March 19th, 2008 - by Golgotha

As you walk into Starbucks the aroma of coffee brewing permeates your senses. Trendy music plays in the background with earth-tone painted walls, nicely lacquered wood and friendly baristas all help to create an inviting perception of quality and comfort.

Of course this is all by design – Howard Schultz, then CEO of Starbucks made a trip to Italy during which he visited some 500 espresso bars in Milan and Verona. He observed local habits, took notes on decor and menus, snapped photographs, and videotaped baristas in action. He was looking to create the right perception.

Now compare this to McDonald’s – what’s your perception of McDonald’s? Probably fast, convenient comfort food; who do you think would have a better cup of coffee, McDonald’s or Starbucks?

Perception dictates reality – Starbucks coffee tastes better because the consumer thinks it tastes better. But, a recent Consumer Reports found that McDonald’s coffee was actually better than Starbucks. That is the power of perception!

So when you start to build a website it’s imperative that you know the perception you want the website to present.

If you are developing a website for a client you need to learn how the company is currently perceived in its market. Are they seen as: conservative, progressive, friendly, formal, casual, serious, experts, humorous, service-oriented, professional or otherwise? Are they going to wish to strengthen this same perception through their website or are they looking to make a change?

What challenges are they facing getting their image across to customers? Or maybe they are doing a good job with this and you need to learn why they are successful so you can be equally successful with their website.

A company’s perception will impact the overall design of the website. Take GEICO and Allstate: they are both insurance companies, yet each conveys a different perception. The perception of GEICO, with its humorous speaking gecko and the “So easy, a caveman can do it” ads has a more relaxed feel than the Allstate insurance company with its more formal “You’re in good hands” ads. We might anticipate that the websites for these two insurance companies could be completely different even though they are in the same field.

Perception is powerful, it’s how we see things – not how they really are.

If you were to ask someone what they feel about the company after they have left the website, that’s the perception the site is giving off.

2 Responses to “The Perception of a Website”

1 Jayson

Great point. I’m sure a lot of Starbuck loyals disagree with the consumer report but…

I’ve never thought about it as perception, more just how I’ve wanted or I’ve thought that a site should look. I would expect Geico to have a fun site and would expect Allstate to have a more serious site and it’s all based on perception.

2 Rob O.

It’s a great point but the problem I have is in the difference between the feel I want to impart to my site versus the perception that my visitors have. That is, it’s rare that anyone will tell you if you’re missing the mark – after all, when was the last time you went into a store and complained to the manager that the ambiance is all wrong? You’re far more likely to simply not revisit the store than to actually give anyone in a position to make changes some feedback.

So, my question is – and this may be sorta rhetorical – how do you gauge what visitors think of your site? How can you be sure that the vibe you’re going for is really being picked up on by people hitting your URL?

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