Would Your Brand Get the First Impression Rose?

In business, there’s much more riding on a first impression than the sale. The early touchpoints your brand has with someone not only drive their buying decision, but also impact the relationship going forward.

In other words, first impressions last a lot longer than you think. Think of them as…

Anchor Points

A book called “The Human Brand” explores the way people make judgments about brands. The authors, Chris Malone and Susan Fiske, focus on warmth and competence as the key measures. Kindness, sincerity, honesty and generosity are examples of warmth. Efficiency, confidence, ability and knowledge signal competence.

Now, draw an X- and Y-axis.

  • The X-axis is competence (low competence on the left and high competence on the right).
  • The Y-axis is warmth (high warmth on the top and low warmth on the bottom).
  • Brands that fall in the upper left quadrant (high warmth, low competence) typically evoke pity. They mean well, but just have trouble getting the job done.
  • Brands in the upper right quadrant (high warmth, high competence) tend to draw admiration.
  • You hope to be in the upper quadrants, because the lower quadrants draw disgust and envy.

Where does your brand fall on the chart? This is a really important question, because where you land is what we’ll call your “anchor point.” The anchor point comes from the first impression and sets the expectations.

You can move an anchor point to some degree with your actions there on out, but it’s really difficult to cross quadrants. For example, when someone has a great first experience at a restaurant, the anchor point is high warmth, high competence. If they come in the next time and the service is slow, they will probably be pretty forgiving because they have already anchored the restaurant high in their minds. They might say, “Seems like they’re slammed tonight,” and shrug it off.

At that same restaurant, the guest who receives slow service in their first experience might become impatient the next time, even if the service is totally fine, because their initial anchor point involved low competence. 

Why Luke P. Lasted So Long

“The Bachelorette” fans, we know you skipped right to this section. Go back and read what’s above so you get the analogy we’re about to make. (For those who don’t watch the show, it’s okay. You’ll still get it if you’ve been following this article so far.)

In Season 15, Hannah B. (the Bachelorette) took an instant liking to Luke P. and gave him “the first impression rose.” He was an early frontrunner to eventually marry her. But as the show progressed, he became a villain. Pretty much everyone began to hate him—except for Hannah.

Luke P. made Hannah so upset, so many times. The other contestants were pleading, and fans were tweeting, to send him home. What was she doing?? All those nice guys to choose from, and she kept holding on to the jerk. Why? Because she anchored him high from the first impression. He needed to mess up a lot of times—seriously, a lot of times—for the anchor to move from admiration to pity, and finally, from pity to disgust.

Effort Now vs. Energy Later

Take a look at the things that comprise your brand’s first impression: your website, photography, social media, customer experience, etc. Are they giving you the anchor point you want? If not, the question is whether you plan to put the time in now or later. Either you’re going to craft a brand and experience that people immediately perceive as warm and/or competent…or you’re going to forfeit that advantage and try to move the anchor later.

Example: Your website skimps on messaging, so your sales reps have to explain more to new customers. Meanwhile, you’re being outclassed by your competitor’s website

Smooth Sailing

Anyone will tell you to make a positive first impression so you don’t miss out on business by alienating new customers. While that’s very true, first impressions are key to establishing happy relationships. That’s not to say you can skimp on service once you win people over—but you’ll get a lot more leeway if or when little miscues happen. Anchor high and stay there.