We’ve all heard the statistics about first impressions: when you meet someone for the first time, only 7% of their impression of you is based on what you say, 38% on how you say it, and a massive 55% on their appearance and manner. No wonder we worry about choosing our clothes for that all-important meeting or job interview. But nine times out of ten when you go into a business meeting, the person you’re encountering for the first time has already formed an impression of you based on your communications with them up to that point. Most often that will include some form of printed material: a brochure, letter, business card, or all three.
As with face to face meetings, only a small proportion of your prospect’s impression will be based on what is said. A little more comes from how it is said: is the tone confident and professional, and have you checked for spelling and grammatical mistakes? But the bulk of your prospect’s impression will come from the appearance of your communications, so doesn’t it make sense to focus the bulk of your attention there?
Just as poor grooming – dirty shoes, crumpled clothes and untidy hair – gives the impression of an unprofessional individual, so poorly presented marketing materials – cheap, off-colour paper, low quality printing, free clip-art and silly fonts – suggest an unprofessionally run organization.
It’s not only the quality of the materials that will concern your prospects, though. Once you’ve got past the first hurdle of proving that you pay attention to detail and value quality workmanship, you still need to show that you’re the kind of person they will want to work with. Just as an interviewer will look for someone who seems to fit in with their company, based on their experience, their manner, and the clothes they wear, so your prospects will be looking for the kind of supplier they like to do business with.
What do your business materials say about you?
Even the choice of paper can be telling. Ordinary white paper suggests a straightforward, no-nonsense approach. Thick, textured paper implies a more traditional, personal touch. Coloured papers are fun and funky, suggesting a lively, innovative organization.
Then there’s the layout. Images or not? There’s a school of thought that says it’s always good to include something to draw the eye, but sometimes the wrong image can be far more off-putting than no image. It’s not an accident that cheap kebab shops and burger joints often adorn their menus with vivid cartoons or photos, while smart hotels tend to rely on words to do the work. A simple burger or hotdog can be sketched in a few well-chosen lines, but it would take a truly expert food photographer to live up to the mouthwatering promise of a description like ‘Fillet of sole meuniere served on a bed of wild rice with an asparagus garnish’.
Everyday products such as tools or household goods, even well photographed, may not be exciting to look at, and while some companies try to get around this by including pictures of attractive models demonstrating their use, some people view this as exploitative or inappropriate.
There’s no easy way to measure how much business you gain or lose by well-chosen marketing materials, but you can try to gauge their effect by trying out your design on a test audience before you have hundreds of copies printed. Look for people as similar to your target market as you can – what appeals to your mates down the pub might be quite different to what would impress Mum, Dad or Auntie Joan. Ask them, not just whether they like the look of it, but what impression it gives them of you and your organization.
Once you have a look that represents you well, you can be confident that when you walk into that vital sales pitch or presentation, you’ve already made a good first impression.