Great Expectations, Bleak House – and a woolly jumper

Do you know what you’re getting for Christmas? Obviously, if you’ve bought it yourself, you do. (Unless you’ve been indulging a bit too much in the Christmas spirit, like a friend of mine, who ordered on Amazon while heavily under the influence, then was baffled when his ‘gifts’ arrived.) But here we’re talking about regular presents – from other people. If you’re expecting nothing, then anything is a surprise. If you’re expecting something particular, and you get exactly that, then you’re (a) not surprised and (b) pleased, though (b) may well be tempered by the lack of (a). Pleasure, after all, is heightened when it’s least expected. So if you want a PlayStation and you end up with a Sarah Lund woolly jumper, then it’s Killing-like long faces all round. If you wanted the jumper and you get it, then you’re moderately pleased.

The write stuff

Sometimes, when I quote on a copywriting project, potential clients say, “That’s a bit more than my budget”. Not unsurprisingly, I then ask them what their budget is. “Oh I don’t actually have a budget,” comes the response. It’s usually followed by a slightly awkward moment when they realise what they’ve just said. The key point here is that they had a figure in mind. It might be:
  • what they last paid for copy (if they’ve ever paid for it)
  • the value they place on writing
  • the quote they’ve just had from somebody else
  • a percentage of what they’re paying for accompanying design or web development
  • the fact that they could potentially do it themselves for nothing (though when you factor in the wasted time and opportunity cost, even ‘nothing’  looks expensive)
So no budget, but a definite expectation. We all have expectations, and they influence what we buy, how much we’ll pay for it, how we feel about the experience, whether we’d recommend it to a friend, whether we’ll be a repeat customer. And it doesn’t all come from nowhere. Instead, it’s subtly (or sometimes, not-so-subtly) influenced by the signals sent out by the company. Amazon? Big savings, quick turnaround. Starbucks? Fun and friendly, expensive but probably worth it (though should pay a bit more tax). Ryanair? Cheap (in every sense of the word) and cheerful. Sorry, I meant cheap and not cheerful. A necessary evil, and the flights are mercifully short. Everybody sends out signals, and thus creates expectations – on price, service and customer experience. And the formula for marketing happiness is pretty simple: a + 2b = z Where a equals expectations, b equals delivery, and z is the sum total of happiness.


It’s a formula Apple might have borne in mind when they launched their worldwide product recall of the first-generation iPod Nano just about a year ago. I was one of the diehards still using the original model after six years. Not a sign of the potential fire hazard that caused the recall. But that didn’t stop me sending it back, to be replaced by a shiny new sixth-generation Nano. Apple soared in my estimation. Proactive, positive, generous and honest. What a difference a year makes. Last week, the wake/sleep button jammed. It’s a known problem with the 6th-gen Nanos, apparently. And guess what? Mine falls just outside the warranty period. Now, to even talk to Apple support, I’ll have to buy a ‘support incident’ for £25. And I know what the answer will be: replace it for £130 or have it repaired for £70. If only I’d stuck with my original. Proactive, positive, generous and honest just turned into something not repeatable on a family blog like this.

Naughty or nice

So what expectations are you creating through your marketing material?
  • Is that really a special offer? 
  • Is it free, or just free*?
  • Does everybody answer the phone with a smile on their face, like the woman on your website?
  • Is it a no-questions-asked exchange policy? No questions whatsoever?
  • Can you deliver it by tomorrow?
  • Is it better value?
  • Does it last twice as long?
  • Does that complimentary session come with no strings attached?
  • Can you genuinely solve their problem?
  • Are those testimonials typical?
  • Does the customer service match the warm, friendly tone you got your copywriter to use?
Are you promising the earth to hook your prospect? That’s OK if you can deliver the earth, but even with the best will in the world, it’s a pretty tall order. If you’re promising a games console, and you deliver a raggedy old sweater, think again. If, on the other hand, you’re promising a sweater but you deliver a multicoloured, eye-catching, dazzling display of Nordic needlework, you’ll stitch up the market. Merry Christmas.