The expectation paradox

So, people are upset because of the non-ending of the Sopranos. People are always upset when a TV show ends with a big finale, because it never meets the hype, never meets the expectations. If HBO had been quiet about it, hadn’t done the full page ads and the radio shows and the newspaper articles, it would have been fine. Expanded expectations led to big disappointment.

The paradox: if expectations hadn’t been raised, fewer viewers would have tuned in.

My main site has been down off and on over the last few weeks. I apologize to those of you who have been frustrated by this. My expectations of were fairly high–I thought that after all the years I’d been using the company they acquired, they’d do a better job. I was disappointed. We’re moving on.

I visited webex today to prepare for a web conference I’m doing in a few weeks. Again, lots of high expectations (big company, lots of promotional effort) and was amazed to see a workaround about Firefox on the screen. The workaround didn’t work. I was even more amazed to discover that the version I was using doesn’t even bother to support the Mac.

I’m not one of those Mac whiners who say that everyone has to support my little boutique OS. If they had lowered expectations by clearly stating the incompatibility in the first moment, I wouldn’t have been happy, of course, but at least I wouldn’t have sat there for ten minutes, blaming myself for not understanding it.

In each case, the paradox is at work. On one hand, you want to raise expectations, because without doing that, you diminish trial. On the other hand, you want to exceed expectations, because that’s what generates word of mouth.

As word of mouth becomes an ever more important component of marketing, the scales are tipping. Undersell, overdeliver. It’s the strategy that works in the long run.

Every marketer has a choice… to make the first interaction the best of the experience, or the worst (least best).