You know the feeling: After everyone raves about the latest superhero movie, you decide to go check it out for yourself. You enter the theater expecting to be blown away.
And what happens? The movie plays, and it’s good, but nowhere near as great as you expected. Disappointed, you rebel against your friends, your family, and the marketing promotion behind the film. (I’ll confess to having this reaction to Avatar, which is objectively terrible.)
Maybe if you had walked into the theater not knowing what to expect, you would have had a better reaction. (Unless the movie was Avatar.) Instead, you were promised the moon, and the moon you did not receive.
Of course you’re upset. Most people in your shoes would have the same reaction. The experience you got was far less than what you were promised. This is a delicate balance marketers have to walk every day: How do you create excitement for a product or an experience without overselling? The answer is more complex than you might think, and it requires some understanding of human psychology.
The tricky part of overselling in your marketing content is that you can’t play it conservative when it comes to generating intrigue. As marketers, if you aren’t generating buzz and priming a consumer base to engage with your brand, then you aren’t doing your job.
Stoking consumer expectations has been employed for decades as a successful advertising strategy. Plenty has changed for marketers in that span of time, but the need to build excitement among consumers remains the same.
Image attribution: Nesster
For the most part, this is good news: According to research from the Journal of Business Research, consumers are predisposed to be optimistic about new opportunities, whether it’s a new movie, product, or local business. Have you ever hustled over to the new coffee shop in your neighborhood, salivating at the thought of being just two blocks from a great cafe? You walk through the doors with high expectations and you want to be proven right: Because you’re optimistic that this fantasy will bear out in real life, and because we don’t like to be disappointed, you’re likely inclined to be more forgiving about the quality of the cafe and the coffee. Even if the coffee shop isn’t “totally amazing,” you might be inclined to describe it as such, because it satisfies the desires you had when you first walked through the door.
But within this scenario lies a tightrope for marketers to walk. Because when expectations are raised too high, consumers are more likely to have a strong reaction to their disappointment. And today’s consumers aren’t relegated to whining about their disappointment to their friends: They have social media, online reviews, and other digital avenues to fan the flames of their own negativity.
Image attribution: x-ray delta one
Imagine what might follow: After your trip to the good-but-not-great coffee shop, you tell a friend about your experience. You stoke their interest, and they carry their own expectations through the business’s front doors. Based on your recommendation, your friend’s expectations are even higher than yours. So when their coffee is merely fine—not bad, but not something they should go out of their way to experience—they’re set up to have a boomerang reaction, becoming overly critical of the coffee because it failed to meet the expectations you had set. Your friend will leave disappointed and tell her own friends that the coffee shop you love is “overrated,” even if this reaction, just like yours, is an overreaction relative to her own predisposition.
This is a simple explanation of how consumer excitement functions on a psychological level. Most people approach new experiences with a certain degree of optimism, and they’re predisposed to find the good in those experiences. But too much marketing hype can set consumers up for a disappointing fall, and the aftershock can hurt a company’s reputation. That’s not to say brands shouldn’t create marketing content that drums up anticipation—they just need to do so with careful moderation.
Brands have limited control over what happens in word-of-mouth conversations between consumers, but they can affect this discourse to some degree by priming consumers to be satisfied with the experience they get. Remember, the goal isn’t to provide the best consumer experience the world has ever known: What you want, more than anything, is for consumers to have a positive brand experience and walk away happy.
Image attribution: planetc1
It bears repeating that since consumers are naturally optimistic about these experiences, marketers have the inside lane when trying to win them over. The challenge is creating marketing promotion that both draws them in and positions them to leave happy. If you tell them your brand is going to fundamentally change their lives for the better, you’re definitely going to draw a crowd, but most of that crowd is going to walk away disappointed. Here are some strategy tips to keep in mind.
No matter what your line of business, not every customer is going to be satisfied, and not every positive expectation will be met. Don’t promise to offer the greatest service ever unless you’re sure you want to stand toe-to-toe with that lofty standard. Consider other ways you can offer a great experience, such as by being honest and transparent about the process, being committed to customer satisfaction, or finding the right solutions and services to help business run more efficiently.
As Marketing Profs points out, human curiosity is a powerful selling tool. The allure of the unknown generates engagement without necessarily making big promises to gain attention.
Whether it’s offering a money-back guarantee, making customer service easy to access and amenable to their requests, or other ways to manage the customer experience, make sure your marketing—and the customer experience itself—will address the consumers who pose a risk to your company’s reputation.
These words make it easy for consumers to set a comparison in their mind: Have they ever had something better than what you’re offering? This language can backfire when it comes to managing consumer expectations, and they’re easy terms to work around.
It’s important for consumers to love your brand and to want to engage with it. Just don’t push the marketing hype too hard, or they might bite back.
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Featured image attribution: Patrick Fore