First impressions can make or break your business. 100% of the people you and your business interact with will have a first impression. Despite this cliche, we judge a book by its cover.
The reason we judge books by their cover is because we lack information. Without a referral or the opportunity to read the flap, all we can do is use the information we have—the visuals.
One of the definitions of impression is “an image in the mind caused by something external to it”. This something is the information your brand gives off to every person that interacts with it. Most often the information in a single interaction will be incomplete.
We have five senses and the first impression often utilizes just one or two of them. A 2014 study compared first impressions of a family style restaurant and contemporary restaurant. Respondents were given nothing but a photo to react to. They were asked about both taste and quality of food.
There was nearly a 20% difference in how they rated both taste and quality of food. Can you guess which restaurant rated higher?
The photo with family style décor was rated at an average of 57% for assumed taste of food and beverages. The assumed quality was rated at just 55%. The photo with modern décor was rated at 74% for assumed taste and 73% assumed quality.
That’s a huge jump. “That’s an impression worth trying a restaurant on” is what is in your customer’s mind.
Like it or not, you will make a first impression in a number of different ways.
Your restaurant or business could be found online. If you’re lucky, they land on your website first. Here they should have visual information in the form of the style of your website and your logo design. These will all be inline with your brand as long as you are utilizing focus: Who can use focus to improve sales? . This is also your opportunity to give them a sense of how interacting with your business will be in the future.
You’d be lucky if they land on your targeted website because you have complete control over it. There is always the chance they land on Zomato or Yelp first. This is where a potential customer will find the next best thing to a friend’s referral—the public’s. There is a lot of fear around these reviews but we should all embrace them.
The information here takes one person’s impression and parlays it to others. This is great if you are getting good reviews. You could just let it stand. We all think a bad review is the worst thing in the World, but it’s actually an opportunity.
In the face of a bad review, you can reply to patrons publicly. You can fill the information gap and show future customers your amazing service when it comes to complaints. Offer the bad reviewer a free meal or incentive to make it up to them.
Suddenly your business seems very accommodating. The one bad review out of 100 good ones loses a lot of impact. The catch is, you have to stay on top of reviews. If you really want to make the most of review sites, reply to every good review too. Use every chance you have to show a new customer what your business is all about. You can quell assumptions by providing information.
Okay, so let’s step back a little. First impressions aren’t always immediately followed up by a second. A potential customer walks by your building in downtown Vancouver and sees your logo on the door. They have an immediate reaction that sparks some interest but they continue on their way, doing their own thing. Two weeks later they are deciding where to go to lunch when their friend mentions your restaurant. Based on the design of your logo they are making heaps of assumptions about what’s inside the restaurant. If they’re intrigued they’ll show up on your website or hopefully at your door.
Think of it like a blind date. You’ve been set up with someone your best friend vouches for. You plan to meet up at Queen Elizabeth Park for a nice walk. Maybe you can try out the zip line (I hear you can do it for free on your wedding day, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves!) She shows up and guess what, you have seen her once before. She’s the one that cut the porta-potty line at the PNE. She knocked over a little old lady in the process.
I don’t know, maybe that’s your kind of gal. I’m not one to judge. But for me that’s definitely something that will immediately weigh in on my opinion—even if I try to overlook it. This is the only information we have, so we use it. If instead she was giving up her spot in line to that little old lady, we’d use that information just the same.
This is why it is imperative you focus your message and make sure it is consistent across all channels at all times. A first impression can be made when you least expect it. If you don’t know what your message is coming through, ask.
These days you can easily hit up your Twitter or Facebook followers and ask them. If you don’t have those, go old school. Ask your customers how they feel about your restaurant. Try to ask them one concise question that is customer focussed. This is another opportunity to leave an impression after all.
I might go one step further and invite them to review you on the dreaded Yelp. It’s a chance to gather good reviews and create more engagement with your brand when you later reply to them.
The best time to focus on first impressions is now. You are a part of your business. You exist as a personal brand. All your ventures are going to be affected by it. Whether you're starting a new business or have had one for 20 years, people continue to have first impressions.
After your business has made first contact, what do you do? You continue firing on all eight cylinders with your focussed brand message. Remember, consistency is your best friend. There’s no reason the first impression should be any different than the last impression.
A first impression is a lasting impression, after all.