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Does Your Product Make a Good First Impression?

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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?

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My name is Matthew T. Grant, PhD. I'm Managing Editor here at MarketingProfs. I divide my time between designing courses for MarketingProfs University and hosting/producing our podcast, Marketing Smarts. You can follow me on Twitter (@MatttGrant) or read my personal musings on my blog here.

If you'd like to get in touch with me about being a guest on Marketing Smarts or teaching as part of MarketingProfs University or, frankly, anything else at all, drop me a line.

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  • by The Cat's Whiskers Sat Oct 27, 2012 via blog

    There is an argument for not attracting all customers - not all of them will like you or what you do.

    My website is hardly up to date, nor is it particularly attractive. Not that I don't know what good design is, it is because I put my interests in the content first. That is because the people I like to do business with are a little more patient. Nor is it ineffective, 25% of my visitors stay longer than 5 minutes, that means they are finding something to interest them beyond its simple design.

    So my point is this: if you are selling to every comer, expect a few problems.

    You cannot please everyone. It is crucial for a business to understand that the ones you cannot satisfy will not be satisfied with what you do, whatever you do to please them. Bend over backwards and do a double-flip dive into the deepest pool and they will still yawn. They are the ones to find a new "home" that they like better, it matters not who or where just as long as they are not dogging you. They might even appreciate your having done so.

    Just one example, one of your high-scoring marketeers swooped by my site in the space of ten seconds and skimmed five pages. I take two things from this: firstly, he didn't like my design. Secondly he was not the kind of person who could look beyond the immediate. The first doesn't worry me; the second tells me he isn't the kind of person I would want as a client or team mate.

    That is where my "meh" is as powerful as the things I do want to say.

  • by Matthew T. Grant Thu Nov 1, 2012 via blog

    A couple things:

    - I agree that companies need to have a clear sense of the types of customers they are looking for and cater to them. You can't be all things to all people, as some people say.

    - Stats about time on site can be misleading. I was poking around your site looking for something (that Coltrane post) and couldn't find it, for example. Thus, while time on site could represent interest, it could also represent interest followed by mounting frustration.

    - When you are designing a product and, as in the case described in my post, using demo trials to engage people, AND you know that if a person successfully uses the product once they are very likely to purchase/use again, then it is reasonable to try and make that first use as easy as possible.

    Unnecessarily frustrating your customer or simply dismissing those who got frustrated as "not the type of person we want to do business with anyway" seems counter-productive and/or short-sighted.

  • by Gemma Thu Nov 1, 2012 via blog


    thankyou for your response.

    Firstly the person in question only skimmed my site without engaging **at all**. He was put off by the very aim of my site's design: the person who puts design before content is not the sort of person I want to engage with. That is the point of my "meh"!

    I noted that you at least really sniffed, thanks for that. Then you pushed the accelerator down hard.

    I do agree with engaging people - and I do agree that my site needs a good look at (it will get it as soon as I am home from Berlin). It has had one major work-over and needs another. As to my Coltrane post, could you tell me why you were looking for it? There are ways to find these things, even with a few broken links (guilty as charged, my lord).

    My intention was not to frustrate however, I do demand a little insight and tolerance though. Whilst counter-productive, it is counter intuitive as I can winnow out the poor clients at a stroke and not have to deal with them. In any case, I have a waiting list. That means new clients will have to put up with a degree of frustration anyway!

    [Apols if this is a copy, I am using a broadband wireless service in N. Berlin and it keeps timing me out!]

  • by Matthew T. Grant Fri Nov 2, 2012 via blog

    Thanks for responding to my response, Gemma!

    I was looking for the Coltrane article because he's one of my musical/cultural idols.

    While I couldn't exactly tell what kind of business you are in from looking at your site, I did think that it was well-written and that you covered some interesting subjects (such as out-of-focus waves).


  • by Gemma Sun Nov 4, 2012 via blog

    That's great, Matthew.

    the webiste you see is only my external portal, the business side of it is not indexed and only available to paid searchers. When they come to my site from that direction, the focus is much more clear.

    It is intended to show that I my interests are eclectic and that I can express difficult ideas.

    My thoughts on Coltrane were that whilst he was a real genius, he tried too hard to be genuine at all times. Louis Armstrong took a more reasonable course and his solos were scripted - not that anybody listening would notice unless they were musicians themselves. Which is the point. My understanding is that Coltrane wanted to be unique each and every time - and with jazz you just can't do that every night. My partner is a jazz trombonist and the things he tells me just blow my mind. His insights are truly profound.

    There are very real parallels between copywriting and jazz. Much of my work for businesses is pretty straightforward, and in the Armstrong style. There are moments when I get inspired, when you are writing for the general public, few would notice it.

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