I watched an old movie the other day (in fact it was a remake of an even older 1929 silent film). This 2002 version starred a young Heath Ledger as an officer at the time of Britain’s involvement in North African troubles during the 1880’s.

As a son of a British Officer Ledger’s character, Harry Feversham, had reluctantly become a soldier although never wanted to go to war. So when it was announced that his regiment was to set sail that week, Harry promptly resigned which resulted in him being labelled a “coward” by four of his closest friends, including his fiancé.

This all happened in the first 20 minutes of the film, with the balance focussing on the efforts of Harry to redeem himself by acts that he believed would force his critics to take back the feathers they had sent.

So how does this relate to marketing?  Ultimately how we are perceived is relevant in many walks of life.  In business, how a brand or company is perceived by its customers, or even the general public, ultimately impacts on its success.

The enormity of the effort undertaken by Harry in ensuring his targets altered their opinion of him is inspiring.

In marketing terms, this was essentially a repositioning exercise.  A big one!  In fact, it was crisis management.

The learnings for me were two fold.

Not only do you need to go to great lengths to change people’s perception, you need to do it by actions, not words.  For a company recovering from a situation of negative perception (or misconception) this means that, not only do you need to “talk the talk”, but you need to “walk the walk”.  Show consumers you mean what you say by demonstration of behaviour.  The best approach is more likely special programs, events, sponsorships that demonstrate goodwill, rather than simply communicating messages of good will.

Secondly, you need to believe within yourself what you are communicating externally. For a company with a staff of more one, this means communicating the belief to staff via internal comms.  As a business you need to believe yourself that you are not a coward, that in fact you are something different to what the perception of you is.  And this belief needs to come first.  Without this belief amongst ALL your staff, the goodwill can not be sincerely communicated to your external audience.

And for our character in this story, office Harry Feversham, I believe that whilst he felt incredibly compelled to regain the trust of his comrades, he was even more compelled by the need to restore his faith in himself and to truly believe he was not a coward so others would believe too.