First Impressions, Last Impressions, And Brand

You never get a second chance at a first impression

I’ve never cared for the above quote. The implication is that you get one and only one chance at success and that’s hardly true. Your first impression is the most important impression only until you make your second impression, which is the most important until you make your third. As Seth Godin pointed out a few weeks ago, it’s your last impression that matters most. I agree your last impression counts more, but I think there’s more to how the impressions you leave affect you and your brand.

Remember your brand is the sum of all associations, both positive and negative about you, your company, your products and services, etc. The first impression you leave is part of that sum, as is the last impression. Either can be a positive or negative association, but the sum isn’t necessarily a one to one addition.

Every impression is weighted through:

  • The intensity of the impression
  • The recency of the impression
  • How ingrained the impression has become
  • Our perceptions based on previous impressions
  • What others have told us about their impressions

Intensity, Impression, and Brand

Imagine a simple scenario. You buy a product and are generally very happy with it. Later you discover it doesn’t do one small thing you hoped it might. Your general happiness creates a positive association and your discovery about what the product can’t do creates a negative association, but probably not of the same intensity as your general happiness.

If we could assign an arbitrary number to your associations you might have a positive 10 and a negative 3 leaving you with an overall positive 7 for a sum. In this scenario you’d still be left with a positive brand association even though your last impression was a negative one.

Tweak the scenario a bit and maybe the feature the product didn’t have turned out to be the one feature you for which you specifically bought the product. In that case your negative association would certainly outweigh your positive association leaving you with a negative sum in regards to the product brand. There’s more to the story than when in the sequence an impression was made on you.

Different impressions clearly come with different intensities and each thus needs to be weighted in the overall sum.

I started this post with a familiar quote and then said I didn’t care for the quote. The absence of any mention about intensity causes me not to care for it. I’ve always thought if your first impression was so unmemorable that it didn’t really leave an impression then you do indeed get a second chance at a first impression. The intensity of the impression is important

Time, Impression, and Brand

When an impression occurs should also get weighted. Something that happened yesterday is probably more important to you than something that happened several years ago. It’s this timed weighting that lends credence to the idea that the last impression is more important than the first. But again if the intensity of the first impression was so great it could easily outweigh the last impression.

Your brand again is the sum of all these impressions. Time does enter into the equation. More recent impressions are weighted more heavily than older ones. What have you done for me lately often rules the day? However impressions from long ago are harder to change and a series of either positive impressions or negative impressions become that much more difficult to change at a later time.

If you have a bad encounter with technical support during a phone call and your next call a few days later is a positive encounter it’s probably enough to change the original impression. If the first call took place far enough in the past and has ingrained upon you the opinion that the company has terrible tech support one good call will probably not be enough to change your overall opinion.

The intensity of an impression can either increase or decrease with the passage of time and the change could have very little to do with the actual events.

Ideally you’d always leave a positive impression on everyone during every encounter they have with you or your company. Of course, that’s not realistic. You can’t please all the people all the time.

None of us is perfect. If you tell me you are perfect then I’ll know you’re lying which brings you back to imperfectdom along with the rest of us. We all make mistakes and we all will continue to make mistakes. It’s part of being human. When you do leave a negative impression it’s in your best interest to do what you can to lessen it’s intensity right away. The longer you wait the less chance you have to change the impression.

Perception, Impressions, and Brand

First impressions are important. They set the tone for how the next impression will be viewed. Our perceptions always go into the equation. If I view your brand in a negative light your next positive impression won’t weigh on me as much as it will on someone who already views your brand positively.

Each impression you leave affects how future impressions will be be received. We can easily dismiss what we perceive as an aberration. If your view of a brand is generally positive one bad impression isn’t going to change your view. If your view of a brand is generally negative one good impression isn’t going to change your view either.

In either case you might dismiss the most recent impression due to your long held perceptions about the brand.

What all of the above should leave you with is the idea that each and every impression is important. Some will carry more weight than others and some will grow or fade over time. No one impression though, becomes the sum of associations about your brand. Each, however, can impact your brand and how it’s perceived.

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  1. Thanks Michael. Funny.

    Good analogy about the giant squid. I do think first impressions are important and so are last impressions, but there’s more to it than either. I think of all the people I met and then later changed my mind about or all the people who did something that bothered me at one time, but I instantly forgave them because they had earned it.

  2. Excellent article and I definitely agree. If first impressions were always the most important, then why do so many men manage to get married?

    The first impression is obviously a major one, and the greater the positive regard, the better. A bit like a hook. The stronger the hook, the less likely your giant squid is less likely to break it. But that doesn’t stop you casting out more lines to try and catch it on even better hooks.

    If you take the quote literally, then no, you can’t get a second first chance without time travel or inflicting memory loss on the beholder.

  3. Almost four months ago, I went to the Gorge for Thanksgiving. I got caught up in 80 mph wind in narrow canyons, my fingers too cold to operate my camera, and almost got decapitated in the wind. I cut the trip short, and took most of what I’d saved and bought one of the best jackets anybody makes. It’s an Arc’teryx, hand-made in Canada, and used by tour guides in Alaska, on Everest, and such. I’ve been in love with mine; it’s paper thin, breathes like cotton, and weighs less than my gloves.

    But it developed two holes, with a third one starting. Like puncture marks. I saw this and brought it back for a replacement. The holes were only in the inner layer, and not bad, but all three employees I dealt with said they would personally take it back for a replacement, and that I shouldn’t feel bad at all. I told them I’ve never returned anything from REI in my life, and feel like an, well, you know, for this; the employees couldn’t have been nicer. They don’t have the coat I had anywhere in my time zone, so I had to get a slightly different model; almost identical but 2 or 3 oz heavier. And unfortunately it’s just a little warmer … I’ve been able to bike 10+ miles up severe hills and feel comfortable in the jacket; I can’t do that in a sweater. So I’m hoping this one works as well for me, and a little regretful to give up the jacket I fell in love with.

    This seems to be my real world example of what you’re talking about. REI has already made a generally positive first impression, and many more after it. But, on my n’th impression, when things were out of the ordinary, and I needed them to show appreciation for my years of business … I expected a fight, and got heart-felt apologies and well-wishes for the future.

    I’ve already told several of my friends about the experience, in overwhelmingly positive terms. I’m disappointed they don’t have exactly the same parka, but they let me choose how they could make things right, and kept telling me I was doing the right thing instead of being nitpicky and causing problems. It’s true this is my most recent experience, and I’ve had other very positive ones … but I expected a nasty battle, and instead they were overwhelmingly nice. I won’t shop anywhere else for things I can buy from REI in the future.

  4. Great story Forrest and I think it’s a good example of what I’m trying to say here. REI has built up enough of a positive impression score that the experience of getting one bad jacket and not being able to replace it exactly didn’t change your overall impression. I love REI too by the way.

    I can imagine though, how your story could have ended differently. Had the REI employees all given you a hard time or had they not taken back the jacket it would have made for a more intense negative experience. Maybe not enough to give REI and overall negative score in the way you view their brand, but maybe enough so that one or two other things could have.

    Once the overall score swings from positive to negative it can be pretty hard to change back.

    Of course there’s a reason why people love REI. They leave you with a lot more positive impressions and associations than negative ones. In your case they even turned the negative experience of a bad jacket and turned it into another positive association with their brand.

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