"You only get one chance to make a good first impression."
We've all heard it. We all understand it. But, normally, we only think of this in terms of the impression we as individuals have the power to leave behind. But here's the thing - this is true for your business as well! I've started describing this to my clients as the "First Impression Syndrome" and NO business is exempt (dun dun dunnn).
At this point, the question to ask yourself is, “Is your first impression working for you or against you?” If it’s working for you then give yourself a pat on the back! If you’re not sure or don’t think it is, let’s figure out how to fix that.
I think the easiest way to think about this is to reverse the situation. Instead of focusing on what people think of your brand, think about your own assumptions of other companies.
Let’s start with a familiar scenario. Think about how you make a decision about where to go out for dinner. How important is price point? Atmosphere? Convenience? Type of food?
Now imagine you're in a new city looking for a dinner spot. You’re walking around downtown on a popular strip with plenty of options. You haven’t consulted reviews or recommendations from others, and you walk a few blocks to see your options.
What’s going through your head at this point? First thoughts? I would be willing to bet you've formed a first impression about each place you walk past based on a snap impression. Part of this could be the designer in me coming out, but really this is simply human nature. You have most likely already eliminated a few options and ranked a few as your top choices based on the storefronts alone, often with a logo as the focal point of that design.
At its core, design is processed on a subconscious level more so than a conscious one. The colors, the style, the type - the way they all work together. The whole point of design is that it evokes a feeling within you on a subconscious level.
In the above example, I would be willing to bet that you could identify the family-friendly diner vs the casual sports bar vs the 5 star rated steakhouse - all based on a first impression.
The thing about this is that as a business owner, none of us are exempt from this process. No one. A first impression is a valuable asset that YOU can control.
These are important aspects of understanding how to take that control...
1 | Put yourself in the buyer's shoes
Remember, at some point in time, when your brand was new to you? Maybe you've been in business for year, living with your business, day in and day out. Or maybe your brand doesn't even exist yet, but you've been imaging what it will look like as you begin your business. Regardless, you have to take yourself out of the scenario and try to see your brand with fresh eyes. Try to imagine what someone would think who has never been exposed to it before.
It's not unlike selling a house. They say when you're preparing to sell your home, you have to look at it from a buyer's perspective. If you think about a house, you wouldn’t want to ignore the curbside appeal just because your child took their first steps there. You have to see your home the way it is - from the point of view of the person looking to make a financial investment in it. The same holds true for your branding.
With your business, you can’t see your brand as the thing that gives you warm and fuzzy feelings or the place where you hang your hopes and dreams. You have to see it as part of a decision making process from someone who you want to choose YOU to purchase from.
It’s easy to become emotionally attached or invested in a personal way. Maybe this means revisiting the logo you or a friend made to get you started but you know you outgrew a long time ago. Maybe it means putting your personal preferences on the back burner for a style or imagery that makes more sense for your industry. Maybe it’s actually asking your customers what your branding communicates to them. Ultimately, just take measures to make sure you aren’t choosing what works for you in favor of works for your business.
2 | Understand who you want to attract
I know, I know. How many ways can I think of to bring up your target market? But, ultimately, understanding who you want to attract is the best way to make the “first impression syndrome” work for yo uinstead f against you.
Flip the scenario again and think about the companies you are attracted to. What makes you like them? Go as far as to create a “client profile” for yourself. What does your life look like? What about these brands aligns with you and your lifestyle?
I will be the first to admit that I am a sucker for “Instagrammable” places, especially when I am traveling. Those shops, restaurants, cafes, and events understand that if they put effort into creating an experience paired with their service, they are catering to someone with preferences like mine. In this case, that means they are paying attention to the details of their interior, packaging, and overall presence, making someone like me more likely to become a customer - and potentially pay a little more to do so.
On a less shallow note, I also tend to prioritize local companies or those that give back to a cause. Being clear on your values and projecting those to your audience is another way to authentically attract those who align with your company.
Understanding the way you make decisions helps you to understand the way your clients make decisions. It also helps you to manage the ways you present yourself. This is the part of marketing that I think can be perceived as manipulative, BUT if you are able to present your products or services in a favorable way to the people who want to buy them, I would call that a win-win.
With each decision come back to that person: Who are they? How do you want them to talk to their friends about your business? How would they react to your new campaign? What do you do to make them a fan of yours? Consistency and details are key!
3 | Consider your competition
I’m all about community and support in what could be a dog-eat-dog business ownership culture; however, understanding your positioning in the marketplace and understanding what your competitors are up to will help you to create a clear and unique experience for your clients.
For instance, I happen to know a lot of very talented photographers. This industry is one of the best examples I have seen at successfully differentiating themselves. Each photographer is confident in their specific style, then manages their branding and presence in a way that is aligned with that style. This in turn ends up attracting clients seeking what they have to offer. It is a natural fit from the start because the person understands what they're signing up for.
Back to the restaurant example - the steakhouse isn’t necessarily competing with the diner. They may be in indirect competition for hungry people, but they are serving different purposes and different audiences, so ultimately they need to understand who they are appealing to. If you took the diner’s logo but replaced it with the steakhouse’s name, then still try to use is as the $$$$$ restaurant storefront, it would most likely be misinterpreted and convey the wrong message. Each type of restaurant can consider how to use their visuals and their language to attract the right people.
The point here is to understand what your competitors are doing, primarily so you can leverage the differences in what the two of you offer. Then you can use those differences to stand out and attract the customers who are the best fit for you.
How are you feeling about your first impression now? What are some of the things you do to stand out?