How to See Yourself (as others see you)

Companies spend fortunes trying to figure out how the world sees them. Smart. A business that lacks self-awareness is as doomed as a person who lacks self-awareness.

Now comes a study that may allow people to create more accurate pictures of their own brands without waiting for the consultants to report out. Or when budgets don’t allow for market studies.

First, remember that a company is comprised of people. In fact, a company’s image is a reflection of the people inside. Our image of Enron—in success and disgrace—reflected our image of the people who ran the company.

With that in mind, try this: cast yourself one year into the future. What would your future self say about your brand as it stands right now? No spin. In a study by Tal Eyal and Nicholas Epley, casting yourself into the future and looking back at your present self more accurately reflects how others see you right now.

In the study, 106 participants were asked to guess how others in the group would rate their attractiveness. Half of the subjects guessed by putting themselves in their raters’ shoes. The other half used the future-self technique. The results were stunning.

The half who put themselves into others’ shoes performed miserably. There was no correlation between the guess and the actual ratings. The half who used abstract thinking to look at their present selves through the lens of their future selves performed better:

[W]hen participants thought about their future selves, a technique that encourages abstract thinking, suddenly people's accuracy shot up. They weren't spot on, but they did much better. A further experiment confirmed these findings in general evaluations, suggesting this effect wasn't restricted to attractiveness.

Since people run businesses, this technique should work for brands as well. Try it. Mentally leap forward six months or a year. Write down your perceptions of your brand from that perspective.

There’s no way to perfectly understand the market’s view of your brand, but this appears to be the most accurate self-appraisal you can get. And it's free.