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.

The fine folks at Automattic (the people who created WordPress and host this blog) are using an interesting advertising technique to target a highly specialized market segment, uber-web-nerds. If you look at the HTTP headers returned by the WordPress.com servers you will see the following:

X-hacker: If you’re reading this, you should visit automattic.com/jobs and apply to join the fun, mention this header.

Nice :-)

Tesla Death Beam

April 9, 2007


Tesla Motors makes a high performance electric car, the Tesla Roadster. I think they should rename it the Tesla Death Beam after Nikola Tesla’s ummmmmmmm….. peace ray.


This is a photograph of my car. You have to trust me on this one but, this is my car. It was taken when the weather was somewhat warmer which accounts for the fact that the drops are liquid and not frozen. Which brings me to the topic of this post.

Why do I have to buy windshield washer fluid in big jugs? I’m assuming the fluid is mostly water with some kind of additive to prevent freezing. So why doesn’t someone sell concentrate-single-serving-windshield-washer that I can add to my own jug along with water out of my tap?

What do gas stations use to fill up their squigee-dunker-thingees?


The first time I saw a cuttlefish face-to-face my mind reeled. Oh I had read about them and seen pictures and I had no problem identifying what I was looking at. But, my god, I had no idea. Cuttlefish are cephalapods so they are related to the octopus. Tentacles, gottem. Color change, yupper. But, my god, I had no idea.

My first thought was “who needs unicorns when we have this magical creature”. My second thought was “whoever named the ‘cuttlefish’ needs a lesson in branding”. Cuttlefish mesmerize. Yes they change color, but its not like a new coat of paint suddenly applied. Color moves and flows constantly across their skin and it acts like a psychedelic mood ring responding to your actions. If you want to see EEEEK, Wow, hmmmmm, huh, ACK, displayed in moving color then go hang out with a cuttlefish for a while and watch how it reacts to its environment. Its tentacles hang down from its face like some kind of alien snuffleupagus. Its body is ringed with a ribbon that dances like its being controlled by a rhythmic gymnist showing off.

The cuttlefish reminds me that there are many beautiful things in this world that my still camera can capture but only superficially.

Yesterday I received a QuickTax CD in the mail and I couldn’t stop thinking about National Geographic. Many moons ago I used to subscribe to National Geographic magazine. I did not renew my subscription one year and a stream of “special-offer” National Geographic marketing junk mail followed for years. The QuickTax CD is a different animal altogether. Its an installation CD. Remember all those AOL floppies that used to come in the mail and were attached to every computer magazine on the planet?

But here is the thing… the QuickTax CD almost looks like they are offering a free copy of the program. I have not installed it but I’m assuming after the installation they will redirect you to their website to purchase a license. Now I have nothing against marketing but what I’m curious about is whether this kind of marketing is effective. For me anyway, National Geographic’s aggressive marketing has made me fearful of ever giving them my mailing address again though I will still buy copies off the newstand… my privacy proxy :-) What happens when an excited customer installs the “Welcome Back” QuickTax program with the expectation that it will be free only to feel that they have been mislead? I dunno.

QuickTax Marketing CD