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Marketing Communications Noise and Perception pt 1 of 4

Brand Management

by Kenneth Rudich

In business as in life, communications among people can be imperfect due to interference from noise.

Experts in the field of communications tend to use the term noise in the broader sense of the word – anything that might inhibit or sabotage the intended outcome of the communication.  In this sense, noise can appear in different forms.  It might be physical noise, such as loud music or a jackhammer in the background while talking with someone; it could be semantic, such as a conflict between the sender and the receiver in misunderstanding the meaning of words; or it can be internal noise, where one participant may not be able to understand the inside of the mind of the other participant.

Whenever it occurs, which is nearly all the time in one degree or another, noise operates as an impediment.  Instead of achieving a shared perception between the sender and the receiver, as is the commonly agreed upon purpose of most communications, the message becomes prone to getting garbled, misconstrued or completely lost.

Noise in any form of communications, including business and marketing communications, can be a prelude to disaster.  But it doesn’t have to follow that it neccessarily will.  Sometimes you can get away with it.  Insofar as effective communications is more about perception than reality, it can in some cases still be achieved despite the intrusion of noise.  For instance, has anyone ever told you something which didn’t make sense in terms of how they actually said it, but you still understood what they were trying to convey? 

On the other hand, that kind of outcome is probably more the exception than the rule.  Continuous noise in communications is more apt to undermine the process and stir unwanted consequences.  Because of that, every attempt must be made to minimize it as much as possible.  

In this three part series, we’re going to explore two completely different sides to the concept of noise as it intersects with perception.  In part 1, we’ll offer an illustration of how perception can overcome noise in a seemly implausible way; we describe it as “inadvertently getting it right.”  In part 2, we’ll furnish an example of how even subtle noise can easily disrupt the communications process; we characterize it as “inadvertently getting it wrong.”  Lastly, part 3 will look at the ramifications of parts 1 and 2 for business and marketing communications.  More specifically, what to be aware of when trying to avoid the damaging effects of noise. 

Communications Uninterrupted

The human cranium is home to an intriguing apparatus.  It can be outright impressive and downright unimpressive all at the same time.  Let’s look at an example of the impressive.

To begin, look at the paragraph below. Can you read what it says?

I cnduo’t bvleiee taht I culod aulaclty uesdtannrd waht I was rdnaieg. Unisg the icndeblire pweor of the hmuan mnid, aocdcrnig to rseecrah at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno’t mttaer in waht oderr the lterets in a wrod are, the olny irpoamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rhgit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it whoutit a pboerlm. Tihs is bucseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey ltteer by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Aaznmig, huh? Yaeh and I awlyas tghhuot slelinpg was ipmorantt! See if yuor fdreins can raed tihs too.

As you can see, all the letters have been jumbled (mixed up).  Only the first and last letter of each word is in the right place.  Other than that, it is full of noise in the form of rampant misspelling.  And yet, despite this voluminous amount of noise, researchers at Cambridge University have found most people are able to read it.  Somehow, magically and remarkably, the average human mind is capable of turning this imperfect communication into something that makes sense – to in effect get it inadvertently right.  (This phenomenon is also known as the “automation of reading.”  In the event you’re having trouble with the above passage, we’ve provided a proper rendering below).

Marketing Communications Just for Fun

On the surface, this capability may appear as always naturally good.  But like anything else in communications and life, it can cut both ways.  In part 3, we’ll venture to show an unfavorable outcome that may have resulted in part from this capability.  For now, let’s look at a potentially good possibility.

Just for fun, imagine using this knowledge in marketing, maybe by fashioning a creative piece to arouse customer attention and make the brand more memorable by offering something novel to see.  For instance, what if the following sign was placed at the check-out counter of a coffee shop:

Can you read this?

Seccussllufy raednig tihs sgin etntiles you to riceeve a fere scnoe wtih yuor bavreege parchuse. Raed it auold to the cehckuot csaheir to cialm it.  Hvae a wnodreful day!

In the event you couldn’t read either of the above, here are both paragraphs after they’ve been properly rendered.

I couldn’t believe that I could actually understand what I was reading.  Using the incredible power of the human brain, according to research at Cambridge University, it doesn’t matter in what order the letters in a word are, the only important thing is that the first and last letter be in the right place.  The rest can be a total, mess and you can read it without a problem.  This is because the human mind does not read every letter by itself, but the word as a whole.  Amazing, huh?  Yeah and I always thought spelling was important!  See if your friends can read this too!

Successfully reading this sign entitles you to receive a free scone with your beverage purchase.  Read it aloud to the checkout clerk now to claim it.  Have a wonderful day!

In part 2 of this series, we’ll look at an example how even subtle noise can completely disrupt the communications process.

Come back for part 2, won’t you?

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