“Buyers make most decisions by relying on their two-second first impressions based on stored memories, images and feelings.”
-Malcolm Gladwell, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

Most of us know intuitively, that first impressions are important. We don’t like to think that we judge a book by its cover or a person by what they are wearing or how they appear, but the reality is that we often do. It’s second nature.

[Judge: to form a judgment or opinion of, to make a careful guess about]

Does Your Outward Appearance Matter?

For micro and small businesses (and larger businesses too), what potential customers think about you and how they judge you, is often determined by their first impression.

A first impression based on your outward appearance. Things that are evident right away, before they dig deeper:

  • Your store front location (tidy, clean, organized, messy, modern, dated, caring staff, uncaring staff, etc.)
  • Your website (professional looking as appropriate for your type, loads quickly, well laid out and easy to navigate, helpful content that is up-to-date, mobile optimized and easy to view and navigate on mobile devices, etc.)
  • Your social networks (complete profile, high-quality profile photo and cover image, up-to-date information, active with regularly shared content that is helpful and interesting)

Does Your Outward Appearance Reflect Who You Are?

Taking care of your outward appearance doesn’t mean you (or your business) need to spend a fortune on developing your look and appearance or to be or look like something you are not.

It does mean making sure your image (brand, store front locations, online presence, customer experience) reflects who you are and the products and services you are selling, in a professional way that fits with your type of business and resonates with those you hope to reach.

This allows prospective consumers to ‘size you up’ quickly (which they will do anyway) and helps ensure their first and ongoing impression is accurate and one that will:

  • Cause them to remember you in a positive light.
  • Draw them back to you, cause them to think of you, when they want or need what you have to offer.
  • Keep them coming back to you (repeat customers) after they have experienced the products and services you offer.

First Impressions & Branding

There are a number of things that factor into creating a good first impression with potential customers. Branding is one of them.

The American Marketing Association (AMA) uses this definition, sourced from SEMPO andWikipedia, to describe ‘Brand and Branding’:

“A brand is a customer experience represented by a collection of images and ideas; often, it refers to a symbol such as a name, logo, slogan, and design scheme. Brand recognition and other reactions are created by the accumulation of experiences with the specific product or service, both directly relating to its use, and through the influence of advertising, design, and media commentary.” (Added definition) “A brand often includes an explicit logo, fonts, color schemes, symbols, sound which may be developed to represent implicit values, ideas, and even personality.”  (emphasis added)

Branding helps create a visual way of identifying your business in the marketplace, a public persona that people can easily recognize and identify with your business (think Nike swish, MAC apple, McDonald golden arches.)

As with the big name brands that we recognize, brand name recognition takes time to build. That said, the images (logo, colours, fonts) and slogans or taglines we associate with particular brands are not the key to their success.

Branding Isn’t Only A Look, It’s An Experience

The AMA definition above states, “Brand recognition and other reactions are created by the accumulation of experiences with the specific product or service, both directly relating to its use, and through the influence of advertising, design, and media commentary.”

In other words, the Nike swish didn’t create brand success for Nike. The MAC apple icon didn’t create brand success for Apple. The golden arches weren’t the key to McDonald’s success. Customer experience was the key contributor in the success of each of these brands.

And, customer experience isn’t only ‘service with a smile.’ Great customer service is much more than a smile.

Customer experience refers to, well, customer experience! Everything the customer experiences. The first impression and the long-term one that results from dealing with the business owners and staff and using our products and services.

For brands like Nike, Apple and McDonald’s, if they hadn’t delivered on the product and service side, to begin with, even big advertising budgets would only have yielded short-term success.

[Image: to reflect the likeness of, to resemble]

Advertising Can Be A Waste Of Money If We Don’t Get This Right

Businesses can spend a lot of money on the visual pieces of branding (logo, fonts, colours, taglines) and advertising to bring in customers.

But, if the first impression and ongoing experience our customers have with us is wanting, we may be wasting precious time and money.

When visitors walk through the door of your store or office or visit your website, what do they experience? Does that experience fit with who your brand is and its promises?

Phenomenal Branding Won’t Make Up For A Bad First Impression

If potential customers call or visit your store or office and are treated poorly, having great branding won’t help overcome a bad first impression.

The same is true for their online experience. If your website is dated, loads slowly, isn’t up-to-date and looks slapped together, the first impression it creates with visitors could be costing you business.

Especially when you consider that your “website represents the most pivotal touchpoint” to engage customers, according to a survey conducted by [24]7.

Phenomenal Branding Won’t Make Up For Poor Products And Services

If you plan to be in business long-term, delivering on your brand promises – customer experience – is hugely important.

Presenting a good first impression with professional looking branding and a store front and online presence that potential customers like, won’t work for you long term unless you deliver on your promises: products and services in a way that result in a positive customer experience.

[Brand: to mark with disgrace or infamy]

How Do Potential Customers See And Experience Your Business?

Branding is all about how people see you and experience you. First impressions and lasting impressions that build your business through attracting new customers and keeping existing ones coming back, and telling others about you.

How do potential customers see and experience your business?

Customer Experience Will Help Anchor Your Business In Your Local Marketplace

A good reputation is hard to beat. A bad reputation is hard to overcome. Branding can help anchor and build your business in your local  marketplace. It helps fuel word-of-mouth advertising.

Branding Is Not Only Skin Deep

Branding isn’t only skin deep. It’s not just the look of your brand or the outward appearance. Branding is who you are as customers experience you, in-person and online. It is determined by how you deal with customers face-to-face, over-the-phone and in online interactions. It is all your marketing pieces including print, social and web.

Ultimately, your brand reputation is determined by everything you do and how you do everything.  All of these combine together to create a persona that is your brand in the eyes of your customers.

This article appeared first on the Growing Social Biz blog.