“Perception is strong and sight weak. In strategy it is important to see distant things as if they were close and to take a distanced view of close things.” – Miyamoto Musashi, Swordsman and Philosopher (1584-1645)

I recently spoke at a film camp for high school students on the topic of social justice and social media.

In this, I challenged the campers to take my eyes past that which my eyes have seen with regards to the story they were seeking to tell with their camera.

In positioning this discussion there, I was able to submit to them the power of the frozen perception. In this, it can launch us forward or it will hold us back. Some frozen perceptions are true, while many may not be true.

”Frozen Perceptions” is a term of art that describes ingrained perceptual biases, which close a personʼs mind from “hearing” the benefits of a product, service or other proposition. – Joel Tucciarone

In politics, opponents often times seek to define their opponents before their opponents even define themselves, therefore setting frozen perceptions that will stick in potential voters minds about their opponent in hopes of getting their votes in the end.

To further my example of the frozen perceptions we all have, I shared a story about a friend of mine. To make my point, I only took the campers to a place only their eyes had seen.

It was of a tough looking, but old and tired looking man in his early fifties wandering around downtown looking for a place to sleep and eat along with the occasional ask for a handout. I also shared with them that this man had spent nineteen of his years behind bars.

At this point, I stopped and asked them a question…

What do you see?

Bum, lazy, worthless was the general census of the campers.

I then continued my story…

What if I now told you that when this man was seven years old, he began to be sexually abused by not just one family member, but all family members except for his mom. By the time he was twelve years old, he was often times locked up into a trailer in his backyard for 2-3 days without food.

This then launched him into a life in search of significance where he trusted nobody. Completely devalued by the ones who were his family from an early age, he launched into a life with no family, no sense of value, which led to a life of survival.

At this point, I stopped and asked a question about the first part of the story…

Now, what do you see?

Take my eyes there and in doing so, you will have unlocked the frozen perceptions we had towards this man walking down the street looking for food and a place to sleep. Perhaps, what he was really looking for was acceptance, sense of value, and an identity.

Frozen perceptions are everywhere and we all have them. Just turn on the TV or walk down the aisle at your local grocery store. Through marketing efforts and campaigns to hot topic current events, the perceptions we carry are being vied for.

In the 1988 elections, vice president candidate Dan Quayle was being offered up as a John Kennedy like candidate, therefore setting up a frozen perception by attaching his name to a name they felt would cross the aisle of political affiliation and gain them additional votes. Of course, in the debate with Lloyd Bentsen, that frozen perception was quickly dismissed with one famous line from Mr. Bentsen…

“I knew John Kennedy, and you are no John Kennedy.”

The art of frozen perceptions is often set up by the power of association with someone or something of a more positive, negative, successful, or unsuccessful reputation.

What I like about using social media in the midst of this dialogue is that you have the ability, when representing a cause, issue, or brand to identify what the frozen perceptions are that society has towards what you are representing and you can use social media to subtly unlock those frozen perceptions or reframe them in a way that shifts the viewpoint a community and/or society has towards them.

In doing this successfully, you can essentially unlock that which has kept someone from moving forward to become active, propel someone forward by defining that which they are seeking to champion, or stop someone from doing the same based on what they thought was truth.

Recently in Malaysia, KFC encountered a major problem. Some of their employees at one location decided to tamper with the food and film it. Though corporate had been tipped off on it and had completed an internal investigation turning over all evidence to the police, someone still leaked the video to You Tube.

Immediately a frozen perception had taken hold as a large outcry from the public ensued. Though this was an isolated event and the employees had been legally dealt with, the public began to believe that if this happened in one location, it could happen at all locations. It began to establish a frozen perception in the minds of the public towards the entire company and all locations.

KFC Malaysia quickly responded by utilizing social media tools to respond to the concern and address the issue head on. With this, they quickly set up a landing page on their wildly popular Facebook page that included a written apology, frequently asked questions about the issue, and two videos in both their native language as well as english where the KFC Malaysia head apologized and personally addressed the concern.

This quick response using social media was credited with turning the growing tide of the frozen perception taking hold that KFC Malaysia food was unsafe. Along the way, they even gained additional followers and fans for doing so.

Frozen perceptions, we all have them. So, how can we use the tools available to us to either establish them or reverse them?

* I want to thank long time marketing legend, Joel Tucciarone for introducing to me the concept of frozen perception in a small group think tank I had in LA once. It simply has changed everything for me.