A new hair salon has opened in my neighborhood. The first signs have gone up with paint brushed onto poster board in wide, uneven strokes. As I drive past, I can tell they are now open for business and I can get a $10 haircut. I’m also picking up on more subtle messages beyond what’s brushed up onto the posters. This is my first impression of the salon and it’s sending some initial signals about their brand whether they intend to or not. I’ve seen several businesses fail in this location, so as a small-business owner and neighbor I’m hoping they will succeed. But even if they raise their prices and a more polished sign a few months from now, it will be hard for me to get past the initial connections I’ve made to cheap, careless and poor quality — things no business would want their brand to represent.
I live in a funky neighborhood and it could be the salon owners felt their customers wouldn’t think twice about the temporary signage. But these makeshift images have staying power and are branding permanent perceptions as well as narrowing their customer base. So how does a business know when it’s showing authentic brand personality or just too much information?
As the adage goes, you never get another chance to make a first impression. It’s true. Even companies that don’t roll out a well-designed brand platform are saying something at every point of customer contact. If you don’t protect and manage your brand throughout your marketing and communications, you leave it open for interpretation. Customers pick up on your core values with every interaction, whether it’s point of purchase, packaging, browsing your website or Twitter feed, or reading referrals on Yelp. There are plenty of opportunities to influence those interactions, and it starts with understanding your core strengths and values, as well as the position you want to own in the market and in the minds of your consumers. From there, get to know the customers you want to attract and the messages that will resonate best with them. Being authentic is the best approach with messages that reflect your beliefs and benefits, and that engage your audience. So, maybe your customers really do prefer the hand-painted poster board signs. That’s good to know. It’s also helpful to know if that market is large enough to sustain your business, because first impressions can also be lasting ones.