First Impressions Are Everything (Especially for Your Products)

Perception colors the way we see the world. As such, they’re incredibly powerful. In very binary terms, it can be the difference between liking something or not. And in many instances, first impressions can leave an indelible mark on how something is eventually perceived. The stakes are especially high when something so impactful like perception can be so heavily influenced based on the smallest and briefest of interactions.

As is the case with how perceptions affect how we view so much in this world, it’s no different when it comes to products. First impressions can make all the difference in how we define the usefulness and relevance of a particular product in our lives. That partially explains why making improvements to the onboarding of products can have an outsized impact over time on growth. Any improvements you can make in day 1 retention will trickle on down to the rest of the adoption phase and well into long term retention. It’s no secret that some of the best performing products also have some of the best 1 day, 1 week, 1 month retention rates.

But if safeguarding the perception and initial impressions of our products is a top priority for growth, we need to expand the scope of how we define onboarding. Onboarding starts the moment that a user first comes across your product or, more broadly, your brand. The truth is that impressions of your product are being formed before someone even opens your app or visits your website for the very first time.

In some cases it starts at the moment that someone discovers your app in the app store. But if we’re being real, hardly any of us are discovering apps in the app store these days. Discovery tends to happen even before we venture into the app store or before we click on a link to a product.

Today — discovery more often happens in social media feeds, messaging apps, or in person by word of mouth. The context in which different products are shared invariably colors perception. Was your product shared by a trusted source? Or was it presented in the context of a privacy nightmare? Does the message come across as genuine or is it spammy?

For product oriented people in growth, something like brand awareness can be wildly uncomfortable or unsatisfying. It’s hard to measure and it’s hard to attribute. And yet, it’s a vital intangible that can’t be ignored. There isn’t much to benefit from here by being in denial about the value of intangibles. In another context — likability continues to be one of the most important considerations across hiring decisions around the world. Just because there isn’t a perfect system to score someone’s likability on a scale of 1–10 in no way diminishes the importance of it.

Brand awareness is no different. Initiatives to improve brand awareness are often times the very first exposure we have to products. It shapes our perceptions and our initial impressions when we go to seek out a product. That’s why it’s so important to carefully craft how your brand and your product is positioned outside of the confines of your product itself.

Any meaningful growth strategy should have a sound game plan on creating brand awareness and creating an air of credibility around your product. Without it, you’ll be swimming against the current. The type of attention or interest that someone enters your product with for the very first time will have a massive impact on the effectiveness of any onboarding. In fact, it’ll make all the difference in the world.

With all of that said, this isn’t to say that any and all initiatives that have questionable impact on growth can or should be justified under the umbrella of ‘brand awareness.’ It’s important to always use your growth metric as a trailing indicator of how brand awareness initiatives are performing. If knowledge of your brand continues to increase without starting to trickle down into growth over time, it may very well be that the right audiences aren’t being reached at which point a change in strategy may be justified.

It’s a constant balancing act.

The best in the world tend to find the perfect combination of art and science. For many, growth tends to skew on the side of hard analytics and science. In the quest to achieving hockey stick growth, let’s not forget to infuse more art in all that we do. Without brand awareness, credibility, and a little more art, growth professionals will be ignoring one of the more powerful tools in their toolkit to move the needle on growth.

If you made it this far, thanks so much for reading and for spending a few of your precious minutes with me. If you found this valuable, please hit the heart button below or share it with a friend- it’d mean a lot.