Psychology of the First Impression

I attended the GPCE (General Practitioner Conference and Exhibition) last weekend and aside from being utterly exhausted and having had lots of fun, it was also a fabulous opportunity for the (self-taught) anthropologist in me to come out.

Everyone at the expo was either a health care professional or a practice manager in the health industry, so they were the target audience of exhibitors – theoretically, every stand could have some potential benefit for each attendee. But some stands were frequented more than others, and other stands seemed to attract a lot of people, but those people never stayed long. Fascinated, I started thinking about the psychology of the first impression.

From my observations, people seemed to be initially attracted to stands with “goodie” bags prominently on display, or to the larger, corner stands (prime real estate!) of the loftier, household-name exhibitors. This accorded with my expectations: people will often go to what they know (the corporate giants) or to where they can get something for nothing (like the sample packs and testers bags). Yet the stands who had people stay with them the longest were not those offering the best goodies (in fact, at least one store seemed unmanned for much of the expo, with the goodie bags piled on a table and on the floor, free for the taking – and take the patrons did!) Two stands in particular seemed to have people stopping, staying, talking, and talking, and talking, more than others. I won’t name names, but here are my thoughts, based on my observations (and discussions with my daughter, who attended the expo as a patron):

Immediate approach: this was an expo, not a retail store where people might wander by and browse on the way to lunch – if someone stops at your stand, it’s because they’re interested in what you’ve got to offer. Both stands I observed had staff who greeted newcomers almost instantly.

Identify the need and know the product: explain why the current market has an opening for the product/service. The staff did this quickly; no meandering to get to the point – a short, sharp, identification of need and the ability to give a quick overview of the product to start, and come back to the detail later.

Generalisations are less confronting than direct sales: the staff at each stand did a very good job of speaking about the problem their product could fix, and how it might be used, in a general context – they didn’t get too personal too soon; they simply expected their product is being used by everyone to fix a common problem experienced by all.

Offer more: By the time these stands got to the point of signing up customers/clients or asking if they wanted more information, the patron already felt comfortable and engaged – the opportunity for more was just icing on the cake. This intrigued me in particular, as there were lots of stands that failed to achieve the first three points and as a result got a cold shoulder from patrons when the stand staff offered any form of follow-up service.

Now I realise that by the time staff had the time to do the above, we may be talking about a bit more than a first impression – but still, in the context of a competitive market where you had only a small window of opportunity to get the attention of each person, this constitutes as a first impression more than, say, a marketing campaign with staged approaches.
Needless to say, as an exhibitor myself, I hope that I was able to satisfy each of the indicators of success set out above. If my hoarse voice come Monday morning and pages of scribbled notes had anything to do with it, perhaps I was on the right track…