Lessons on the psychology of first impressions.

By Amber Hudson and Luke Sklar

This week my daughter started grade 1.  Grade one!  She might as well be breaking curfew, jumping into friends’ cars and heading to a party she’s getting so old.  Anyway, as I’m standing in the playground trading “Oh hiiiiyyy!!! How was your summer??” stories with other moms it struck me how important, even in grade 1, first impressions are. As a teenager I, like, to-tally get it.  But it was clear even my 5 year old wants to make a good first impression through wardrobe choices.  I want her to make a great first impression with her new teacher (um, of course she’s going to be the best student in the class, look at that angelic face.  Ha!).  And the teachers want to make good impressions on both the kids and the parents.

We all know we are quick to judge.  What does it take, 3 seconds to form an opinion?  And it’s really hard to change that opinion.  Allow me to doff my psychology professor blazer and glasses and tell you it’s all about Primacy, Recency and Problem Resolution:

  • Primacy:  you remember the first thing you see.  E.g. a host in a restaurant (there is a reason they are cute and nice).
  • Recency: you also remember the last thing you see.  E.g. you may have had a great meal at this restaurant but it took them 3 weeks to get you the bill.
  • Problem Resolution:  and you remember how problems are fixed.  E.g. did you get a free plate of cookies when you complained about the slow bill?

The Ex / CNE is another example:  They nailed primacy – those who love The Ex were super excited.  Then people started keeling over from the Cronut Burger.  Thanks to Epic Burger’s epic fail the lasting impression people have of The Ex is gastric upset.  And they didn’t resolve the problem sufficiently.  Imagine if they announced “For the Next Two Hours all the Food at The Ex is Free”.  Now that would have left a great lasting impression!

So what’s the lesson for your brand or innovation?  Take a moment and think about your First Impression Strategy.  How are you going to get it right in the millisecond your target has to form an impression of your brand?  And if you screw up and start off at -20, what’s your plan to fix the problem and leave a positive lasting impression?