When the biggest brand in the world gets it wrong, it should be a warning to all of us. In 1985, soft drink giant Coca-Cola was involved in one of the most famous marketing duds of all time — New Coke. And it was all based on the power of first impression. 

For over 100 years, Coca-Cola and Pepsi have battled for top spot. This is regularly won by Coke — but not by much. In the early 1980s, the market testing they were doing across the United States of America showed a disturbing trend. Offered a sip of each of the colas in a blind taste test, more people were saying they preferred the taste of Pepsi. 

The Coca-Cola Company panicked. It was convinced that its century-old recipe had lost favour with consumers. This resulted in the launch in April 1985 of New Coke.

Just 77 days later, the company reintroduced the drink that New Coke was supposed to replace. At least part of the reason for the failure was the misleading taste testing. It was based on tasting a sip and saying which sip you preferred. 

Author Malcolm Gladwell in his book Blink quotes  Carol Dollard from Pepsi: “I’ve seen several times when the Central Location Test (sip test) will give you one result and the home use test (where consumers take a number of cans home) will give you the exact opposite.” In other words, their first impression was wrong!

In audio-visual sales there are two phenomena known as “listener fatigue” and “viewer fatigue”. Listener fatigue means that the speakers that impress you most in the showroom (and when you first get them home) often produce a sound that — after a short time — you tire of.

Similarly, viewer fatigue occurs when the screen that impressed you most with its brightness in the showroom looks artificially bright after extended viewing. Our first impressions mislead us.

We all have that item of clothing in the wardrobe that we saw for the first time in the shop and thought: “Wow…I must have it!” We now look at it and ask: “What was I thinking?”

This has two messages: Be sure not to mislead by first impressions. There are some people who are thoroughly trustworthy; but, because of a lack of social skills, they make people they meet for the first time feel uneasy. There are others who create a brilliant first impression yet are totally untrustworthy. Confidence tricksters have mastered this skill.

Be sure to give the best possible first impression to give yourself the best chance of success. In today’s fast-moving world, the first impression could be the only impression.

Here are some hints to help you create that positive first impression:

Be a great listener

Involve somebody in a 15-minute conversation and get them talking for 13 of those minutes and they will think you are the most interesting conversationalist they have ever met!

Force yourself to be interested or find something interesting in what the person is saying. Rather than trying to find something relevant to contribute (which many people find very difficult), ask a question that will have him telling you more.

Have a positive intent

First impressions are based on an assessment of two factors: intent and competence. After deciding whether the intent is positive or negative, people then assess your competence.

So, a genuine intent to understand the person you are meeting for the first time and assisting him in some way will ensure that you create the best possible impression.

Have good body language

When you meet a person, make direct eye contact for the first two seconds, then broaden your focus to the upper face. If seated in a chair with armrests, rest your arms on them. It makes you look more confident than the alternative (arms inside the armrests).

If you are standing, be sensitive to personal space. You need to be close enough to make the connection, but stay too close and you will be seen as pushy or insensitive.

Try not to touch your face when you are talking. Face-touching gestures are commonly associated with lying, so you don’t want them making that false connection.

Give a compliment

Receiving a compliment can be the highlight of someone’s day.  They will, obviously, remember the giver of the compliment very favourably. This is not always possible, because it must be sincere; but if your intent is to find something to compliment, it is surprising what you will see that you previously didn’t.

If first impressions can be wrong, make sure they are not wrong about you. By simply making an effort to make a positive first impression — rather than hoping it will happen spontaneously — you can significantly improve your success.

Article by Kevin Ryan, managing director of Training Edge Australia and an international speaker, workshop leader and author with Training Edge International. For more information, e-mail kevin.ryan@trainingedgeasia.com or visit www.trainingedgeasia.com