The Marketing Intern

Outside the Box / Inside the Cubicle

What a Hot Water Heater Taught Me about Rich Media

Posted by The Marketing Intern on July 20, 2009

I’ve been on a rich media/IRMC kick lately, so maybe this is a bit of a stretch. But the other day I got a phone call on my cell while I was at the office. It was my girlfriend. Apparently our oil tank had run dry, and we didn’t have any hot water in the apartment. My lovely girlie went and got ten gallons of diesel to hold us over until the oil truck could make it out our way. The gas was in the tank, but the pump that brings it to the water heater needed to be primed. She wanted to know how to do it.

“Okay,” I said. “First you need an empty two-liter bottle, and a pair of vice grips.”

“Vice grips?” she said. “You mean the metal grabby things?”

“Yeah,” I said. (I confess, I rolled my eyes a little.)

“Okay, got ’em.”

“Good,” I said. “Now use the grabby things to loosen the nozzle under the casing, and–”

“Wait,” she said. “What nozzle?”

“The silver thing,” I said. “Underneath. It’s like a bolt with a little spout on it.”

“The gold thing?” she asked.

“No, it’s silver,” I said. “There shouldn’t be a gold thing.”

“Oh, okay,” she said. “I think I see it now. It’s kinda short, right?”

“Kind of,” I said.

“And it’s not the one on the top?”

The top? “No,” I said. Christ, she’s going to disassemble the whole freaking motor.

“Okay, now what?” she said.

“Now loosen that bolt,” I said, “and put the–”

“What bolt?” she asked.

“The nozzle,” I said. “The little silver spout.”

“Oh,” she said. “Okay. So I take that off?”

“No,” I said. “Just loosen it.”

“Why don’t I take it off?” she said.

“Because fuel is going to pour out of the spout at the end of the nozzle when you loosen it,” I said.

“You mean when I loosen this thing, I’m going to get covered in gas?” she said.

“No,” I said. “Fuel won’t start pumping until after you push the red button.”

“What red button?” she asked.

“The one next to the blinking light.”

“That’s a white button.”

“Whatever,” I said. “Whatever color it is, you’ll push that and then fuel will come out of the nozzle.”

“Push it now?” she said.

“No,” I said. “Loosen the bolt underneath first.”

The conversation went on like this for about ten minutes. Finally she called me back to tell me that she had figured it all out, and we had hot water again. Glorious.

This little conversation got me thinking about how ineffective spoken directions are at explaining how to do something involved. In fact, sometimes words in general are useless for such purposes. Pictures and video are much more appropriate media for involved instruction. If I could have drawn my wonderful girlfriend a picture or shot a video of someone priming that motor, she would have gotten it instantly. Instead, I had to try and use non-technical words like “nozzle” and “spout” in a daffy attempt at explaining what the little metal thing on the underside of the motor casing was, and why she should care about it.

My girlfriend had to figure out what I meant when I said “nozzle.” If she had seen a picture of the nozzle, it wouldn’t matter what it was called, she would know what it was and what to do with it. It could be called a Gabbledook, and it wouldn’t matter – that little metal thing was the thing she had to loosen with the metal grabby thing. ‘Nuff said.

So ask yourself this: if you’re selling a product or service that comes with a sheaf of jargon, are you doing everything possible to make sure your customers understand what you’re talking about? If not, it’s time to look into rich media.

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