Greed is Good, But It’s Got Nothing On Perception

“Money itself isn’t lost or made, it’s simply transferred from one perception to another.” – Gordon Gekko

I just saw the movie Wall Street for the first time this weekend. I guess everybody knows the famous scene in the movie where Gordon Gekko, a corporate raider played by Michael Douglas says, “Greed, for the lack of a better term, is good.” But this is not the main speech that Gordon Gekko gives. And I believe greed is not the bad guy in the movie, it is perception.

Let me explain. At the climax of the movie, Gordon Gekko is asked how much is enough and he responds by saying, “It’s not a question of enough, pal. It’s a zero sum game, somebody wins, somebody loses. Money itself isn’t lost or made, it’s simply transferred from one perception to another.” He gives the example of one of the paintings on his wall and how its value is based solely on perception. The main plot of the movie is about how a young stock broker is tricked by Gordon Gekko into helping him steal an airline company away from its shareholders. They do this by artificially adjusting the perceived value of the stock. In fact, the value of stocks is based solely on perception. Therefore, the value of a company is based solely on perception.

But it doesn’t end there. As another character in the movie points out, our money is no longer based on the gold standard. That means that the value of the cash in your pocket is based entirely on perception (at least the value of gold is in some part based on supply). That’s why the Federal Reserve can give out trillions of dollars. Because when it comes down to it, its just paper and they can print as much as they want (as long as they can maintain the perception that the money is worth something). Many experts have even stated that the current recession is entirely about perception because the banks have money to lend, they are simply afraid to lend it. So your dad or aunt got laid off from their job simply because of a bank’s perception of risk. Your perception may be that there must be a much better explanation to the current economic crisis. This is because everything you see on TV leads you to believe there is much more to it than that. To make it even scarier, if the TV or our president said that our entire economy is based solely on perception and that our money had no real value, the effect on our economy would be devastating. It would be akin to treason against our country (so for god’s sake, let’s keep this between you and me!).

What does this have to do with marketing? Everything. The reason you win or lose a proposal is based entirely on perception. Ever lose a proposal to a firm that sucked? Well, that wasn’t the perception of the person awarding the job. Proposals are awarded based on perception. The value of your firm’s work has nothing to do with whether or not you did a good job. The value is measured by whether your client thinks you did a good job. I fear that marketers focus a little too much on reality (believe it or not), when they should focus more on the client’s perception. Because as Gordon Gekko explains in Wall Street, the only reality is perception.

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