Growth Insights for CEOs

The Shocking Cost of a Bland First Impression

Posted by Stijn Hendrikse

The Tale of the Flavorless Wonton Soup, or Brand Strategy gone South 

When we first moved into our peaceful cul-de-sac home somewhere in suburban Seattle, my family and I were pleased to note the existence of a Chinese restaurant, on the corner of a street just two blocks away. Disappointingly, our first trip to this establishment was, in a word – awful. If Yelp! had existed a dozen years ago, my review would have read something like this:

brand strategy consulting

Having sampled my share of Chinese cuisine over the years, I have a fairly finicky palate when it comes to Asian food – though I will quickly add, I am not a gourmand by any stretch. Nevertheless, I know good Chinese food when I taste it – and back in my native Netherlands, my family and I were fortunate to enjoy an excellent interpretation of the flavors of the Far East, as prepared with care by our neighborhood Chinese-Indonesian restaurateur.

So after our first impression, indeed, we did not return – instead, we found a place with better standards of quality, about 20 minutes from our home. We have faithfully patronized this more distant restaurant for the past 11 years – always driving right past the “Bland House” and never once considering a return.

I recently did the math to consider the amount of potential revenue forfeited by the local restaurant – I figured the amount had to be substantial, but, in fact, it was staggering:

24 (# of weeks, on average, we order Chinese food in a typical year) x

11 (years we live in this neighbourhood) x

$65 (average ticket for a Chinese family meal including gratuity) =

$17,160 “Bland House” lost revenue


This is a mind-blowing sum, considering that this is one missed opportunity from one potential patron. It got me thinking about my recent experiences with companies that squander prospective revenue-producing relationships by not investing appropriately in their online presence. This cannot be compensated with even the best brand strategy

First Click = First Impression

Today’s online consumer forms a first impression of your website in less than two-tenths of a second, according to a study by Missouri S&T University. And lest we think that a visually appealing homepage will do the trick – consider that today’s Internet is wired to deliver your first-time traffic to an amalgam of pages – things like blogs, landing pages and the like.

Simply betting the farm on pretty colors, a snazzy logo, visual appeal and an amazing homepage is not enough to make a first impression. Today, companies must consider the following recipe when developing an online marketing strategy:

  • Relevance: Every bit of content must be compelling, rich, targeted and connected to your overall marketing strategy and priorities.
  • Reputation: Your website has to deliver on your company’s overall promise – it must be easy for a new site visitor to quickly determine what you are known for; what the value of the potential transaction is to them; and that the company will stand behind its products or services once the sale is made.
  • Experience: You must have a plan to quickly capture and capitalize upon all leads derived through the site – and then deliver a customer experience that is memorable from the outset. Telephone follow-up, for example, when a prospect doesn’t complete a purchase, is a good example of how you can add impact in this manner.
This combination is what distinguishes companies who turn a solid first impression into long-term marketing success.

A Second Chance

I pondered all of this as I suggested to my family that we give “Bland House” another try. Last week, we went back – and discovered that the new proprietors – the twenty-something children of the original owners -- have infused a new energy into the establishment. Both the food and service were great and the menu was fantastic. The experience was a sad reminder of what was lost 11 years ago – but a keen lesson in how new marketing energy and engagement can lead to improved customer experiences.

It’s also why I have always believed that a good marketing team should consist of a variety of people – different ages, perspectives and experiences – to ensure that you marketing programs reflect the voice of the current generation. A good internship program – one in which the interns are given the chance to influence marketing insights – is one way to cultivate this attitude.

One final note -- though I never spoke of my displeasure to the original owners of the “Bland House” – which meant they had no way to track their missed opportunity -- you have a decided advantage in tracking unsatisfied patrons in the online universe. Things like bounce rates, time on site and other measures can readily reveal actionable data that ensure that your first impression is in fact, the best impression.

Topics: Brand Management

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