The practical benefits of judging a book by its cover

15Jun10

As the saying goes, you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. This suggests that first impressions aren’t always accurate. True or not, it doesn’t change the fact that people rely on first impressions more often than they’d like to admit.

Of course, it’s not hard to see why a book with great cover art will sell more copies than a more mundane design, and this relationship extends to virtually every situation where we have to make quick decisions about the quality of a product or a business. For instance, I bet most people would agree with each of the following statements:

– A retail store that employs friendly and helpful cashiers is more likely to have quality products and be fair about pricing.

– A dentist who cares enough to provide a bright and comfortable waiting room is more likely to care about the patient’s well-being, rather than just trying to maximize fee revenues.

– A company that invests the time to make the text on their website clear and compelling will tend to offer an easier purchasing process and excellent support after the sale.

In each case, notice how the assumptions we make aren’t directly related to the first impressions that we’re basing them on. We’re taking the available info from one area of observation, and extrapolating it to other areas. Does this mean customers are being arbitrary in their decision making? Hardly. To the contrary, they’re being practical, and using the information they gather from first impressions to make assumptions that — more often than not — end up being correct. So the next time you wonder if it’s worth sweating the “little stuff”, keep in mind that these small signals of quality may be exactly what customers are hoping to find.



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