The pleasure of anticipation.


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Think back to some purchase you’ve made that entailed a decent degree of planning, research and preparation. Maybe it was for a new house, a new appliance, a new car or a well-deserved vacation. Now ask yourself: did you derive more “pleasure” from the house, vacation or car itself? Or from the planning and anticipation that preceded the purchase?

If you’re like most people, it’s likely the planning period before the purchase provided the greater high. Social Psychologists have shown in study after study that we get enormous amounts of pleasure from looking forward to good things in the future. (One example is Bryant, 2003.) There’s something about the combination of “anticipation and uncertainty” that precede an event or purchase we’re looking forward to that boosts our feelings of well-being.

On its face, that seems counter intuitive. It makes sense that we’d enjoy our purchases after they are made. In other words, the joy we get windsurfing in Maui would more than offset the high we get in anticipating it, planning it and seeing it in our minds. But this doesn’t seem to be the case. The pleasure people get from their anticipation proves to be stronger than from their reminiscences (Van Boven & Ashworth, 2007).

These findings turn the old marketing saw “Buy now, pay later” on it’s head. Based on what we know about how our subconscious works, we may get more enjoyment from our purchases by “Paying now, receiving later.”

What would this look like to a marketer? The idea is to design your customer experience so there’s something for the customer to “look forward to.” A few examples: selectively leak attributes of an as-yet-unreleased product or upgrade (as Apple does with its new iPhones). Or, require a lesson or training before a customer will be allowed to purchase a product. Or create a “lag time” between the purchase of a product and its delivery. Or require that in order for customers to buy Product D, they must first purchase Product A, B & C. All of these tactics build an “anticipation path” that helps customers “positively experience” your product or service, before they’ve even had the chance to use it.

We often talk about the possibility marketers have of “engineering” positive experiences for customers. Understanding and making use of “pre-purchase anticipation” could be a powerful component in designing such experiences.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Mickey Lonchar
Mickey Lonchar has spent the better part of two decades creating award-winning advertising with agencies up and down the West Coast, Mickey currently holds the position of creative director with Quisenberry Marketing & Design, a full-service advertising and interactive shop with offices in Spokane and Seattle, Wash.


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