Meeting/Missing Expectations – A Lesson from District 9

A few months ago I saw this wicked trailer. It looked like it was possibly a documentary about a US occupation in a foreign country. The interviewees all had accents. The locale looked economically depressed. The people interviewed talked about all the money being spent to keep “them” here. That “they” were not wanted. There were shots of military personnel and vehicles going about. And in between the shots of these people were titles that matched the sentiment: they are not…welcome; they are not…accepted. Then about half way through the trailer you’re hit with the surprise title. They are not…HUMAN. Whoa!

What I thought for sure was a trailer for the next Michael Moore propaganda documentary about the evils of America turned out instead to be a very intriguing preview of the highly anticipated feature from first time feature-film director Neil Blomkamp (presented by Peter Jackson). I could hardly wait for this film.

When the film came out, it immediately started trending on Twitter. People were saying how awesome it was. I then tweeted a question on my Twitter asking for people’s opinion about what movie I should see: District 9, or Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Bastards.” Overwhelmingly D9 was the choice. Again, there were comments like “This movie was AWESOME!” So, I enthusiastically headed out one late night to see D9.

As I watched it, I kept waiting to be blown away. Don’t get me wrong, I liked the story set up, the pacing, and eventually I DID like the movie. But, I thought it was just “OK.” I was disappointed because I was never completely blown away. Not even partially blown away. Not even slightly knocked over. If the trailer was all I had ever seen leading up to this film, I think my eventual reaction to seeing it would have been different.

THE IMPORTANCE OF SETTING EXPECTATIONS

As is par for the course for me, I turned my movie-going experience into a valuable business lesson and blog topic. The  expectations you set for your customers/clients will have a huge impact on how they perceive your services and what they say about you. If they expect one thing and you deliver another, even if what you deliver is indeed an excellent product or service, you’ll disappoint. Scott Bourne made a great analogy about this at Skip’s Summer School regarding the information you tweet about in your Twitter stream. If your Twitter followers expect 7-up and you give them root beer, they’re going to spit it out.

Three suggestions for managing expectation:

  1. Give ‘em what you showed ‘em: your clients hired you based on the portfolio of work you showed them when they were shopping for a vendor. When it comes time to create their project, make sure the style and quality is on par with what you showed them. If you’re a traditional pose and portrait style photographer and someone hired you based on that, then prior to shooting their wedding you decide to go all Denis Reggie and be a pure photojournalist, you need to give those clients who hired you, pose and portrait work. If your portfolio of videos is stylized and MTV like with steadicam shots when a client hires you, don’t go Neil Blomkamp on them and shoot their project hand held cinema verite because you think that’s the new “black.”
  2. Spell it out in your contract: I know there are varying schools of thought about how much you should put in a contract. I tend towards being conservative. As much as possible, spell out exactly what you plan to deliver, and WHEN. But even then some clients tend to skip over the important parts, sign it, then get mad at you when their video/album isn’t ready two weeks after the event when your contract clearly says the turn around time is three months. So, I’ve added initial boxes next to key paragraphs like turn around time, copyright usage, etc. Just like when you have to initial an asbestos paragraph on a rental agreement, make sure your clients have seen and read those more provocative points in your contract.
  3. Under-promise, over-deliver: finally, deliver more to your client than what you promised. If you promised them 5 DVDs, give them ten, etc. A video  or album promised in 8 weeks but delivered in 6 will have a significantly greater positive impact than one promised in 4 weeks and delivered in those same 6.

I  thought “District 9″ was a very good movie. Well-acted. Creative. Poignant message about how we treat those who are different from us. But, my enjoyment of it was very much affected by what I expected going in. Make sure when you’re servicing your clients, you’re doing it in such a way they all come out saying “YOU’RE AWESOME!” If you’re not careful, you just may get root beer spat in your face.

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5 Responses to “Meeting/Missing Expectations – A Lesson from District 9”

  1. After reading your article I am reminded of movie trailers to movies that promise intense action packed cinematic experience and then fail to deliver. One in particular that I am reminded of is the new G.I Joe film. I saw the trailer and loved all the stunts shown in it. After seeing the film I realized that the trailer had the best action scenes in the entire movie. I was highly disappointed. As for the business side, I don't want to be the photographer who under-delivers. managing client expectations is crucial for word of mouth marketing. Thanks for sharing your insights.

  2. Trailers are a blessing and a curse. As a film fanatic, I LOVE trailers. Themore the merrier as far as I'm concerned. I thoroughly enjoy seeing what'scoming out next. But, as you pointed out, many times the movies don't liveup to the hype.Happens in business too. How many times has some product or service promisedby a company not lived up to ITS hype?Thanks for your comment.

  3. But didn't D9 deliver more than what it promised. The trailer said, sci-fi movie with creepy looking bug aliens on earth. The movie itself was a stunning mix of the best effects I've seen on a movie with 3 times the budget, a giggle-inducing sci-fi fest (the guns were straight out of my imagination when I was 11) and a thought-provoking examination of segregation and racism. That tells me the film makers overdelivered.It was the grass-roots word of mouth that built the film up in your mind. How do you counter that? Also, with you as a filmmaker does knowing the backstory of the movie and how it was made affect how you view it?

  4. Hi Dustin,That's precisely what I said, that the word of mouth is what I wasresponding to that made me expect more than what was delivered. Don't get mewrong, I think the film was very well done. But, as this post addresses,because my expectations weren't met, it was as well received by me as itcould have been.In answer to your question, yes, being a filmmaker CAN affect how I view it.Sometimes I can appreicate more aspects of a film because I have anappreciate for aesthetics the average joe/jane might not have. But, thenagain, there are times when my experience and knowledge can make me respondto a film negatively because of things I see (or don't see) in the film.

  5. Hi Dustin,That's precisely what I said, that the word of mouth is what I wasresponding to that made me expect more than what was delivered. Don't get mewrong, I think the film was very well done. But, as this post addresses,because my expectations weren't met, it was as well received by me as itcould have been.In answer to your question, yes, being a filmmaker CAN affect how I view it.Sometimes I can appreicate more aspects of a film because I have anappreciate for aesthetics the average joe/jane might not have. But, thenagain, there are times when my experience and knowledge can make me respondto a film negatively because of things I see (or don't see) in the film.

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