First impressions matter. It defines the starting point. If you have ever wanted to inspire, excite, motivate, or influence anyone to do anything, then you better pay attention to your first impression. It’s called the first impression because it is the first of many impressions we will make. If the first one is good, we’ll have the opportunity to make many more. If the first one is bad, we have less chances to turn the situation around before we lose our audience. That is, if we haven’t lost them already.
There’s an age old adage that says we shouldn’t pay attention to first impressions. That we should dig deeper. “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Well how else am I supposed to judge the book? I can read the back cover, or maybe open it up and read a few pages. But if I’m in the market to buy that book, I won’t know if I’ll be content with my purchase or not until after I have read it. The cover of the book tells me what’s inside. It is the first impression that starts the story. To tell someone to not judge a book by its cover is a cop out. If you can’t take the time to have the cover of the book reflect the content inside, then I don’t have the time to read your book.
Let’s judge a book by its cover and see what happens. Not just any book, but The Book. Think of any sacred religious scripture (The Qur’an, Bible, Bhagavad Gita, etc.) and picture the cover of that book in your mind. What does it say to you? Without knowing the content inside, what do you already know about that book? It’s simple, elegant, with a dark, earthly color as if that book has been around for thousands of years. The book is well made, solid in its foundation. The chosen font is eloquent and sometimes all capitalized to show its power. It is easy on the eyes and gives a warm feeling to the viewer as if it carries great wisdom. Before you even open that book, you already know what’s inside. You know what lies ahead for you in your journey of reading that book. You judged the book by the cover, and therefore that judgement is true.
Picture that same religious book but bright pink and covered with glitter and glued on plastic gems. Suddenly, the entire content of the book lost its meaning. The power the pages once carried is gone. No one will take that book seriously, let alone start an entire religion around it. The first impression, in this case the literal book cover, defines the rest of your relationship between you and what impressed you. That definition can be changed but your starting point is that first impression. To make life easier on ourselves, we can start higher up the ladder with a better first impression.
The book cover is as important as the book. The frame is as important as the painting. How we deliver our message matters as much as the message itself. To ensure that our message is heard, we have to get our audience to first open the book. Draw them in with the cover, win them over with the content.
Knowing the power of the first impression supplies us with a tool that we can wield to spread our message. We can now create the book cover that perfectly represents what we have to say. However, there is one major hurdle that we must face when sharing our message: the lens which people view it through. This element is out of our control and the most difficult to overcome.
If I share the same exact message with 5 people, everyone of them will interpret it differently. They have a lifetime of experiences that help them interpret what I have to say. If I make and sell pumpkin pies and tell these 5 people, “I have homemade pumpkin pies for sale. Interested in buying a slice?”, they’ll all have a different response. Maybe one of them previously got food poisoning from eating pumpkin pie. Doesn’t matter if it was yesterday or 5 years ago, the chances are he is looking at that pumpkin pie with disgust. Another one of the 5 members may have had a grandma growing up that baked pumpkin pie every Thanksgiving. Eating a slice now takes her back to those days.
Who knows the experiences the other individuals in the group are bringing to the pumpkin pie covered table. Each one has their own stories, and therefore view my message through different tinted lenses. One lens makes the pie look sickening, the other of nostalgia. It will be much harder for me to sell my pie to the man who previously got sick from one. It will be much easier to sell to the women who has a childhood full of good experiences with them.
I can present my pumpkin pie in a way that I think will win people over. I can say it’s homemade and that leaves a different first impression than saying it’s store bought. I can have them perfectly sliced and ready to serve with whipped cream and that will leave even a different first impression. But regardless of how well put together my pie (message) is, I cannot control how they will interpret it.
So how do we work with this element of the first impression? How can we take something out of our control and use it to our advantage? Lucky for us, people tend to group over similarities. Seek out those groups that are wearing similarly tinted glasses and show your book, pie, or whatever other message you care about to them. Don’t show your book to everyone, show it to those that will care. Trying to sell a basket full of pies at a weight watchers meeting will leave me with a basket full of pies. If I take that same basket, ie. the message in which I want to spread, to an outdoor music festival, ie. the audience in which I think my message will be cared about, I’ll leave empty handed and with money lined pockets.
Find the people that already care about what you have to say and present them with something they cannot refuse. Know what first impression will make them pay attention because you might only have one opportunity to leave one. If you want to change the world, you have to start with the people that are already on your side. You cannot convince the masses alone. Find your early adopters and take them with you to face the rest.