How Much Does Appearance Matter?

Michelle Nichols thinks that your appearance may be the key factor in making a sale.

Madonna may think we're living in a material world, but believe me, salespeople exist in a visual one. Why? Because the successful ones make sure their selling process is a visual winner. The visual aspects of selling are important because customers unconsciously use this information to make inferences and draw conclusions — including whether or not to sign that purchase order. This process happens in the flash of a cerebal synapse, but it can have lasting consequences for you.

This has been a dilemma for me for years. For most of my life, I bought cheap clothes, wore all my shirts untucked, kept my hair short and neat, and was clean shaven. I always thought that looks and appearance shouldn't matter. It actually used to irk me that some women seemed interested in me more for my looks than my personality or brains. I have always been one of the "smart kids" and except for a brief stint in high school, education and learning have always been one of my top priorities in life. And while women say that want a man who is smart, I don't really think most women care that much.* (That was pretty much cemented in my mind when I returned to college after a summer in construction, and I had a very deep very dark tan. I had more women hit on me during the next 2-3 months than I did in the rest of my life put together. But that is a different post.)

Anyway, when I became interested in neuroscience a few years ago, I realized that our brains respond to subliminal signals about looks and there is nothing we can do about it. So I figured I should use that to my advantage and I started buying nicer clothes. Then last year Mrs. Businesspundit convinced me to highlight my hair, and later on to get that medium length partially spiked messy look. It has made very self-conscious, but I can definitely say that over time, I have noticed that people respond to me differently based on how I look. When I look nicer and more stylish, people tend to respect me more, address me as sir, give me better service, and all kinds of things. The same goes with my goatee. I look maybe 5 years older with one (plus I look meaner) so people treat me differently when I have it vs. when I am clean shaven.

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Then a few months ago I read Virginia Postrel's book The Substance of Style, and I finally decided to embrace the fact that aesthetics has value. I think, unfortunately, that people really do judge you on the way that you look, even though they probably shouldn't. I think it is important to know your audience and dress appropriately. I know it is a hassle, and if I wasn't married I would probably struggle severely, but in this day and age presenting yourself well has become an important skill. As I have said before, I would not be surprised to see companies using aesthetics as a competitive advantage (for products and people) more often. And I would not be surprised to see a Chief Aesthetics Officer in upper management of some Fortune 500 companies soon.

* I say this only becuase 90% of the women I dated only seemed interested in talking about tv shows, popular music, and other chit chat like that. Deep discussions seemed to put them to sleep, and when I would ask serious questions on what they thought about things they would usually respond "I don't know" or "I don't care."