In an article entitled "The New-Boy Network," Malcolm Gladwell describes research conducted at Harvard by Nalini Ambady and Robert Rosenthal that demonstrated the surprising power of first impressions.
While trying to establish the importance of non-verbal elements—specifically, the teacher's appearance—in effective teaching, Ambady and Rosenthal discovered something very remarkable. "A person watching a two-second silent video clip of a teacher he has never met," Gladwell writes, "will reach conclusions about how good that teacher is that are very similar to those of a student who sits in the teacher's class for an entire semester."
Think about that. After seeing someone in action for two seconds, we make judgements about their abilities that parallel those judgements made by people who have spent months interacting with them.
Key Performance Indicators
I was reminded of this study when I interviewed Constant Contact's Chief Sales and Marketing Officer, Rick Jensen, for this week's episode of Marketing Smarts.
In response to a question about key performance indicators at Constant Contact, one thing Rick said they look at is how long it takes for a "trialer" (someone taking advantage of Constant Contact's 60-day free trial) to send out their first email campaign using the product.
"Sending your first campaign when you're trying our product is a huge moment of truth," said Rick.
It's a huge moment of truth because, they have found, if a trialer uses the product within the first seven days, the probability that the trial will end in a purchase is high.
The First Fifteen Minutes
To accelerate that moment of truth, Rick said that he and his team (which includes both sales and marketing as well as the folks responsible for maintaining and developing the website) are currently focused on reinventing the trialer experience and, in fact, "the first fifteen minutes" of it.
Focusing on the first fifteen minutes has involved a mindshift. Traditionally, in the software world, the emphasis falls on building features into the product. At Constant Contact, however, it's not about adding features. After thirteen years, he said, their flagship product has all the features it needs.
What the product does need is a streamlined, first-time user experience. How streamlined? Well, currently, according to Rick, it takes about 45 minutes to send out one's first email campaign. The goal he's now shooting for is 10 minutes.
He believes that to get there, they need to be more prescriptive, providing step-by-step guidance on setting up that first campaign and getting it out the door. Thus, his efforts---and those of his team---are not focused on building more or better products but rather on "getting our customers to use the products."
And getting them to do that, as it turns out, depends on first impressions.
What Kind of First Impression Does Your Product Make?
Our customers and potential customers have a lot of choices. This isn't true of Constant Contact alone; it's true of every company.
From your website to your product to customer service and support, then, first impressions matter. If your website is hideous, or worse, difficult to navigate and use, if your product is overly complex or shoddily made, if your customer service stinks, people will avail themselves of the many options at their disposal.
You have to make a positive impression the second you get the chance, or you don't have a chance.
So what kind of first impression does your site, your product, your brand, your team make? Is it inviting? Engaging? Encouraging? Inspiring?
Or is it meh?
If that's the case, what are you going to do to un-meh it?