“Suffering has been stronger than all other teaching, and has taught me to understand… I have been bent and broken, but – I hope – into a better shape.”

Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

There’s a powerful psychological tool used in marketing called anchoring, though you’ll also hear your psych major friends call it focalism. The idea behind it is that setting an expectation for a human being then changes their perception of everything that follows it. They’ve dropped an “anchor”, and now everything else in your expectation rotates around it. It’s the reason $18 chicken doesn’t look so expensive at the bottom of a steakhouse menu when offered below a $95 steak. Here’s a textbook example:

A national magazine was trying to get their consumers to shift from physical to digital copies, and set up an offer that looked like this:

  • Physical magazine: $59/yr
  • Digital magazine: $99/yr
  • Physical + digital magazine: $99/yr

The results of the offer were a little surprising to the company with half of consumers choosing the physical mag option, and the other half choosing the physical/digital combo. Makes sense, right? If you can get both options for the same price as the digital-only, why not choose it? Less than 1% of consumers chose the digital-only option. The magazine’s higher-ups considered this a win, getting consumers to start moving towards a digital format (even if they still had to send physical copies in the short term), and did what many purveyors would do. The took the thing that wasn’t selling, and “pulled it off the shelf”, throwing out a new deal that looked like this:

  • Physical magazine: $59/yr
  • Physical + digital magazine: $99/yr

Piece of cake, right? A no-brainer, and surely the outcome of the offer was the same as above. Well, not exactly. Now two-thirds of consumers chose the physical-only option, with one-third choosing the physical/digital pairing. Had they not been paying attention, the company would have cost itself a couple million dollars a year by removing the thing that NOBODY WAS BUYING. But the unchosen option gave consumers context as to the special deal they were getting. The digital-only offering set an expectation of how good an offer the combo was. The company wisely steered back towards the first offer.

When your Denver Nuggets opened the 2018-19 season, the primary debate amongst fans and pundits was whether or not they’d finally make their way into the playoff picture, with the majority of the crowd seeming to expect they’d finally crack the glass ceiling that had bedeviled them the past two seasons. Just how far they’d climb that ladder was more the topic of debate, with the most optimistic suggesting that home court advantage in the first round was a possibility, but more likely a pipe dream. While there may have been an outlier or two projecting them at or near the top of the Western Conference, the broad expectation was that they’d land somewhere in the 6-7-8 range.

78 games into the season, Denver is closer to the one seed than the three seed, though a poor finish could drop them out of their current two spot. With four games left to go, Denver has a home-and-away against the fourth-place Portland Trail Blazers, one at Utah against the fifth-place Jazz, and wrap it all up against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Lose all four, and the Nuggets could theoretically finish below the streaking Jazz (winners of their last six), and drop out of home court advantage. Split the four at 2-2, and Denver still could finish below both third-place Houston and Portland, who have decidedly easier exits on the way out.

Should the Nuggets end up losing traction on having home court advantage for TWO rounds so close to the end, it’s sure to be a disappointment for a fan base whose expectations have been recalibrated by a torrid campaign that has seen Denver in first or second place all but 22 days of the season, a distinction they have not relinquished since Christmas Eve. Nuggets Nation held their breath the entire year, waiting on the slide they just knew was finally coming, and never has. Should that slip occur at the very end, it would understandably be a letdown for the same group of people who would have been ecstatic over a top-four finish at season’s start.

Such recalibration is not completely foreign to Denver sports fans, who may remember back-to-back Super Bowl victories having many Broncos fans and pundits so confident as to believe that John Elway’s retirement would be of little consequence, as the “system” was so strong that Brian Griese would carry them to another title. Denver’s current fans seem to at least understand that plucking Nikola Jokic from the mix anytime soon would be catastrophic to the Nuggets future. But win a title or two, and who knows how hyperbolic the fan base might become? Their expectations would be set even higher, should that dream ever come true.

Denver’s big win against San Antonio last night gave them hope of hanging onto the two seed with an exceptional showing, tallying 41 assists on a night when their shots were finally falling. Should shooting stay hot, Denver has a solid chance at finishing the season on a high note, with some momentum going into the playoffs. Drop a couple, and what would have been a dream at seasons’ outset might now dash the great expectations of their burgeoning fan base.

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