David Maister - Professional Business, Professional Life
David’s ResourcesAbout David
NEW! Browse my materials by topic of interest:StrategyManagingClient RelationsCareersGeneral

Passion, People and Principles

The Joy of Sets

post # 225 — October 27, 2006 — a Client Relations post

In recent years, my UK publisher has been re-issuing my books with covers that have a consistent look, turning individual volumes into a “set.”

It’s an old trick, and it works. I know that in my hobby of collecting music, I am a sucker for completeness (all known recordings on the XX label) or multivolume presentation. If there are available “The hits of 1995, volumes 1,2 and 3″ and I want something on volume 2, there’s a vey high chance I’m going to buy volumess 1 and 3, just to make my collection complete. Book publishers use this phenomenon with their look and the (sometimes) artificial creation of series.

I get suckered in in extra ways. Record companies keep discovering “bonus tracks” (sometimes only studio demos of tracks already on the album) and then re-issuing the whole album at a premium price, justified by the inclusion of the one extra track. Who’s the mug who re-buys the whole thing, even though he has the original album already, just to get that one extra track? Me, of course.

I was always this obsessive. I think it common among little boys to collect stamps and coins, and I did both, but I was a bookish, nerdy kid, and I started applying the same “gotta have the set” thinking to my reading. In my teens, I read everything (and I mean everything) written by James Thurber, Dorothy Parker, Henrik Ibsen, Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw and Ayn Rand. (Yes, I’ve got wierd tastes.) I wouldn’t start with an author unless I was prepared to ‘complete the set.’ (Is this the same as being brand loyal? Not quite, but it might be related.)

So, here’s the point of this blog post: is the impulse to collect “sets” – the urge for completeness – a general phenomenon? If so, can it be applied beyond retail things to professional businesses? If you were a consultng firm, a law firm, an engineering firm, an ad agency, an accounting firm, etc., how would you take advantage of people’s propensity to want to complete “sets” or have things presented as “sets”?


Chris Horne said:

hey David! pleasure reading your post and pondering the question, “.. .how would you take advantage of people’s propensity to want to complete “sets” or have things presented as “sets”?

well, just let them know it is incomplete, there is a continuation. kinda like implying or makeing it explicit that this is a piece but there is a whole awaiting you out there or nexth month or next episode.

the human brain is so intent on completeing patterns and making sense out of things that a lot of us can’t help it. besides, i think people are conditioned to satiate the desire to have ‘X’ rather than have the sensation of lacking something.

i’m glad the consitency of design is working for you. nothin’ like priming the mind to get more of what it knows to be pleasureable.


(by the way this is part one of a nine part comment. see you soon!)

posted on October 27, 2006

Jean-Claude Brunner said:

As an aside, I find reading an author’s complete works often disappointing (marginal utility!), as either the early or late works cannot compete with the major works.

Your buying the CD to get one track is due to your collector instinct, the majority of itunes store users love to disaggregate the set (album) and just buy the hit track. On the other hand, set marketing (or usually called bundling) is powerful.

The masters of set selling are the Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter sales and merchandising guys and girls. Selling often incomplete sets to the fans, year after year …

posted on October 29, 2006

David (Maister) said:

Maybe I should borrow another entertainment retail trick – “David Maister – the final speaking tour! (Until the next one.)”

posted on October 29, 2006