On The Importance of First Impressions

The original title of Jane Austen’s timeless classic ‘Pride and Prejudice’ was supposed to be ‘First Impressions’. The novel itself leaves us feeling that those are of secondary importance and that what one should truly aim at in life is honesty, and kindness, and common sense. Moreover, Austen tries to persuade us that our first impressions are often wrong. Time has proven her right. However, we live in a world, very different from Georgian England, and it makes sense to consider our new environment and the importance of first impressions nowadays, both in advertising and in our interpersonal relations.

Most of Jane Austen’s novels take place in the very cosy atmosphere of small rural communities and the nearby villages. We are introduced to the upper-middle and middle class inhabitants that usually make only a small percentage. As Mrs Bennet points out, “We dine with 26 families.” which, by nowadays standards, is a pretty daunting number. But the same number suddenly becomes quite slim when we think not in terms of inviting people to our home, but of greeting them on the street or exchanging email communication. Today, we have become increasingly picky about who we give our attention to.

Time and attention – these the most scarce resources of our time. In his book ‘The Tipping Point’ Malcolm Gladwell introduces The Rule of 150. He writes: “The Rule of 150 suggests that the size of a group is another one of those subtle contextual factors that can make a big difference. (…) people who are willing to go along with the group, who can easily be infected with the community ethos below the level of 150, somehow, suddenly – with just the smallest change in the size of the community – become divided and alienated.” No wonder we constantly feel like we don’t belong! So what implications does all of this have on the importance of first impressions?

In a world where we constantly strive to juggle work, family, a seemingly endless procession of friends and acquaintances that demand our attention, as well as steal some alone time, it is easy to see why we do not give most of our surroundings a second glance. I was recently made aware that there are certain types of men I never even notice. A friend pointed at one of them and I had to consciously make myself look and see him. We all have filters like that. When it comes to your personal life, it’s probably for the best – the chances of me falling in love with an old short rich guy with two bodyguards are pretty slim and so I never pay any attention to those people. And if one did catch my eye, it will be because of entirely different reason – say, he painted his SUV like a field with daisies. Now THAT would cause me to look twice!

We cannot afford to apply the same rule to our potential customers, however. The risk that they will simply ignore us is too high. Moreover, if we do not know our clients intimately, we stand no chance of offering them what they really need. The answer is simple: know how your customers think, what is important to them and what they spend their time and attention on, and give them an unexpected additional reason to look twice. Simple, but not easy. I shall therefore leave the discussion on how to make this happen for another post.



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