Your Most Common Misperception

by | Brand Strategy, Marketing Leadership

Whether working with a client or hiring a new marketing team member, there is a single question that tells me most of what I need to know to help a client or hire a team member.

Before you read any further, write down the answer to these questions:

1. What is the most common misperception about your firm?

2. What is the most common misperception about you?

I’ll wait while you think about it, But don’t think too long. Write down the first thing that comes to your mind.


So, was the answer to the most common misperception about your firm something like:

    • we are just an accounting firm or just a design firm or just a project management firm or just a…
    • we only do taxes or only design collateral or only build schools or we’re only a VAR
    • we are too big or too small
    • we are too expensive or we only work with high-net-worth clients
    • we only work with small businesses or mid-sized business
    • we only work in the manufacturing or health sciences or car dealers
    • we are not strategic


Now let’s turn to you personally. What did you write down as the thing others most commonly misperceived about you?

    • You are a perfectionist
    • You micromanage
    • You can’t hit a deadline, budget or sales number
    • You’re thin-skinned.
    • You won’t get your hands dirty
    • You are just a designer, event manager, executive assistant
    • You’re too pushy or too timid
    • You don’t think strategically


I bet you enjoyed that. 😉

“What is the most common misperception?” is a trick question with two important elements. The first is that the question asks what you believe to be a MIS-perception, which tells me that you believe that the attribute is inaccurate or wrong. You don’t see yourself that way. The personal responses often have a twinge of negativity because, after all, they are MIS-perceptions and we human beings like to look at ourselves in the most positive light. Firms are made up of humans as well. Second, because you told me that it was the “most common,” I know that many people perceive your firm or you this way.

In reality, your response is NOT a MISperception. It is THE perception. It is the way that your firm or you portray yourselves. As a strategist, it indicates to me the gap between your firm’s current and desired brands. As a leader, it tells me your personality, how you interact with team members, your level of self-awareness, and whether or not you would be a good fit for my team.

READ: Are You Building the Reputation You Really Want?


Firms and people often confuse how we want to be perceived and how we actually are.

The first time I was asked the question in an interview, I fell right into the trap and learned a lot about myself. As firms, we see ourselves as industry leaders, thought leaders, strategic thinkers, C-level consultants, and trusted advisors. As individuals, we like to think that we are collaborative teammates, born leaders, super salespeople, strategic thinkers, honest, and irreplaceable human beings.

Each of these self-perceptions is the prerequisite for actually becoming that person. However, if not achieved with virtue, they can lead to negative behaviors if we become obsessed with looking good, winning or oblivious to others needs.

Reflect on your answers in this little exercise. Then, take what you’ve learned and use it to help your firm, your practice leaders, partners, AND yourself be more successful.

Be prudent.


About the Author

Jeff McKay
Founder & CEO
Prudent Pedal

As a strategist and fractional CMO, Jeff helps firms set smart growth strategies in motion. He was the SVP of Marketing at Genworth Financial, the Global Marketing Leader at Hewitt Associates, and held senior roles at Towers Perrin and Andersen. Learn more.

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