On the Web a new type of customer is rising. One more and more immune to marketing happy talk. One that wants facts before emotion.In his seminal book, The Selfish Gene
, Richard Dawkins explores the idea of the sustainable ecosystem. In one game of life there were three players: suckers, cheats and grudgers.
Each player needs to find another to scratch its back. Suckers scratch the back of whoever asks them. Cheats ask to get their backs scratched but never return the favor. Grudgers scratch a back if asked, but if you don't return the favor they will never scratch your back again.
Too much marketing and advertising treats the customer like a sucker. By cleverly manipulating our core emotions, advertising gets us to buy products that are never quite what they seem. (Have you ever seen a car advertisement shot in rush hour traffic?)
Of course, marketing is not entirely to blame here. The consumer is nearly always a sucker to complexity in the store, while cursing its lack of simplicity once they take it home. Our reason and logic has long suffered from our relentless tsunami of emotions.
The game of scratching begins and the cheats race into the lead, driving the suckers and grudgers close to extinction. However, as there are less and less suckers to exploit, the grudgers slowly begin to advance. Over time, the grudgers rise and rise, with the cheats declining and the suckers never recovering. It seems that a sustainable ecosystem is dominated by grudgers.
Last week I rented a car with Hertz. It started off at US$ 85 for two days, but by the time I left the office, the price was US$ 266. The Hertz rep was very smooth, very friendly, convincing me to buy a full tank of gas, because he estimated I'd use most of it. (I used half of it.)
A large multinational found that every time it added a "hero shot"-that perfect, smiling face-to a Web page, the number of customers who left the page immediately after arriving shot up. Once the hero shot was removed customers stayed on the page much longer.
Puzzled, the multinational started doing some usability testing. A typical response from a customer was: "When I see a picture like that I just think marketing. I'm at the website to solve a problem. I don't have time for this stuff."
As long as the world was full of suckers it was easy for marketing cheats to make an easy killing. But while the Web has its suckers, it really is the land of grudgers. It is the land of comparison shopping and customer reviews. It is the land of rapid search and the Back button.
The Web is where customers become the biggest organization of all, because the Web allows them to organize in a way they never could before. A good product or service has nothing to fear from the Web. The grudger will trust, but you had better deliver.
The media lives off our fears. Advertising lives off our dreams. The grudger customer is nobody's fool.
Gerry McGovern, a content management author and consultant
, has spoken, written and consulted extensively on writing for the web and web content management issues since 1994.