A Satisfying Promise

Marketers are promise –makers.  They use their promises to set expectations high enough to move consumers to action: to buy their stuff, read their books, to come to their show, etc.  PT Barnum made big promises.  He promised, “The Greatest Show on Earth” – the ultimate claim – not a better show anywhere on the planet.  I imagine his customers had pretty high expectations when they bought a ticket.  I am quite sure that his promise drew a lot of patrons.   Trouble is, when the customer actually attended the show, any experience they had that was less than “the greatest” (whatever that meant to them) was probably disappointing.

I believe in the theory that customer’s expectations greatly impact the satisfaction they get from their experience.   In a formula, it might look like this:

Customer Experience – Customer Expectation = Customer Satisfaction

So, in this case, let’s say on a scale of 1-10, the “Greatest show on Earth” would actually set an expectation to the consumer that the show is going to be a “10.”  Now, if I go to Barnum’s show and I experience “9.”  My satisfaction score is a negative one (9 – 10 = -1) and I’m likely to be disappointed.    I might  feel cheated or misled and ask for my money back.  I might not return to the show again, or even worse, tell my friends they will be disappointed. This is a curious facet of human nature:   it is possible to experience a great, “9-quality” show yet feel disappointed because we were promised something better.

Conversely, had I come to the show expecting a “7” and gotten that very same “9” show, I might have been thrilled.  I would have a +2 satisfaction score.  I might tell all my friends to come.  I might even come back for tomorrow night’s show, myself.

Marketers find themselves in a conundrum.   After all, if the marketer doesn’t promise enough, no one will come to his show, right?  I mean, who would drive hundreds of miles to see, “The Most Lame Show on Earth?”  This dynamic poses an interesting marketing question:  “How much should a marketer promise about a customer experience?” I’ll be sharing some of my thoughts on this in my next post.  In the meantime, I’d love to hear yours.