Flow of Expectations

July 22, 2008

Seth Godin writes a post explaining that marketers often forget to ask one critical question: Are they ready to listen? He goes on to describe a potential book selling opportunity in the early 90’s that did not pan out:

… I had published a book about a political issue. An activist’s handbook. I had 20,000 copies in my garage when I found out about a large march in Washington. I bought an outdoor booth and trucked the books down to DC. I stood on the Mall in my little booth and watched more than 250,000 people walk by in less than two hours. Every single one an activist. Every single one a demographically perfect match for my handbook. After 100,000 people had walked by and we’d sold only one book, I lowered the price from around $10 to $1 just to prove my point–that it wasn’t the book and it wasn’t the price, it was the ability of the audience to listen that mattered. This group, in this moment, was there to march, not to shop.

Most people, most of the time, steadfastly refuse to pay attention.

This is a great story that punctuates Seth’s claim that the question “are they ready to listen” is key. I’d like to generalize (and probably ruin the simplicity of his message) by claiming that the activist book selling failure at the march disrupted the marcher’s/customer’s “Flow of Expectations”.

A booth selling an activist book at a march disrupts the marcher’s Flow of Expectations at several levels. 1) carrying a book during a march is inconvenient and it is not how people see themselves marching, 2) most people have some kind of expectation of how they evaluate a book to purchase which does not involve serendipitously finding a booth during a march selling a previously unheard of book by an author they do not know, 3) reading a book requires a commitment of hours over potentially many days/weeks/months and people do not want to make that decision under tight time constraints, 4) there is a physical Flow in a march and people do not want to be left behind, 5) activists are often distrustful of profit motives and do not want to be seen as susceptible to marketing tricks, and 6) buying a book can be done at a time that does not take away from the meaning of what the marcher’s are doing.

There are probably many more disruptions in the marcher’s Flow of Expectations. Rather than asking “are they ready to listen?” we can ask “are we disrupting their flow of expectations” and take steps to minimize or eliminate the disruption.

The best case scenario is that you are enhancing the flow of expectations.

Advertisements