first impressionsHave you ever sat at a traffic light and sized up the person in the sports car beside you? Did you make a judgement about the driver? I certainly have. I always smile at the notion that you can tell a lot about people based on their car because it is spot on with the people I know. My adventurous, sporty friends drive SUVs; most of my family-oriented acquaintances drive minivans, and the practical peeps drive economical sedans. It takes just a split second to see that on the road.

When you think about it, we all have a wrapper around us that gives others some inkling of who we are. Whether we like it or not, our car choice is one of those things that offers a sneak preview into how we live our lives. Although we often call that “judging a book by its cover,” it’s really just human nature to make assumptions based on first impressions. And in fact, research has shown that our initial impressions are usually correct.

An interesting article, Snap-Judgment Science, discusses the science behind decision-making based on first impressions. Three important concepts stand out:

  • Surprisingly Spot On: When people make split second judgments about others, the judgments are often more accurate than when given time to think about it.
  • The Importance of Awareness: People have an intuition that alerts them not only to clues about other people, but creates an awareness of how others see them as well.
  • When to Go with the Gut: Recognizing our gut feelings and combining them with an awareness of how we unconsciously make judgments can help us make better decisions about whether our first impressions are accurate or not.

These same principles apply to marketing. Our wrapper is our brand, and when creating awareness or even prospecting, our brand gives people a chance to learn about us before they know anything about our business. Branding is fascinating because there is so much of the same psychology involved as in human encounters. The colors, words, images, and shapes that we use all impact how audiences perceive us. When exposed to our brand, audiences will make split second judgments, use their intuition, and often go with their gut. So how do we create a first impression that authentically represents our brand? First we need to understand our brand and have a solid awareness of how others see it. Then we need to know our target audience so we can make adjustments based on what resonates with them.

Think about some of the top brands like Apple or Nike and how their image aligns with what they stand for. Are they dead on? Yep. And we can do that too. We marketers can control what our brand wrapper looks like, how it makes people feel, and the impression it leaves. Even with a tiny budget, we can incorporate strategies to make sure our brand is genuine. It’s that instinctive feeling of authenticity that our audience truly seeks. When what’s on the outside is a true reflection of what’s on the inside, we can be sure their first impression is the right one.