The Butler Effect

I was talking with a co-worker this morning about how level of service is perceived by people.  In the “old country,” a Butler was a luxury reserved for the very wealthy.  He was in charge of household affairs or perhaps even for picking out clothing or drawing a bath.  Such luxuries were not available to the common folk and so having such a personal valet was seen as something outside of many people’s reach.  As a result, people had no alternative but to ‘fend for themselves.”  America was, in large part, settled by the descendents of those common folk and so ‘Butler mentality” isn’t a ready part of the American psyche.  Witness how few people use “valet parking” on a regular basis (unless, of course, by force because parking is unavailable otherwise).  We like “self service” at the gas station (to save a few pennies per gallon), self checkout at the grocery store (to save time for short lists), and even self-examinations versus visiting the Doctor.  We wouldn’t mind having maid service to clean up but most of us would rather keep our pennies in our pocket and clean up ourselves even if we could afford it.  Why is this important in marketing and on line business?  I suspect that presenting things to Americans as “butler” services is somewhat off-putting to many people.  This is somewhat because where they fit on the “butler continuum” differs based on their upbringing and personality makeup.  Some people prefer a high level of service and others are either more cost conscious or simply like the independence of making decisions for themselves (perhaps as a perception of personal dignity – “I can do that for myself!” – or as a rejection of paternalism.)  Personalization (especially in things like marketing and even in surveying) can fall victim to the Butler Effect because just starting an e-mail with “Dear BOBBY” can be perceived as too informal while “Dear SIR” might be too stiff.  Marketing to the largest segment of the market means treading carefully between extremes.  There’s more here but it should be further researched.  In the mean time, these are a few thoughts to get the conversation flowing.

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