We have all heard the phrase, first impressions are hard to overcome. Have you ever really thought about how that influences your decisions every day? When you meet another person for the first time, do you really see the complex organism functioning before you? Do you appreciate the spectacular feat of nature that is represented by all those internal organs? Or, is your first thought – he/she is beautiful, or ugly, or different, or so bland you really do not react at all. Now, suppose it is a group of people. Which one draws your attention first? Be honest, it is the one who is really different looking – not different inside (that will come later) but different outside. Same is true in almost every interaction we have, even with objects. We like the car we think is the most beautiful looking, we like a piece of clothing because it is our ‘style’ (in-other-words it has our ‘look’), and everyone knows we buy new wines based on how cool the label is – taste comes later.
So, what happens when that first impression is not good? The plate of food did not look like something you wanted to eat. Did it take a few bites before you started to change your mind? Were you hesitant about it? Did you think the first bite wasn’t so good, but your friend said to keep going – it will get better. Maybe! Your brain did not want to keep eating. Every warning sign in your neurons said this was not going to turn out well.
Well, last time we checked, those evaluation board members reviewing your company’s proposal – yes, with millions of dollars on the line – were human beings. Which means, they are susceptible to the same emotional reactions to everything they see. Do you want their first impression to be “wow, this is beautiful, interesting and different” or would you prefer “wow, this is ugly”? Just asking?
If I told you that ugly does not score as well as beautiful and interesting, would you really need some numerical proof, or is good common-sense good enough? The challenge is, what makes a proposal beautiful and interesting? Well, it certainly cannot be the content, that is the wine in the bottle. Yes, it will become important, in stages of exposure, but for now it must be the first thing they see! So. how do you create a great first impression?
Obviously, creating a great first impression means having a great cover. Some firms give this some thought, but generally not a lot. Most just pick a cool picture and then put lots of administrative information all around it. Some just place the title of the program, the administrative data, and a logo and leave it at that.
Since we are talking about a cover, an appropriate, beautiful and interesting image is critical. One that tells a story, which often requires melding several images together, but not as a collage. Anyone can past a couple of photos side by side. What you should be looking for is an original piece of creative art that is reflective of the story your proposal will tell. That can take hours or even days to find or, when necessary, create.
Then you need a cogent message. Not the title of the agency, office and program (yes, put it there, but it does not need to be big – rest assured the client knows the title of their program.) This message should be the biggest thing in print on your cover. Think of it as the brand message for your firm’s solution. Like every brand message, it needs to be impactful, it needs to be easy to remember and it needs to relay the essential impression you want the client to grasp about why your company is different. Not an easy task! Again, it can take hours or days to create a great brand message for your proposal.
You might also want to support the message with a few facts about your story that would draw the interest of a reader. You have seen these in the ads – the V8, 350hp 24 valve Formula One configured power plant with the Italian leather seats – drive me first! Remember, we buy wine because of the label. Your cover is your label – therefore, it should be the one page in your proposal you spend the most love on.
Which proposal would you read first?