This column is an extension of the conversation I started a couple of months ago when I wrote about the difference between grabbing attention and getting people to care.
Over the years, I’ve realized that sensationalism is the norm for the marketing industry — whether it’s a conference session, a blog post, an e-book, or a marketing firm pitching its services to a client, there is a tendency to create expectations that simply cannot be lived up to. This sets the recipient up for inevitable disappointment and is a lose-lose situation for all parties involved.
I was recently going over the schedule from a conference to figure out which sessions I should seek liveblogs for (since I had been unable to attend) and saw this overselling in full effect. Here’s a sample of session titles from the event — it’s worthwhile to pause and think for a moment about what kinds of expectations they create in your head, based on the title alone:
- 4 Concrete Steps to Get 1,000,000 Relevant Unique Visitors to Your Blog
- The Anatomy of a 100,000 Visitor Post
- Podcast Launch Method – From Zero to 100k Downloads per month
- How To Compete Against Billion Dollar Media Empires And Win Engagement And Traffic
How a session is pitched to you can have a profound impact on whether you see the session as a success or are ultimately disappointed by it. This has everything to do with expectations and very little to do with the content itself.
When you position your pitch as done above — “concrete steps,” “1,000,000 relevant visitors” — you set expectations that can play out in a few different ways. First, you will have two groups of people: those who read the title and immediately decide to ignore the session because they perceive it as unrealistic (like myself), and those who are tantalized by the prospect and decide to attend.
The second group can be further segmented into those who practice the strategies you propose and see similar results, and those who are successful but in a more moderate sense. While the last group is still successful relative to where they started, their results are seen as a failure when compared to expectations set by your pitch.
The fact of the matter is, all strategies have intangibles at play that cannot be emulated and therefore should come with a “your mileage may vary” disclaimer.
Setting Achievable Expectations
In an interview with The New York Times, David Rock, director of the NeuroLeadership Institute, explained the importance of setting achievable expectations:
If we expect to get x and we get x, there’s a slight rise in dopamine. If we expect to get x and we get 2x, there’s a greater rise. But if we expect to get x and get 0.9x, then we get a much bigger drop.
In other words, even a marginal underachievement compared to expectations results in significant unhappiness. This should be cause enough to temper expectations.
So, how can you set achievable expectations? First of all, you have to understand your audience and the constraints within which it operates.
- Be Honest. Be upfront with yourself and with your audience. Are the results you’re promising truly achievable by the average person taking your advice, or will it require special circumstances, luck, or another intangible element to succeed?
- Be Specific. You know the kinds of results you’ve achieved in the past, so extrapolate those results to your audience. What does “thousands” mean? Two thousand? Three thousand? Ten thousand?
- Be Transparent. If you’re setting expectations based on results you’ve achieved in the past, use those experiences as examples to showcase the strategies in a more granular way. Don’t just talk in hypotheticals; contextualize it using successes you’ve had, and help the audience understand what worked and why.
- Be Conservative. Even the best strategies can have varying results based on a host of factors: brand, niche, seasonality, and others. There is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to marketing, so take that into consideration.
Marketers that promise to teach you “how to get thousands of [x] in [time period]” are being disingenuous and setting you up for failure. Not only that, but they hurt other marketers as well by inflating expectations of the industry. The strategy may work in one case, but results vary wildly based on intangibles associated with each use case and that’s something that is often left unsaid.
Information Versus Understanding
There is another way to frame the information you want your audience, readers, or clients to understand.
Until about a week ago, I did not know how to read. Tannor Pilatzke opened my eyes by teaching me how to read intelligently and I’m still trying to understand how to integrate this philosophy into my writing and how I pursue marketing objectives.
The lessons I learned from Pilatzke are directly applicable to how any thought leader should communicate with his tribe: communicate with the intent of creating understanding instead of transferring facts or information.
Reading is not about absorbing as much information as you can or being able to recite facts but to be able to recall and present ideas in a simple manner with an intelligent opinion on the matter. The reading process is about asking questions, looking for answers, inverting ideas, understanding the answers and discerning an opinion for you. Ask yourself what are the main ideas, what is the author trying to articulate and are the ideas presented true?
Marketers should apply these same principles to how they communicate. When you change your communication intent, you will naturally shift away from selling unachievable results through sensational claims. When you help someone understand why you did what you did, it empowers them to think critically about the situation and adapt the lessons to their business and circumstances, achieving the best results possible within their constraints.
Instead of promising thousands of Facebook followers in six months, offer to help them understand what steps need to be performed, why the need to be performed, how to best perform them, and that everyone’s results will vary.
There is no “easy” button to success, and anyone who tells you otherwise is being disingenuous.
(Stock images via Shutterstock.com. Used under license.)
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.