“First Impressions are everything.”
I remember it like it was yesterday…
Senior year. So much to look forward to. Old and new friends. Movie dates with favorite girlfriends, and poker nights with the boys. Homecoming and prom. Friday night lights and even Monday night homework. College planning. Moving on.
I can barely contain my excitement.
And I knew that just before heading out the door to start that last first day of high school, I would hear my dad’s low, convincing voice giving me the same speech he had given me for the past 12 years.
“Alright Son,” he start.ed “Time for Lecture Number 438.”
The lecture number was different every year. But what he said never changed:
“First impressions are everything… How you first present yourself to your teachers, the principals, your friends, everyone. That will stick with them. It will define who you are and set the tone for the entire year.”
My dad’s voice lowered even more and he placed his hand on my shoulder. “You will not get another chance to make a good first impression,” he said. “Do you understand me?”
My dad’s first impression lesson followed me throughout the rest of my senior year and into college and then into law school. It has followed me throughout my career as a trial lawyer.
It may be one of the most important lessons I have ever learned.
According to a 2015 survey by 7, a company’s “website represents the most pivotal touchpoint to engage” with that company because “that is where consumers start.”
That initial encounter is where your customers will form their first impression of your company. It’s pivotal because that first impression will dictate whether they continue reading your content. It will dictate whether they continue down your page to find out more about you. It will dictate whether they will click through to your offer.
It will dictate whether they bounce from your site to find someone better to buy from.
Like your competitors.
YOU ONLY HAVE SECONDS TO MAKE A GOOD FIRST IMPRESSION
You know it’s true: customers have no patience for mediocre performance, and it starts even before they ever get to your site. According to Google, 53% of mobile site visits are abandoned if pages take longer than 3 seconds to load. So if your customers had to wait 4 or 5—or an unimaginable 6—seconds for your site to load, you better do everything you can to grab your customer’s attention when they get to your site.
At the very least, don’t give them a reason to think that those six seconds it took to get to your landing page was a waste of time.
And this is where great branding becomes critical.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS ARE MORE IMPORTANT THAN FACT
Great content or a great product can sometimes overcome the negative impact of mediocre branding, but that is a rarity. What is not rare is for great branding to create an immediate powerful connection between a company and its customers—even to the point where consumers will ignore a product’s or service’s shortcomings. According to PsychCentral.com, ”research suggests that first impressions are so powerful that they are more important than fact.”
This is critical to remember because, even if you offer the best product or service in your industry, the first impression you gave on your website may have tainted your audience to such a degree that they may believe your product is inferior to your competitor’s product. Conversely, even if your product or service is not the best in the business, the first impression you give to your customers may create such a positive connection that they will overlook shortcomings in your products or services.
Yes friends, that’s the power of creating a superior first impression with your brand. Which is why we are baffled by what we perceive as a shortage of great branding—or even good branding—out there on the interwebs.
And remarkably, less-than-stellar branding is not limited to rookie bloggers or struggling start-up businesses. We see established companies and bloggers power through mediocre branding. Yes, sometimes they are successful despite poor branding. But frankly, their success in spite of a poor brand should not be celebrated or revered. Because let’s face it: had their customers been captivated by their branding in the first place, they may not have had to work as hard to convert them to customers or readers. You have to wonder how many customers or readers are lost on a quick bounce after landing on a website with less-than-stellar branding.
- Branding should be a gateway, not a roadblock.
- Don’t expect to be the exceptional success story if your branding is merely mediocre.
“So what you are saying is I need a standout logo on my website with captivating graphics and colors?” you ask.
Yes. You absolutely need the right visual branding elements to instantly engage your audience. But you need so much more than that.
Branding is more than your logo and colors.
Branding indeed includes things like your colors, your name, your logo, and your graphics and images. But your brand is not only the specific visual elements customers see, it is also the overall experience you provide. It is the format of your site or your blog. It is ease of use. It is clear, consistent, mistake-free messaging. It is the kind of content you provide and the copy writing you use. It’s in your advertising. It’s in your communications. It’s your tone and delivery.
Branding is all about getting your audience to know you, like you, and trust you.
Listen. If you are giving your audience any reason to be confused by who you are, or any reason not to like you (heck, LOVE you), or heaven forbid any reason not to trust you, you MUST make changes to your brand and branding strategy. Immediately.
What impression are you giving your audience?
We understand it is sometimes difficult to put yourself in the shoes of your audience in order to take an objective look at how you present yourself to them. Don’t be precious is the applicable piece of advice here. What does this mean? It means that you feel that your website, logo, copy, content, etc. is the best, most important thing since sliced bread (no matter how objectively bad/mediocre it is).
Let me put it this way: While you may think that purple and green moose riding a bicycle with three different script fonts is the perfect logo for your business coaching company because you think it looks “awesome” and because your nephew is so good at drawing, you must take a step back and be honest with yourself.
Better yet, find a trusted adviser who will not shy away from giving you constructive criticism. Having another set of eyes will help filter out bad design and branding ideas. As long as you are willing to listen.
Critical Questions to Ask
So whether you are a start-up blog or business wanting to create a new brand or are looking to revamp an existing brand, there are many important questions to ask when evaluating your brand’s first impression. Given that your website is typically the first place your customers will connect with you, every page of your website where your customers might land (whether your home page, a sales page, a blog post) must represent your brand flawlessly.
Ask the following three questions as you review each page of your website:
>> What is the customer’s (or reader’s) experience?
This is the most important aspect of the evaluation. Does your audience (customer or reader) immediately know what you do and how you can help them? Will your audience see you as an authority? Is there any question about what you want your audience to do? Is the site easy to navigate? Is ANYTHING difficult to read or understand? Does the experience you provide create trust in your audience that you know what you are doing? How does your customer feel as they view/read your site? (Tip: Make your audience connect emotionally with your awesome content.)
>> Is the content and messaging clear, concise, unambiguous, and mistake free?
Critical to the customer experience is your site’s content. Corey and I have spent considerable time evaluating websites, from blogs to businesses, and we see so many of them that may look nice at first glance, but upon closer inspection, reveal flaws that make you cringe. Or say, “What the…?” Or shake your head and bounce to a better website. (Tip: Chasing your audience away from your site with inconsistent, ambiguous, flawed messaging is bad branding.)
So take a careful look at your blog or website. What is your message, theme, or purpose? Does all your content (and formatting) support that message, theme, or purpose? Is your message lost among inconsistent or irrelevant posts or copy? Is your message ruined by spelling, punctuation, and grammar errors? Is your voice and tone authentic and consistent? Does your content match what your blog or company is all about?
>> Is your site visually captivating?
How your site looks and feels is connected to the customer experience. Does the look and feel of the site match your message and content? Is it pleasing to the eye? Remember who your audience is and match your design to your audience’s expectations. Is your site engaging, or is it boring? (Tip: Never be boring. Ever.)
While there is a subjective component to this, there are many objective factors that will determine whether your website looks good or whether it lacks visual appeal. You can hire competent branding experts to help with this evaluation, or you can learn these skills yourself.
■ ■ ■
First impressions are everything…
My father’s first impression lecture stuck with me throughout my life and followed me as I raised my own children. Indeed, I gave Lecture Number 327… er… 438 to my youngest who started his junior year of high school this past year—the same lecture I have been giving him since kindergarten.
It’s a lesson that I will never forget.
And when it comes to your business, nonprofit, or blog, neither should you.