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Updated 20 Oct 2020

Personal branding: Don’t underestimate the power of your first impressions

Our increasingly visual culture has made image the most powerful form of non-verbal communication. People should want to do business with you from the second they lay eyes on you. 

Petra Laranjo, 16 October 2016  Share  0 comments  Print

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Although I firmly believe that how you see yourself is more important than what others think of you, it doesn’t change the fact that people treat us according to what we project. According to a series of experiments by Princeton psychologists Janine Willis and Alexander Todorov, it takes less than a second to form an opinion of a stranger.


  1. Dress for how you want to be addressed.
  2. Dress for the job you want, not the job you’ve got.
  3. Don’t lose credibility just because of the way you look. 

When you’re attempting to secure capital funding, land a new job, convince a customer of your products’ worth or service excellence, does your ‘personal packaging’ or personal brand reflect how serious you are about your business? After all, being taking seriously in business is, largely, the key to your success. 

We all know the saying, ‘You don’t get a second chance at a first impression’ so as much as we all would like to think that our skills are what really matters, first impressions count more than we care to admit. Image is a tool that, if leveraged correctly, can grow your business and establish you as a credible vendor or investment. It goes without saying that you have to deliver on your promises to clients thereafter.

Related: How personal branding builds self awareness

Re-invent and revive yourself and your business

In a professional environment, our image either validates our reputation or diminishes the legacy that we’re trying to build, by leaving a question in consumers’ minds.

A poor first impression can negatively affect assumptions made on your capabilities, reliability, work excellence, service delivery and trustworthiness. Let’s be honest, how many opportunities do you give someone who’s made a negative first impression on you? Remember that the same applies to others’ impression of you.

As an image and personal brand specialist, I’ve worked with thousands of individuals and corporates in uplifting their personal brand to create an impactful first and lasting impression. Life and business constitutes of multiple daily ‘first impressions’ with potential clients, business partners, possible employment opportunities and so forth. This is why ‘looking good’ is a necessity and not a luxury. 

Dress how you want to be addressed 

Professional -wardrobe -dress -sense

Appearances count in cold hard cash. Studies show that appearance matters when it comes to attaining higher salaries. Identical resumes were sent to recruitment companies, accompanied by different photographs of the supposed interviewee.

Starting salaries proposed ranged between 8 – 20% higher when the image presented by the interviewee was professional and well-groomed over the same interviewee that looked mediocre. 

In an excerpt from my book, Living On Purpose, I discuss the importance of image, both internal and external.

“Our external appearance is a reflection of our internal beliefs, so what messages are you communicating about yourself? In a business environment, a cohesive, contemporary and professional image expresses your values in staying relevant in the market, approaching tasks with focus, attention to detail and your ability to consistently deliver excellent work.

Related: Spring clean your personal brand: 3 Bad habits that must go

Here’s why Image and first impressions are so important in the minds of your clients:

  • If your image hasn’t evolved in 10 years, do people assume that your skillset and competency haven’t either? Technology evolves at a rapid rate – we should be keeping up. 
  • If you’re not being taken seriously at work or if investors are hesitant to support your revolutionary idea, could it be that you don’t ‘look the part’ of someone who has your experience or ability?
  • Are you being overlooked for a promotion because, at least according to your appearance, you don’t look like a leader or a person of influence?
  • Are you negatively impacting your company’s reputation because you don’t uphold an image of excellence and respect?
  • Are you inconsistent in your brand? Sending mixed messages challenges your authenticity and trustworthiness i.e. you say one thing but do another. 

We go to specialists for help all the time – doctors when we’re sick, accountants to balance our books, business strategists, and so forth. Consult a personal brand and image expert for help in developing an impactful image for you and for your business. Let us do what we do best so that you can focus on your business.

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About the author

Petra Laranjo

Petra Laranjo is a leading speaker and consultant in the personal branding, employee engagement and client relation management arenas. She has just completed her first book titled, ‘Living On Purpose: The Key to Change Your Life and Impact Others.’ Fourteen years of experience across corporate and entertainment industries have offered her a unique perspective in coaching the thousands of individuals in over 60 companies over the years. She has received various nominations including the FNB/ROCCI Business Woman of the Year.

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