When Mark Shapiro was introduced as the Toronto Blue Jays’ president last November, his opening press conference wasn’t an unmitigated disaster but it was a flawed exercise.

Using “corporate speak”, Shapiro came across as stiff, unemotional and, frankly, patronizing. He didn’t seem to recognize the passion and knowledge of Toronto’s baseball community, or the relationship that ex-GM Alex Anthopoulos had with fans. For whatever reason, Shapiro appeared unprepared for his debut, which was a fail for Rogers’ PR machine.

impressionsLast week, Shapiro appeared at “Pitch Talks”, an event that attracts hundreds of baseball geeks (you have to seek it to believe it!. Interviewed by Stephen Brunt, Shapiro was charming, engaged, funny and comfortable. He even laughed when the “Imperial March” music was used during his introduction.

To me, the contrast of Shapiro’s two appearances emphasized the importance of first impressions. In today’s fast-moving, multitasking world, you only get one shot to make a good first impression so it’s crucial to get it right. You need to say the right things, provide the right information and meet or surpass expectations.

This applies to startups looking to launch their products. It is clearly a major event when startups pull back on the covers so they must make a good first impression. They don’t have to wow the audience but they have to come across as prepared, ready for the spotlight and professional.

How a startup communicates, the look and feel of the product and the product’s functionality must pass the public litmus test. People need to believe the startup is the real deal as opposed to a company not ready for prime time. If a startup’s product is half-baked or they come across as arrogant or naive, they have blown a golden opportunity. A good example is much-vaunted Color, which crashed and burned with a mediocre, over-hyped product.

It’s always interesting when startups stumble when they publicly launch. All the work that goes into building a product is undercut by a launch plan that is flawed, poorly executed and/or rushed out the door. Maybe the startup is too anxious to get going, or perhaps it doesn’t the insight to know better. Whatever the case, a bad first impression is made.

So how do startups make a positive first impression? Here are some tips:

  1. Make sure your product is ready for public consumption. It doesn’t need every single bell and whistle, but it needs to work. One of the keys is establishing expectations – it’s the classic under-promise and over deliver adage. When a startup tries to squeeze in too many features, bugs and issues inevitably emerge. It is better to have a few things work well, rather than be all things to all people.
  2. Taking a glass-half-full view of the world, let’s assume a product launch or media outreach campaign is a success. If this happens, your Website has to be ready for the spotlight. It has to tell people what your company does, the leading benefits, provide information the key people, highlight your customers and make it easy to contact someone. It’s not rocket science; it’s simply a matter of making sure all the bases are covered so your startup looks legitimate and accessible.
  3. Provide different user-friendly ways for people to get a snapshot of your startup. It could be a one-page summary, an explainer video, a fact sheet or an “About” page that actually tells someone what your startup does and why it matters.
  4. Make sure spokespeople are willing and available and, as important, prepared to answer questions about the company, its product, rivals, and the marketplace. If the media, bloggers, potential partners or analysts want to more about the company, you need to be responsive and accommodating. It makes no sense to blow your moment in the spotlight by being elusive.

First impressions matter because they establish a mood, tone and brand personality. A good first impression builds credibility, believability, and confidence. It’s super important so startups need to focus on the large and small details to get off to the right start.

If you’re looking to jump-start your startup marketing, I can help you make it happen – everything from messaging and brand positioning to strategic planning and content development. Here’s how you can explore the different ways we can work together.