I’ve been thinking a lot about first impressions lately. As someone whose job it is to literally help businesses make better first impressions, I can’t help but think about why first impressions matter so much. And yet, just search “do first impressions matter?” on Google, and you will get a surprisingly one-sided answer.
An article I read recently in Psychology Today does a pretty good job of breaking this concept down if you don’t want to take my word for it, but walk with me for a little bit and let me elaborate.
The fact is that first impressions do matter. We all know this to be true. Nobody would ever try to make a bad first impression thinking that was a good strategy. So, while first impressions aren’t everything, there has to be more there than initially meets the eye or things get pretty old pretty fast, they are undoubtedly important.
Take the following, incredibly realistic scenario straight out of probably most of our younger lives.
Did you ever have a crush in high school? You know, that one guy or girl that caught your eye one day, and proceeded to take up about 99.99% of your mental space for the next 3 months? It’s like they were perfect, created just for you, and there was absolutely no question in your mind that they were perfect beyond anything you had ever seen before.
Maybe you never really had the chance to meet that person, but maybe you did. Do you remember that first encounter?
If you’re like most high school students, I imagine that encounter likely went something like this. You were both at the same party. You caught her out of the corner of your eye. She was dancing, you were dancing, really well I might add. Suddenly, she glances over and stares right at you. She noticed you. She smiled. Yep, she definitely smiled. She slowly turned her head back to her friends and continued dancing, with a little bit of an extra bounce in her moves.
Now’s your chance. Good thing you wore your best shirt tonight, and thanks to your new hair wax you’re having an amazing hair day.
As soon as you see her start heading over to the drink table you begin to make your move. There’s nothing stopping you now, it’s only a matter of time before she falls into the clutches of your amazingness. I mean, just the smell of your cologne is enough to make every girl you pass on the way buckle slightly at the knees.
You pull up to the table precisely 5 seconds after she does, you calmly place yourself next to her, just close enough that she can for sure smell you. You reach for a drink, coincidentally it’s the exact same drink she tries to reach for, so, naturally, you give her a friendly glance, a suave smirk, and ask if you can pour a drink for her.
She says sure. You both smile. Conversation ensues. The rest is history.
And that’s exactly how it happened right?
We said “MOST” high school students, didn’t we? What actually probably happened was you either never even talked to them, or somehow you actually managed to embarrass yourself in front of them, and that was that.
If only you had bigger muscles. If only your eyes were a more striking shade of blue. If only you had cooler hair. If any of these things were better, then I’m sure you would have been able to make a better first impression, right?
But life doesn’t work that way. Or does it?
And the answer is, well yes, and no. I will be the first to tell you that if you believe that you are not good enough exactly the way you are, then you are in for a lot of bumpy roads on the path to fulfillment and happiness.
We can’t change who we are, and I have to believe that people are not so superficial to only care about how we look. Besides, we’ve all seen the couples where you just have to wonder how did he end up with her?
But that’s certainly not the norm. People tend to match each other in physical attractiveness, levels of confidence, popularity and appeal. Does this make us all superficial? Does this make us shallow and vain? Nope, it simply makes us human. To deny this basic fact is to deny our very nature. Even spiritually minded people have a hard time not living by this principle and often even believe it’s bad to ignore.
The expression “Don’t judge a book by its cover” only exists because that’s exactly what we do. It’s also why so much money, time and effort has gone into designing such basic things as book covers because research has proven time and time again that we do actually judge books by their covers, as you can clearly see in this article in HuffPost.
And then there’s what other people are saying about it. If you read a bunch of good reviews, not only are you more likely to read it, you are also much more likely to think of it positively after you’ve read it even if it’s really not that great.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I DO NOT believe that first impressions are everything. That book’s cover might get you to buy it, but it can’t force you to like it. While it might even make you more inclined to think it’s good, ultimately you will find out if the book actually sucks.
In his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman talks about something called “the halo effect.” Essentially what this means is that not only do first impressions matter and have a strong impact on what people think of us in the short term, they even impact how a person relates to us in the long term.
Sometimes this can actually be bad, but the idea is that if someone makes a really good first impression, we are much more likely to discredit something they do later that goes against their positive first impression. In the same way, if someone makes a bad first impression, we are much more likely to discredit if they do something good later on, and if they do something bad, well that only reinforces that our impression was correct to begin with.
So, what are we to do? As business owners, do we ignore first impressions? Surely, looks aren’t everything. Surely confidence, substance, depth, service, quality and good intentions should win out in the long wrong, right?
Don’t get me wrong, these are all really, really, really important. Did I mention they were important? They are so important that if you ignore them, and just get really good at giving off great first impressions, you could literally end up in jail, just think The Wolf of Wall Street. You absolutely MUST provide value, or you cannot create sustainable growth.
But to ignore the importance of first impressions is also silly. I see this every day in my business. We talk to business owners all the time who seem to think that their first impression doesn’t matter.
What I’m referring to is your website. Even in the pre-Covid world, the internet was rapidly becoming the first point of contact for just about every business. People search for what they need, and your website is very often your best chance to make a great first impression.
Is your website everything? Nope. But is it important? You bet!
It’s kind of like a suit. Most people might not think that the quality of a suit is that important. As we all know, Men’s Warehouse made a whole lot of money selling low priced suits. But there is a big difference between putting on a suit that looks like a suit and putting on a suit that makes you feel unstoppable.
Some of the greatest salespeople in the world know this and live by this. The clothes you wear can have a huge impact on how you feel. So can the car you drive, the shoes you wear, the mood you’re in and how you go about your morning routine.
It’s all about gaining an edge. Are you going to sell more simply because you have a nice suit? Of course not! Horrible salespeople selling horrible products can wear nice suits too. But what that suit is going to do for you is it’s going to make you feel unstoppable. And we all know that confidence can overcome anything, even a negative first impression. And the best part is not only does the suit make you feel great about yourself, it also helps you give off a better first impression.
So no, I am not saying our websites are for everyone. We are certainly not the cheapest option out there. But if you are serious about what you do, if you truly believe in what you offer, then why wouldn’t you want to give yourself the best possible chance to make a great first impression?
Sure, you can get a website built super cheap. I’ll even point you in the right direction if I think that’s what’s best for you right now. But to think that you can do what everyone else is doing, and look like everyone else looks, and somehow still stand out in an incredibly competitive environment where first impressions matter, then you might as well go with the cheapest option because you’ll be throwing your money away either way.
Every advantage we can give ourselves is invaluable. Any time we can increase our confidence, give off a better first impression and separate ourselves from our competition, we should give it a serious look.
I tell people all the time, if we build a site for you and you don’t have a plan for how you’re going to use it, then don’t waste your money. But if you know that the image we create for you will give you the confidence to go out into the world and get you excited to send as many people as you possibly can to your website, then there is no greater advantage you can have, outside of a solid strategy for how you’re actually going to do that.
In closing, we may not be able to ignore our human instincts, they are after all what makes us human, but with a little bit of resourcefulness, some honesty and a healthy mix of strategy and design, we can certainly make sure that our businesses have every chance to succeed.