intangibles, this makes complete sense on reflection but it also contrasts with how we probably believe quality should work – or tell ourselves it does work. “Why can’t they see that our goods are better?” is a question I get asked a lot.
Quality doesn’t speak for itself. It speaks to each consumer in their own particulat way, and the authors quote the great David Aaker, one of my favourite brand thinkers, to explain why.
According to Aaker, perceived quality is generated by each buyer’s perception of up to seven elements. In evaluating these quality elements, consumers literally make up their mind about whether what you’re saying matches the qualities they’re seeing. Just as importantly, these elements are how they decide to choose your qualities over the qualities of others:
If it’s a product, Aaker says your customers evaluate on:
3. Conformity with specifications
7. Fit and finish
If it’s a service, Aaker says your customers make quality decisions based on:
My sense is that further qualifiers then endorse the feeling of perceived quality through inclination – things like the shopping experience, reputation, overall market presence.
In short, people buy when they believe in the value of what they are getting and their focus is drawn away, through critical factors like perceived quality, from the plethora of options available in the market to the one or two products that ‘feel like them’. The challenge for each of us as marketers is to do that in ways that work quickly and profitably and that engage powerfully.