First Impressions Count

“If it doesn’t sell, it isn’t creative.” – David Ogilvy

“Did you buy milk for Daniel yesterday?”

“No, I thought YOU did!”

So I did what any parent would in that situation. I decanted some of our goat’s milk into the near-empty cow’s milk carton and put it back in the fridge.

You see, we have three goats, and have been enjoying fresh goat’s milk and homemade cheeses. But we continued to buy cow’s milk for our eldest son.

We tried to get Daniel to like goat’s milk. We even talked him into doing a blind taste test. He preferred glass “A” (goat’s milk) to glass “B” (regular old cow’s milk). But he still said, “No way. Absolutely NOT!” to goat’s milk.

But on that fateful day, Daniel didn’t notice that we’d pulled a switcheroo. So we simply keep washing the carton with a picture of cows on it and refilling it with goat’s milk. Daniel drinks it without a hint of complaint. He believes he is drinking cow’s milk. Everyone’s happy.

This got me thinking about how packaging influences what we buy. I also started thinking about how important it is for every aspect of your business – from your sales letters to your website to your product itself – to be in line with what your customers expect.

Here’s how to do it…

  • Match the Message to the Medium

Let’s say your product is a simple black and white newsletter. Well, you wouldn’t want to promote it with a glossy four-color brochure or high-tech online ads. The discrepancy between the sales material and the product might make your customers feel like they’ve somehow been cheated.

I know one successful publisher who, for the last 40 years, has been putting out a newsletter on investing. His marketing materials look like they were produced in a rush – written on a typewriter and photocopied. And that’s exactly how the newsletters themselves look.

This publisher has built a multimillion-dollar business with a very low refund rate. One reason he’s been so successful is because of the quality of his product. But another reason is because his product matches the impression his sales letters convey. Black and white. No fancy graphics. His letters simply promise cutting-edge information – immediately useful, timely news. And his newsletters make good on that promise.

Still not convinced that the appearance of your promotional materials is important?

About 20 years ago, I taught a meditation technique. The program was targeted at busy, stressed-out professionals. At the time, other types of meditation were available. Some of them were even offered for free. But it was important for me to reach people who could afford to pay my fee.

I didn’t have a big marketing budget, so I tried leafleting homes in areas where a lot of professionals lived. Although this brought in plenty of inquiries, they almost always objected to the course fee – even those who probably could afford it.

I tried different approaches, including PR (which was highly successful), newspaper advertising, and direct mail. (This was before the Internet.) And with those methods, I seldom received complaints about the fee.

I believe the reason my leaflet didn’t attract the “right” customers was because it didn’t “match” what I was offering. People didn’t want to pay for a course offered via a photocopied piece of paper dropped in their letterbox. The ad lowered their expectations about my course and made them think it wasn’t worth much.

But when my promotions looked more professional, they conveyed a much better – and more truthful – impression of my course. And I signed up a lot more people.

  • Get Your Website on Board

I am amazed at how much time many Internet entrepreneurs spend on their website or e-mail messages. Some spend hours perfecting colors, graphics, and logos. What they really need to do is focus on generating sales.

Listen, unless you’re selling ultra-expensive products, your website doesn’t need to be fancy. Take a look at almost any website for an Agora business. What you’ll find is very little by way of design. And Agora’s sales totaled close to $300 million in 2006.

Good website design must convey what a customer can reasonably expect when doing business with you. For most Internet businesses, an elaborate design is not necessary… and may even be detrimental.

Think about it for a second. A flashy website conveys flashiness. People who see your high-tech site will expect your products to be high-tech too. And then one of two things will happen:

1. Your ideal customer – the one who really would benefit from your product – will leave your site because it looks too expensive. Or…

2. You’ll get customers who expect your products to match your site. And if they aren’t as state-of-the-art, you’ll get a flood of refunds.

Of course, if you are a photographer or architect, you have to put a lot more into the design of your website. But most businesses need only a very basic website. (A bonus: Basic websites are MUCH less expensive than fancy ones.)

Many stock website templates are available online for a few dollars. You can also use XSitePro, a program that ETR has used to help people create a website with a few clicks of the mouse. (This software comes as part of ETR’s Internet Money Club package.)

  • Make Sure Your Packaging Says What You Want It to Say

I led the charge recently for a client who needed a specialized software system. I produced a 70-page requirements document for the system we needed, and of the responses I received, prices ranged from five to seven figures. But the thing that struck me was not how different the prices were… it was how differently the responses were presented.

Ultimately, the presentations conveyed little about whether one system was more apt than another. But each one created an impression. And your customers are getting a similar impression about your product and company every time you communicate with them.

I’d asked for both printed and electronic responses, and received everything from stapled-together photocopies to lavish binders. I got unlabeled CDs in plastic cases. CDs with handwritten contents. And CDs with “designed” labels and laser-etched engraving. Sometimes the price of the system bore no resemblance to the way it was presented. In fact, the highest-priced one had one of the shoddier presentations.

Should a presentation always look crisp and professional? I expect that from my bank. But if I’m buying farming supplies from a small operation, their warm welcome on the telephone and the personal tone of their e-mails makes a better impression on me than technically perfect online or printed marketing materials.

Packaging does matter. Your customers form opinions about your company, product, or service based on an entirely subjective perception of its “wrapper.”

In a Nutshell…

It’s surprisingly simple to create a profitable online business without spending a lot of time or money on your advertising, website, and packaging. Start with something simple to get you going, and test what works along the way.

[Ed. Note: David Cross is a contributor to The Internet Money Club, ETR’s brand-new program for starting your own powerhouse Internet business. Learn how to pick a product and set up a website. Discover copywriting secrets from the masters, techniques to help you create an e-mail list, the best ways to market your product, and more. We’ve limited the number of spots to 250, and, as of today, we’ve only got a few left. So sign up now .]