“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 once spoke at a film camp for high school students on the topic of social justice and social media. I challenged the campers to take my eyes beyond what I could see 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. This power can launch us forward or it will hold us back because some frozen perceptions are true, while many are not.

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

In politics, a candidate will seek to define their opponents before his opponents even define themselves. This sets the frozen perceptions that stick in potential voters’ minds about the opponents in hopes of swaying voters toward the candidate in the end. In the 1988 elections, vice president candidate Dan Quayle was touted as a John Kennedy-like candidate, thus setting up a frozen perception by attaching his name to a name Quayle’s team felt would 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:

“Senator,” he said, “I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you are no Jack 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. To further my example of the frozen perceptions we all have, let’s return to the film camp I initially mentioned where I shared a story about a friend of mine.

With the students at the film camp, I sought to take them to a place only their eyes had seen…

He was a tough looking, but old and weary man in his early fifties wandering around downtown looking for a place to sleep and eat and asking for the occasional handout. This man had once spent nineteen of his years behind bars.

At this point, I stopped and asked: What do you see? The general census from the students: Bum, lazy, worthless

I continued my story… 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 mother. By the time he was twelve years old, he was often times locked in a trailer in his backyard for 2-3 days without  food. This launched him into a life in search of significance and trusting nobody. He was completely devalued at an early age by his own family. Living a life with no family and no sense of value led to a life of survival.

I stopped and asked: Now what do you see? Take my eyes there, and in doing so you unlock 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. From marketing campaigns to hot topic current events, the perceptions we carry as consumers are being vied for. In using social media, you have the ability to identify what frozen perceptions society has towards your cause, issue, or brand. You can use social media to subtly unlock those frozen perceptions or reframe them in a way that shifts your community’s viewpoint.

In doing this successfully, you can essentially unlock that which has kept your audience from taking action. Unlocking frozen perceptions can propel a person forward by defining what he/ she is seeking to champion, or stop someone taking action based on what he/ she thought was truth.

Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) in Malaysia encountered a major problem when some of its employees at one location decided to tamper with the food and film it. Though corporate had been tipped off on the situation and had completed an internal investigation, turning over all evidence to the police, someone still leaked the video to YouTube. A frozen perception immediately took hold as a large outcry from the public ensued. Though this was an isolated event, and the employees had been dealt with legally, the public believed that if event happened at one location, it could happen at all locations.

The situation began to establish a frozen perception in the minds of the public towards the entire company. KFC Malaysia quickly reacted by utilizing social media tools to address the issue head-on. They quickly set up a landing page on their wildly popular Facebook page which included a written apology, frequently asked questions about the issue, and two videos in both their native language as well as English. On the video, the head executive of KFC Malaysia personally addressed the concern and apologized. This quick response using social media turned the growing tide of negative perception that KFC Malaysia food was unsafe. The company was able to break through the frozen perception and regain the trust of its customers. They even gained additional followers and fans along the way!

We all have frozen perceptions and so does your customer. Break through those perceptions as fast as you can to gain your customer’s trust and ultimately their business.

Questions to Ponder:

1) What are some frozen perceptions you have about the social media industry?

2) What frozen perceptions might consumers have about your industry? Your company?

3) Brainstorm some ways you could break those frozen perceptions and earn your customer’s trust.