Make It a Good First Impression

“You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”

As true as that is in the offline world, it’s especially true on the web. Consumers are fickle, and they rarely give second chances to web sites and ad campaigns that screw things up the first time around.

I was reminded of this several times in the past week as I witnessed several dot-coms expressing their need to overcome the negative impact of their first impression on their customers. Often, the first experience any consumer has with a dot-com brand comes from advertising, so we need to make sure that our ads convey a positive brand experience for anyone who might see them. Let’s also remember that the site behind any online ad should also provide a good first impression.

A couple of years ago, a client of mine launched an online ad campaign designed to drive sales of one of his products. The campaign was fairly wide-reaching, and the ads brought consumers to the e-commerce pages on which they could buy the product directly.

The campaign seemed simple, but the client had a problem just prior to the campaign launch his server crashed inexplicably several times during the course of the day. I brought this to the client’s attention and asked to delay the campaign, but my request fell on deaf ears. This particular client wanted to be first to market, and something like a buggy e-commerce server wasn’t going to stop him or his company.

Years later, this same client is experiencing a problem attracting customers. Online focus groups revealed that a few potential customers had tried unsuccessfully to purchase as a result of the launch campaign, and the experience destroyed their perception of the brand. As this client considers the tradeoff he made (first-mover advantage versus brand equity), I feel that I should mention that the problem could have been solved quite easily.

Online media campaigns are easy to tweak. Since media buyers tend to buy a fixed number of impressions over a given time period, online publishers don’t much care if flight dates need to move a day or two. In the above example, I could have easily moved the campaign back a day or two, giving the client more time to work out all the bugs in his server. The first-mover advantage wouldn’t have been compromised by a delay of two days, and consumers would have had a better experience and a better perception of the brand.

Many media buyers have experienced scenarios like the one above. If a client’s site doesn’t work, recommend suspending the ad campaign for a couple of days while the site gets fixed.

Equally prevalent are problems with the actual advertising. Many of us have had to deal with rich media ads that don’t quite work as advertised or with third-party servers that accidentally serve broken GIFs. In this case, you can not only ruin a brand experience for your prospects, but you can also detract from your advertising partner’s brand.

Ever wonder why some sites have such stringent ad specs and long lead times for testing rich media ads? For the most part, it’s because they want to protect their brand by preventing browser crashes, broken GIFs, and other such gaffes.

To prevent ruining a prospect’s first impression of your brand, here are some tips:

  • Start simple with your advertising. Roll out some simple GIF banners before the 400K streaming Java doohickeys. That way, if the rich media ads don’t work properly, you have something to fall back on.

  • Don’t launch if it doesn’t work properly. If your client is having problems pulling together a working site before the launch deadline, be sure he or she knows about the flexibility of the medium. Let your client know that you can delay ad flights without too much trouble. Don’t forget to stress the importance of the first impression, and make sure you articulate the difficulty in overcoming a negative first impression.
  • Perform an integrity check yourself. Test your client’s process from beginning to end, beginning with the click/interaction with the ad and ending with a successful purchase (or whatever your client’s desired action might be.) This will help you spot any potential problems ahead of time. Put yourself in your customer’s shoes and ask, “Does this give me a favorable impression of [insert client here]?” If your answer is no, think about delaying your campaign.

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