Doctor Who is amazing - the writing, the costumes, the characters, the massive reboot that has conquered the world and made 'wibbly wobbly timey wimey' part of modern vocabulary . . .but before we get too fan girl/boy about the series (and before you start to think this post might just be an elaborate ploy so we can post a gratuitous pic of David Tennant) let me stop. From a marketing point of view, Doctor Who is just a marvel and the introduction and exit of his companions is a great example of both creating anticipation/delaying gratification and using the element of surprise for maximum effect.
Firstly, creating anticipation and delaying gratification. These are common marketing techniques although they do seem to have fallen out of favour slightly. About a decade ago, every journalist and every business would receive at least one teaser mailing every week. Sometimes, it would be a cryptic card with one word, maybe it was a parcel with an intriguing photo or painting. If you were lucky (and yes, I'm showing my own bias here!) it would be
chocolates or sweets.
There was one link between these disparate items: you had no idea who had sent them or why. They were an elaborate tease, creating a sense of
anticipation around the mail delivery and around the point when the company would finally reveal who they were and why they thought you would be interested in them. From pieces of jigsaws sent at daily intervals, to themed cupcakes, it was an entertaining time to receive mail. And all sorts of companies decided to use this technique to attract attention including publishers, designers and internet start-ups.
It remains a clever technique. If you find the mailings attractive, then you have already made an emotional connection with the company even before you know their name and product. Plus you will have discussed the mailings with your colleagues, creating a swell of interest.
So, where does Doctor Who come in? Just look at the interest they generated around the first glimpse of the new
companion (Clara) or the build-up to the last episode featuring Rory and Amy (the exiting companions). Fans across the world knew when Rory and Amy would leave. Speculation mounted to fever pitch about how it would happen. There were so many theories and counter-theories they could have powered an alternate
Everyone knew the end date of the speculation, it was when the programme was scheduled to air. Anticipation for the episode was huge. Not only did it mean that fans could schedule their viewing but the delayed gratification
meant it was possible for non-fans to be drawn into the wait, to hear about the anticipation and possibly start to share it. (In fact, similar to the way businesses would wait for their interesting mail delivery and discuss it with
their office colleagues until the big reveal of the sender).
The first episode to feature the new companion was not the expected Christmas episode. Oh no, it was earlier and completely unannounced! It was a reveal that was beautiful in its unexpectedness.
It rewarded loyal fans who watched every episode (not just ones heralded with lots of fanfare) with the first glimpse of a new character. And, perhaps more importantly, that element of surpise reintroduced the wonder of television and of storytelling. We are so used to signposts, and as shown above, delayed gratification definitely has its place, but surprise? Well, that has an important place to play in any campaign too.
So what can we learn from Doctor Who? That anticipation and surprise can all help to build emotional connections with our customers. That in the serious business of marketing, there is definitely space for fun and playfulness. And that our every communication tells a story. So the delivery, timing and execution of our campaigns should be approached with the precision of building a mini-narrative. Our big reveals (whether anticipated or unexpected or combining elements of both) should provide a satisfying pay-off for our target audience. Campaigns should reward loyal followers and entice new interest.
Imagine if you approached every new product release or service launch with the enthusiasm of Doctor Who introducing a new companion. After all, your products and services are your customer's companions and they deserve the opportunity to generate excitement.
As for the gratutious David Tennant pic? Well, hopefully you've been anticipating it and that always deserves a reward. Enjoy!
(And the pic of Amy Gillan and Matt Smith? That's our surprise gift to reward everyone who made it to the end of the post).
Maggie will be blethering about our latest projects, marketing news and events.