You put on your best outfit for your first meeting with a new client. Your offices are well-appointed, fresh coffee is served in your branded mugs. You know that first impressions can make or break a relationship, and you pay attention to the details in order to make this first impression a positive one.

Then you pass your client report materials around. The colors are dull, the font is quirky and in places, text is too small for the clients to read comfortably. The content jumps around, too, creating a narrative that lacks focus.

With a glance, your chance of making a positive first impression is lost forever.

Advisors spend countless hours on the “whats” of client reports — analyzing financial data, crafting market commentary and formulating thoughtful recommendations for clients. But when it comes to how the information is presented in newsletters, written reports and presentation decks, let’s face it — most busy advisors don’t see design as a high value-added activity.

And that’s unwise, because studies show that it only takes a few seconds for people to make judgments about your brand value based solely on visual cues. So while you’re talking through your report, your clients may have already tuned out simply because the look of your materials doesn’t inspire confidence.

Client reports are the most public face of your firm. Your client reports and marketing materials are viewed by hundreds of clients, attorneys, accountants and other referral sources every year. They are arguably the most public face of your firm, shaping impressions every time they are reviewed. And don’t forget the residual impact of your materials. Long after the meeting is over, clients may share them with friends, colleagues and even your competitors. Every touch point triggers a first impression that can reinforce — or undermine — your brand reputation.

Good design helps clients understand what you’re communicating. In today’s image-driven world, how information is packaged is as important as what the information conveys. Good design will elevate your materials to the same standard of professional excellence you project through your personal appearance and demeanor. And studies have shown that good design helps clients understand the complex information you’re communicating.

Fortunately, incorporating thoughtful design into your client reports and other materials isn’t difficult. While engaging a professional graphic designer to develop a visual brand identity and logo is almost always a good idea, putting those principles into everyday practice isn’t difficult. You probably already have the necessary tools on your desktop— Microsoft Word and PowerPoint.

Do a client report makeover. A good place to begin is by evaluating how your current materials address the three pillars of professional presentation materials: Color, font and layout/information organization. Color

Colors convey meaning before the text is read. Did you know that blue inspires confidence and higher ideals? Choose colors that are most likely to resonate with your audience. If your practice targets millennials, go with a modern color palette of bright colors. Conversely, darker colors convey a more conservative message. And if you haven’t changed your color palette since the last century, now’s the time. You don’t need to get radical — just update that hunter green-and-cranberry-red to more contemporary shades of the same colors.

Font

Fonts can make a big difference in how your clients respond to your information. Researchers at MIT found that good typography not only improved the readers’ moods, the subjects underestimated the time it took to read the assigned text. My best type tips: use only one, or at most two, fonts in a report; and don’t make the size too big.

Layout

Effective layout design is powerful. It grabs and holds the audience’s attention until they’ve read the entire report. Research has demonstrated that subjects perform cognitive tasks better after reading well-designed articles. If you’re using a 2-column, symmetrical layout for your quarterly market commentary, switch it up with an asymmetrical design. It will grab attention and is better at keeping readers engaged.

This article is adapted from the “First Impressions Matter” series of research papers, done in collaboration with Assette, about how color, font and information organization can be used to create compelling client report and marketing materials. Please access the full text here.