Consumer Psychology

CRESS: The Psychology of First (Brand) Impressions

First impressions matter – so what if you’re about to launch a new brand or product – how do you create that all-important first impression?

Well, the short answer from the psychology of first impressions is to trigger positive stereotypical associations.

Our ‘gut’ reaction to something or someone new is based on explicit and implicit inferences we make from salient features they display – and these are built from stereotypes built up from personal and shared experience.  For example, when we meet people we’ll take salient features – such as a tattoo on a female – and make (often false) assumptions based on that feature – tattoos on women are associated with promiscuity.

Other research into the psychology of first impressions has been summarised today by the BPS British Psychological Society, including

  • We associate eye-contact (brief, not sustained) with intelligence and sincerity
  • We associate fast speaking with intelligence (and lots of ‘fillers; such as ‘like’, um, ah with incompetence)
  • We associate male baldness with dominance
  • We associate facial features associated with brown eyes in males with dominance
  • We associate luxury clothing with influence
  • We associate types of shoes with personality (visibly branded is associated with disagreeable personality)
  • We associate walking style with personality traits (loose, expansive gait as adventurous, slow relaxed style as calm)
  • We associate multiple body piercings with low intelligence (although body piercings on women are associated with creativity)

So it’s all about associations – and to use Nobel prize winner Danaiel Kahnemann’s key term achieving ‘associational coherence‘ with (positive) mental associations. So what does all this mean for creating first impressions with new brands, products and services?  First and foremost, appearances matter – you need to make sure the first point of contact – whether an ad or packaging trigger top positive associations in your category – and do so in a distinctive way.  Specifically;

  1. First, make sure you understand the top positive associations in your category, and then make sure you trigger them (use word association games with consumers to do this, and consider using the implicit association test)
  2. Second, focus on triggering those positive associations that will distinguish your product from the competition.  One powerful way to do this is to give your product a distinctive brand personality – there’s a lot of nonsense written about brand personality (mostly associated with brand pyramids, onions etc) but people do personify brands – and they tend to do so on five ‘CRESS’ dimensions – competence, ruggedness, excitement, sophistication, sincerity.*  Choose a distinctive dimension, for example sophistication, and then find category associations – around it, and then add them to your product, packaging and communication



* The CRESS model is the dominant evidence-based brand personality model, but it’s not the only option – another option is to use the ‘big five’ human personality dimensions  – OCEAN (Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism) – based on the logic that people often choose brands based on their ‘display value’ – like a peacock tail – to publicly amplify a dominant or desired personality trait.


Chartered psychologist specialising in consumer behaviour, wellbeing and technology. Certified CX professional experienced in Design Thinking. A researcher, writer and speaker, Paul is head of Digital Insight at SYZYGY.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.