BRANDING: Why Making a Positive First Impression Matters

Posted on March 2nd, 2016   |   Written by: Catherine   |  Post Categories: BrandingBusiness

A number of years ago, I met Howard Shultz on the street in downtown Seattle and had no idea who he was. Brain-drained and exhausted, I’d been at an energy industry business training which had been held all day in a stuffy room with no windows – and they provided us with no water. I was parched and badly wanted a coffee.

En route back to the parking garage and my car, I was thrilled to discover a Starbucks on the corner. But to my dismay, I was stopped at the door. Apparently it was closed for a private party.

“Oh,” I said to a lean, pleasant-looking, casually-dressed man outside. “I can’t believe it’s closed. All I wanted to do is get a great cup of coffee. I’ve been in a training all day with no water and I am so thirsty. And I was so happy to see there was a Starbucks here.” 

“All you want is a cup of coffee?” he said.

“Oh, yes. That’s all, truly.” He looked at me quizzically. And then he spontaneously said, “I’m going to the event…I’ll get you a cup of coffee.”

“REALLY?” I squeaked. “Let me give you some money – that would be great!”

To which he looked at me even more amused, and said, “No, that’s fine.” And with no hesitation, said, “Say, why don’t you just come in with me. Really, it’s okay.”

“Are you sure they won’t mind? ” I said, nervously, afraid he would be over-stepping his bounds.

He smiled warmly and said, “No, I’m sure they won’t mind.”

So I followed him through the door, the security guard at the door eyeing me suspiciously. Once inside, all kinds of people were staring at me. They seemed very curious about why I was there. I thought to myself, “Well, I’m sure they’re wondering who the vagabond is this guy picked up on the street.”

Did I mention in my hurry to get to the training early that morning, I’d tripped and crashed into a Nordstrom window? By bad luck, I’d worn stockings and heels that day. So I had runs in my stockings and a skinned knee. Let’s just say I did not look glamorous or my usual spiffy self.
So, of course, my assumption of their stares was due to thinking they were looking at my disarray. But shortly, I discovered the real reason.

After my new friend made sure I was well-served with coffee, he then headed to the front of the room and grabbed a microphone. “Oh, look at that,” I thought to myself, amazed, “how lucky was I to meet the keynote speaker at the door!”

And after this guy started talking, a finely-dressed British man sidled up to me and with a lilting accent, whispered in my ear, “How do you know Howard?”

“Howard?”  I said I didn’t know him, that he’d just invited me in off the streets to get a cup of coffee. “What does Howard do here?” I asked naively, thinking Howard was probably some guy in charge of a Starbucks team motivation meeting. The British guy then chuckled and said, “he owns this place – that’s Howard Shultz.” I nearly fell on the floor! I was so surprised.

What has stayed with me full-force since that day was how genuine and nice Howard Shultz was to me; a stranger on the street – and how much of an impact his treatment had on me in connection to my first impression of him and, subsequently, his business.

First impressions are essential to your brand. And we never have a second chance to make a first impression. That first impression can mean instant credibility, loyalty and buy-in for your brand. That positive memory is forever etched on my brain – and it makes me smile when I think of it. Starbucks would have to really mess up for me to change my mind about their brand – and even then, I would find a reason to forgive it due to that positive first impression of its owner.

I was a virtual nobody and he treated me as a “somebody.” This model for business and for life is profound. It makes all the difference when you are establishing a business – and it also enrichens how you live.

Not a day goes by when I buy a cup of coffee from Starbucks that I don’t remember Shultz’s kindness toward me. And when I drink a Starbucks coffee, I always silently tip my hat to Shultz.

His open invitation, compassion, and response to me as a human being keeps me loyal to the brand. And while I know Starbucks is not perfect and the company, like many do, has had its brand challenges, that day on the street in downtown Seattle and Shultz’s good treatment of me has forever sealed my impression of his company as being one of integrity and respect. 

I like to believe his humane spirit is one of the driving forces behind his business success. And by his example, we can all learn a great lesson about building our own business brands.

Can you think of a time in your life when a company’s brand was elevated in your mind due to something positive that happened in your life as a result of their behavior toward you? If so, I’d love to hear your story.

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