Make Marketing History

The views of a marketing deviant.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Customers Like Happy Endings.


My attention today has been attracted by two seemingly unrelated items that emanated from the mysterious East London lair of the post-digital hole in the wall gang. Russell Davies has highlighted a fascinating film about billboard painters in New York while Phil Gyford has tinkered with the Guardian newspaper’s API to produce a personalized version.

They’re both terrific in their own right, but together they got me thinking about completeness and anticipation and how marketers sometimes unthinkingly crave customer attention.

The image that grabbed me in the film was actually an incomplete billboard – about one third of the glass of beer to be exact. It seemed to encapsulate the craft of the painters that Russell rightly praised, the slowness of its production and the anticipation of what might develop. I imagined locals passing the scene many times during the painting process and anticipating their next sighting.

In fact, that's unrealistic because the film later reveals that they remarkably complete the billboards in a matter of hours. And while they do address the idea of anticipation by frequently replacing the image with others from a narrative series, I think that still misses a trick. After all, think how many posters you don’t notice. The incompleteness engages the viewer in the process in a way that the more run of the mill (and therefore potentially invisible) final image doesn’t.

While it might be a powerful trick, one must always be aware of not taking it too far. Marketers too often become obsessed with keeping people's attention as long as possible, but to no positive effect – by making it hard for them to leave websites, by overcomplicating processes, filling phone menus with promotional messages rather than dealing with the need or by making stores hard to navigate.

And that's where the brilliant idea of “finishability” comes in. It is this that Phil details in his design summary – his need for a sense of closure in a way that reading online doesn’t normally give.

Finally, I wanted finishability. I wanted to be able to read today’s news, know I’d read it all, and that I’m done until tomorrow.

Just as there is curiosity in the unfinished, there is satisfaction in the finished. Marketers should never be scared to let customers leave. As long as they leave on good terms, they’re likely to return. If you stall or aggravate them, that’s less likely to be the case. Don’t rush them, don’t frustrate them, but do ensure they have a happy ending.

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