Wednesday, January 20, 2010

What your business can learn from another roadside attraction

On the Trans-Canada Highway in New Brunswick just shy of Nova Scotia, there's a tourist attraction called Magnetic Hill. It gained fame in the 1800s as a place where your horse cart would appear to roll uphill, though today it's arguably better known as an amusement park/water slide/zoo complex that also holds rock concerts for long-in-the-tooth headliners like AC/DC. There are enough "gravity hills" in the world that Wikipedia has an entry for the phenomenon, though the one from which this particular site takes its name is pretty well an afterthought at this point.

Like so many roadside attractions, Magnetic Hill is, alas, a tad underwhelming. You pay your five bucks, get your instructions from the hill attendant (a frontrunner for Boringest Jobs in North America), and drive to the appointed marker a hundred meters or so in the distance. Put the car in neutral, crane yourself around so you can see out the rear window, let off the brake and, voila, your brain thinks you're coasting uphill. The illusion isn't terribly convincing--as my teenage son put it, "I think it's more like Momentum Hill."

So, the business angle. You always hear experts say that you should never overpromise and underdeliver, but that's the business plan of just about any roadside attraction, isn't it? Their marketing abilities deserve the utmost respect, surviving on no more than an endless tease of billboards and quarter-page ads in local tourista publications. Because they're dependent on a fool-me-once clientele, the "underdeliver" part doesn't really matter. Repeat customers, on the other hand, require reliability and trust. The lesson in here for freelancers, or for that matter any type of businessperson, really comes down to promising and delivering. Say what you're going to do, then do it, and you'll have a good chance to do it until you don't want to anymore.

Then again, you could argue that our family has derived far more than our $5 worth of laughs since being lured off the highway on that fateful summer afternoon. Unforgettable experiences come in a variety of packages, eh?


  1. There's a Mystery Spot in Santa Cruz that has a bunch of optical illusions that supposedly defy gravity, too. IIRC, $5 is the going rate to be "amazed."

  2. I believe overpromise-underdeliver is the reason most freelancers fail. They're able to get a prospective client all jazzed up about possibilities, but that's only half of the battle. Don't tell people what they *want* to hear, tell them what they *need* to hear. Only with reasonable expectations can you possibly succeed.

  3. I guess you could say it's an ongoing "uphill battle" to do what you say and say what you do in business!

  4. @John, unfortunately I think that's because the "getting jazzed up" part is often the exciting part, but the end result can be like getting a toddler all wound up on sugar--funny when it starts, then ending in tears and a long sleepless night.

    @Eileen, yes, that's right. It's one of Newton's Laws of Client Gravity.