Tuesday, September 6, 2011

First Impressions

You’ve seen them. Some wear headphones and dance. Some wear costumes – maybe a Mickey Rat, or a faux Easter Bunny, or Lady Liberty. Still others just chill in a tailgating chair, or perhaps just pace back and forth. Who are they? They’re the “sign holders.” Pizza places, chicken finger restaurants, tax preparers, or used car lots employ them. They are the hired guns. They are on the front lines.

But, here’s the deal. When I see a business whose primary marketing strategy is to throw a dude carrying a sign out on the road – costume or not – I almost always discard that business from consideration for my hard-earned dollars. To me, it conveys several messages to the consumer. First, it tells me that you are trying to take shortcuts in your advertising plan. Second, it tells me that you have not established a rapport with the community. Businesses are typically built on relationships, not on the sign-holder. When you are putting the sign holder out on the street, you are telling me that you are too lazy to build relationships.

Finally, it comes across to me as desperate. Perhaps a business has attempted to “microwave” relationships with those in the community, and word-of-mouth just isn’t spreading like they had hoped. The balloons and jumpies and weird wavy inflatable stick thingies haven’t drawn the anticipated crowd. So, the owner finally caves and says, “Let’s hire a sign guy.” It’s the last straw many times.

For all of these reasons, I don’t typically patronize these businesses. If people aren’t talking about it, then it’s probably not a place I am going to check out. And, really, if you are a business owner, do you want the VERY FIRST impression of your business to be the dude sitting in the lawn chair with an upside-down sign sitting in his lap?

Despite the public perception (or just mine), I sincerely doubt that business owners want the public to feel this way about their establishments. They fail to realize that they are, in fact, creating a brand image for their product – a negative one in many cases. The message that their target audience is receiving isn’t likely the one they had intended. But, as many have said before, perception is reality many times.

The same happens with us as individuals. We send messages to those around us each and every day – whether we realize it or not. And, while you may say to yourself, “I don’t care what people think about me,” I believe you need to. Admit it or not, we need people to like us in order for us to thrive. You may be able to get away with being a self-absorbed prima donna for a while, and fool people into believing that you are just “eccentric” or “unique.” But, that will only take you so far.

If you are an artist, a teacher, a musician, a contractor, a homemaker, or a banker, people are forming impressions of you all the time. They base this on the “signs” that you put on display every day: your attitude, your demeanor, your tone of voice, your word choice. And, yes, your appearance! Greasy hair, clothing that is too revealing, clothing that is too baggy, tattoos, piercings – people notice these things and form opinions. You cannot escape it. On the other hand, people also form opinions about people who wear a suit and tie, khaki shorts, flip-flops, or a certain brand of tennis shoe. We all have our own "personal style."

Am I saying to be a “sell-out” to please others? No. But, I am saying that in order to get where we need to be, or want to be, we should consider others – because we do need others in our lives.

Despite the moniker, there’s really no such thing as the “self-made man.” Each of us has built a “brand” for ourselves over time. These are impressions that others have of us before they ever even interact with us. For example, we may have never owned or driven a Ferrari, but we each have thoughts and feelings about that brand. Likewise, based on what people witness in you, they draw conclusions about the brand you “wear” each day. The question is – Is this the message you intended to send?

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