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It takes anywhere from just 17 to 50 milliseconds for people to form a first impression. In marketing, creating the right impression needs to happen in an instant — and that’s quite a challenge for any brand competing in a crowded marketplace.

Every customer wants to feel that they’re buying from an authentic, legitimate brand. But what exactly do consumers expect? What constitutes a great brand first impression? Here are five ways brands can create the right impression, in an instant.

There’s No Substitute for Quality

If a customer encounters a website with an outdated design, broken links, and glaring popups, they’ll logically (and quickly!) conclude that the brand is also out of date and undesirable. In fact, 48% of consumers say that website design is critical to a company’s credibility.

A brand’s first impression is strengthened by high-quality web design and navigation experiences. This can be as simple as ensuring that logos and graphics are formatted with optimal resolution. Or, if customers are encountering a brand on mobile, then a mobile-first design is critical to making a good impression. Here’s another way to broadcast a quality brand impression: Make sure web page loading times are as fast as possible. 40% of consumers simply won’t stick around on a web page that takes longer than three seconds to load.

A great example of a quality first impression is the homepage of Lexus, a brand that relies on cultivating an image of prestige. The featured photo imparts luxury and excellence, while the bold slogan and simple navigation bar include words that perfectly reflect the brand character, like “pinnacle” and “performance.” All of this is successfully communicated to the customer in a fraction of a second as soon as they land on the page, creating an undeniable look and feel of quality and a strong brand identity.

lexus landing page
Image: Lexus

Keep It Consistent

Thanks to the internet, consumers today have the whole world at their fingertips — literally. Brands that don’t demonstrate a solid and consistent presence online won’t be able to create an impression of legitimacy.

This means that brands can’t just rely on a high-quality, high-functioning website; they also need to cultivate an active social media presence across all platforms relevant to their target audience and have a great SEO and SEM strategy to boost rankings on search results pages. Brands should also make sure that their business information and contact details are correct everywhere they appear, including third-party platforms such as Google My Business and review sites like Yelp. This means conducting regular audits of the brand’s online presence, checking that all company information is up to date, consistent, and functional. 

Consistency in design is another way to solidify a brand’s first impression. For example, luxury jewelry company Tiffany & Co turned its duck egg blue signature color into a brand icon. The Tiffany color appears consistently across every aspect of the brand, from the website and product packaging to social media pages and in-store design, making it instantly recognizable as exclusively Tiffany.

Tiffany's Facebook page
Image: Tiffany’s

Consistency isn’t just a buzzword or “nice to have.” Studies show that when brands have a consistent presence across all platforms, revenue can increase by up to 23%.

In Brands We Trust 

According to the 2019 Edelman Brand Trust Survey, trust is almost as important to consumers as quality and value. In fact, 81% of respondents said they must be able to trust that a brand will do what is right.

Trust is a highly valuable brand asset, but it’s also intangible and difficult to quantify. Plus, trust has to be earned, and usually builds slowly over time. So, how is it possible to inspire trust in the millisecond that it takes to create a first impression? The answer is social proof.

Social proof refers to the abundance of recommendations, reviews, and ratings that consumers give to brands and businesses online. And social proof works — 57% of consumers surveyed said that good ratings and reviews were the most important reason they trust brands

Social proof is an effective way to create a first impression, as it can be demonstrated instantly with the help of visuals, such as star ratings, logos of prominent customers, logos of media channels that featured the brand (i.e. “As seen on CNN”), and bite-size, skimmable pull-out quotes from happy customers.

Another advantage of social proof is that it creates a certain buzz — a sense of community and activity around a brand — that elevates FOMO (“fear of missing out”) among consumers. That, in turn, can lead to more engagement and sales.

Get Clear on Brand Value

A brand’s value proposition is defined by what it can offer customers that its competitors can’t. It may be a unique product or service, competitive prices, outstanding customer support, or a seamless omnichannel experience. For many brands, the value proposition will encompass some or all of these.

The best way to make an impression as a legitimate brand is to state the value proposition in the clearest possible way at the earliest touchpoint where the brand is likely to meet customers.

If the value proposition is simple (i.e., “we offer the lowest prices”), it may not be difficult for the brand to live up to its promise in the first instant the customer makes contact (i.e., bold pricing on the homepage). However, if the brand’s unique selling point is more complex, then creating a fast, accurate first impression will be more challenging. Here’s how one company did it. 

Everlane is a direct-to-consumer (D2C) apparel brand whose value proposition is ethically sourced clothing and full transparency of its business practices (plus, free shipping on the first order). The Everlane website shows a popup message to first-time visitors explaining the brand’s entire value proposition in a clear, no-fuss way, and in less than 20 words. It’s a great example of how to cram several complex messages into a fast, effective first impression.

Everlane pop-up
Image: Everlane

“This Brand Gets Me!”

Everyone wants to be understood — it’s a basic human need. This is true in interpersonal relationships, and also between brands and consumers.

Customers are more likely to engage with brands that understand their desires, solve their pain points, and satisfy their personal aspirations and values. According to research from Salesforce, 76% of consumers expect companies to understand their needs and expectations

However, a brand can only make a good first impression if it’s already done the groundwork of building a strong identity. In order to properly “get” its customers, a brand has to first know itself, inside and out.

Starbucks does a great job of giving customers a strong first impression of just how much it identifies with their needs. When visitors land on the website, the first message they see is “Let us treat you,” with an invitation to join their Rewards Club and enjoy all of the benefits that come with it. Written in clear font in the brand’s instantly identifiable green color, the welcome is as warm and comforting as a cup of coffee — which is exactly what their customer is looking for. 

Starbucks rewards
Image: Starbucks

First impressions in marketing happen fast — so fast, there’s no time for customers to create a conscious opinion. When consumers first encounter a brand, they don’t ask themselves, “Does this seem legit?” Rather, their intuition does the job. 

The good news is those gut feelings are actually based on a certain logic. This means that marketers can take control of the first impression, via a strategic approach that builds trust, conveys brand values, and connects with the customer in a meaningful way. Start by satisfying the five customer expectations outlined above, and the brand first impression will be a winner.

Jaime Lee
Author

Jaime is Head of Content Strategy at AdRoll, a division of NextRoll, Inc. She has 12 years' experience in content, social, and partner marketing, spanning from scrappy startups to the global enterprise. Jaime loves crafting content that actually gets used by customers and goes to bed dreaming about how content can change the world. An avid tennis player and Champagne Martini enthusiast, Jaime spends most of her spare time being the #1 dog mom to her chiweenie.