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.