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How the Perception of Effort Impacts Content Marketers

People are impatient. They expect a lot of effort to be performed on their behalf, but without seeing that effort they can’t appreciate it, yet they want it all the same. According to recent research, making users wait may create the expectation that what they receive has greater value, and that more effort went into preparing it.
For content marketing professionals, the effort is often unseen; clients give us a directive, then we disappear to mine through data and research, and then construct something. But, for the client the deliverable just appears before them upon completion. This could make our work seem easier than it is, especially if you’re experienced enough to work exceptionally fast. So it becomes vital for us to tell the story of our work, and show our process. Otherwise we are trimmed for scope or left out all together on projects that really need us.

“Computers Don’t Sweat”

In a recent article from Daniel Burstein, he cites Louis CK’s stand up bit about how people never seem amazed by the technology we keep within three feet of them at all times. The smartphone is our connection to family, friends, news, weather, and the world — in fact. It nearly makes the GPS in your car a paperweight. Recall the panicked frenzy that ensues when you can’t find yours. Still we never say, “Look what my phone can do! Wow!” No, if we press Search and the phone doesn’t produce that search engine results page (SERP) before the count of one, we say “this thing sucks.” Louis C.K.’s response is “It’s going to space. Could you give it a second to get back from space? Is the speed of light too slow for you?” He’s talking about the packets of information that must travel out from your handheld computer to a satellite around the earth and return with what you were looking for.

Now You Try.

My husband and I were becoming too judgmental of Project Runway. So, I suggested we pause the show after the contestants are given their challenge details. We gave ourselves the same amount of time they were given to sketch our own clothing designs. Of course our designs were awful, but we were able to appreciate the mental Olympics that went into divining the concepts for their creations in such a short amount of time.

Content Marketers Sweat on the Inside.

In the world of content marketing and information architecture, much of what we do happens between our ears or at least when the client isn’t looking. “With content it just shows up,” states Michael Norton, a Psychology professor at Harvard: Knowing how many people were involved or how long it took to create the content makes people think that it’s better and enjoy it more. If you send someone a word document with the tracked changes showing, they believe the content is better and understand that you worked hard on that piece. Without showing your impact on the work, the content just appears and the perception is that you didn’t put in much if any work, because they can’t see it.
Think of your household. If you take out the trash, your husband or wife may notice that the trash can is empty, but the effort of process is lost due to them not seeing you struggle to make it all fit in the bag, lifting and carrying the weight outside, possible spills and getting the mess into the container. If you want appreciation for the work you have to do it when they are looking. “We like seeing the work being done on our behalf,” Michael reports during his presentation Trust Through Transparency.

No Appreciation for Speed

People get angry when they don’t see the perspiration on a professional athlete, because they think that they aren’t working hard. Sometimes being good at something means that you do it faster and better than others and that speed and lack of sweat makes it look easy. If something looks easy, then it’s not worth much.
Michael Norton tells the story of a locksmith who started out spending hours breaking a sweat and damaging doors. After spending years honing his craft to qualify as a master locksmith, his clients would become angry at the bill for his services. To them the speed of his work made it seem like it was too easy to be worth the expense. So, he started pretending to struggle with a lock, using the wrong tools and then after it seemed he’d put in enough effort he’d use his master skills to pop open the door. This can happen to us as digital marketing professionals too.

Show Your Work

“Showing the labor – the transparency of what you are doing – is so interesting to consumers… Showing the work that you are doing can make people infer – accurately often – that you’re doing more than they thought” informs Michael Norton at the Web Optimization Summit. During the same presentation he tells of several case studies where making people wait and illustrating the work being done leads to customers that are happier with the resulting product.

Key Takeaway

It’s not just important that clients understand what we do, but how much work goes into our deliverables. We must show our processes, tell our stories, and sometimes make them wait to earn their respect and appreciation for our work.
by Alisha Truemper (@AlishaTruemper)
Sr. Content & Organic Search Experience Strategist | Perficient XD
Special thanks to my XD teammates for their help.


Content Marketing: Harvard Business School’s Michael Norton discusses surprising consumer behavior research
by Daniel Burstein | Marketing Sherpa

Trust Through Transparency

Michael Norton | Web Optimization Summit 2014

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Alisha Truemper

I joined the Perficient XD team in July 2014. With a background in Search Engine Optimization, and an appreciation for User Experience, I've grown into a Content Strategist.

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