(If you cannot watch the whole talk, watch between minute 16:00-17:14)
Rory Sutherland, in his Ted Talks speech Perspective is everything, makes a witty, insightful case for why perception of reality in the human psyche is just as important as reality itself. Among other compelling points he makes the argument that perceived value is just as important as actual value.
He shares an example of this phenomenon using the British postal system. People believed that first class mail only arrived on time 50-60% of the time, when in actuality it arrived on time 98% of the time. In an effort to combat this negative presumption, the mail service set out to improve their reality. They tried to raise the on-time delivery percentage to 99%, but “this effort almost broke the organization.” Sutherland argued, instead, they needed to change people’s perceptions. They needed to, first, educate people about the actual reality. Then, he suggests, give them another frame of reference by telling them that British mail on-time delivery is better than the Germans’, because “generally if you want to make us happy about something, just tell us we do it better than the Germans.”
The powerful influence of perceived value is one of the reasons why voice of the customer is so important in new product development. Setting out to solve problems that your consumers don’t care about, even if you believe it will help them or improve reality, could ultimately end in failure. Instead, find out what their perception of reality is and either work to change it or operate within that frame of reference, so that your new products have just as much perceived value as actual value.