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Customers deserve more respect than marketers give them.

If there’s one cliche I’m tired of hearing from marketers, it’s:

Perception is reality.

No, it’s not. Basic human experience proves it: We know that mirages, optical illusions and other perception tricks exist. We train ourselves to see through them, because we must deal with the world as it really is. We always start with perceptions: but we’re capable of higher-order reasoning that keeps us from stupid moth-to-flame mistakes.

Yet this cliche persists. I wonder if those that believe it have a deep-seated disdain for their customers. One must think people awfully stupid. It takes a certain hubris to believe oneself immune from it, yet claim the public is easily duped. It’s why every time I hear this cliche, I wonder if I’m not actually watching it play out: A marketer who appears to know something which turns out to be only a tired bromide.

For example: Someone recently argued to me that the public didn’t know the difference between an online “portal” and a local real estate broker. Since online aggregators got more news, dominated web traffic and were easily recalled in polls, it was believed they held more cred in consumers’ minds. This assumption presupposed that consumers didn’t know the difference between a mere website and a trained professional – between popularity and actual outcomes. Well, ask WebMD about that: Their portal only made local doctors more valuable.

Ironically, some marketers don’t even believe their own hype: I seem to remember the CEO of a for-sale-by-owner website listed his own house with a local real estate brokerMarketing cred isn’t the same as a real track record.

Marketing professionals who still believe this inane phrase are merely fooling themselves, rather than perceive an important reality:

Today’s customers have x-ray vision. They can see through the hype.

They have plenty of online and mobile tools to investigate, analyze and pull back the curtain on marketing than ever before. They used to laugh, but now wrinkle their noses, when they see a mortgage ad on Facebook featuring a busty-beautiful-blond. Why?

Because they’re tired of being thought of as stupid cavemen who respond only to crude stimuli. 

Every time reality doesn’t match perception, customers feel cheated. They complain loudly when singers lip-sync on stage, expensive smartphones feel chintzy, and television interviews reveal experts who don’t actually know anything. Consumers practice with their x-ray powers every day; they detect hype long before clicking or placing an order.

Is it possible that consumers might perceive and believe a lie? Certainly, but nowadays it won’t last long. There are too many ways to to x-ray the  evil slime: Consumer Reports, Tripadvisor, Yelp, Facebook, Amazon reviews on every product. Perception-marketers don’t stand a chance. It’s a shame they even try.

Here’s my advice to marketers who believe they can win this game: Get reality. Stop promoting lies, half-truths or even slim truths. There is always a day of reckoning. Stop marketing to be the highest, most comprehensive, powerful, wonderful, amazing, largest anything if it’s only fleeting, momentary.  If you can’t sustain it, it will take one customer to ignite your your gas zeppelin.

Galileo proved centuries ago that wishing for a thing does not make it so. Stop trying to market your way to the center of the universe. Focus on what you have done, can do, will do, without sleight-of-hand. Consumers won’t stand for it, and will use their power to discover the reality of your claims, then bring you back down to earth, hard.

That’s the gravity of the situation, a constant that never changes.

It’s time for marketers to see consumers for they really are: Smart.