The path through The Palace of Marvels

Hohenschwangau Castle - Bavaria

Henry built a house of wonders.

Feeling exotic, he named it Le palais merveilleux, which translates to The Palace of Marvels. Then, realising that most people in his city couldn’t pronounce merveilleux, he called it both names.

(It’s pronounced mer-vey-eugh, if you were wondering.)

How marvellous was the Palace of Marvels?

Well, once he invited Flinn Bordin, the current holder of the Most BlasΓ© Man Alive title, to tour the palace. By room three Flinn’s eyebrows has escaped his control and gave him an unquestionable look of surprise. By room seven, a smile had definitely started in the corners of his mouth. By room eleven, Flinn was sobbing like a baby and grinning like a fool. He lost the title and stayed to work as a ticket seller.

For of course Henry sold tickets. He had built the Palace of Marvels with a bag of fairy gold he’d found in a disused well, but even fairy gold runs out eventually in the face of that much ambition. Henry’s plan was to sell enough tickets to finance his acquisition trips, to expand the house, and to buy P.T. Barnum’s top hat.

He sold some tickets, mostly to the friends and family of people who had visited before, but to achieve his goal he needed to increase his ticket sales from a trickle to a flood.

To attract these new visitors, Henry built up his front yard. He added a formal Japanese garden. He built a three-storey-tall thrill slide. He constructed a sorbet fountain. He added steam-powered mechanical elephants who played God Save the Queen. “Ah-ha,” he said, “All of these wonderful attractions will be sure to increase my ticket sales!”

A month later he had to admit that they had not. He climbed to the top of the Prisoner’s Turret with a spyglass and tried to figure out why.

He watched as new people crowded through his front gate. They oohed and aahed at the elephants, dipped their spoons in the sorbet fountain, refreshed their wa in the Garden of Tranquillity, screamed like dervishes coming down the slide, wandered around to count the monkeys – did I mention the monkeys? – and eat a little more sorbet… and then they looked at their watches, rubbed their feet, and left.

Henry twirled his moustache thoughtfully for an hour, and then he went to the bulldozer shed.

His new visitors arrived the next morning to find a new addition to the front yard: a path. The path led past the steam-powered mechanical elephants who played God Save the Queen, through the Garden of Tranquillity, past the sorbet fountain, up to the thrill slide. And when people descended, screaming like dervishes, to the bottom of the thrill slide, they found themselves at the door of the Palace of Marvels, which bore a sign:

Many more wonders inside!
See the delights which destroyed the composure of The Most BlasΓ© Man Alive!

And delighted, calmed, tingling with sorbet, thrilled and hoping for more monkeys – a hope soon to be amply rewarded – the crowds lined up to buy tickets. They lined up in such numbers that Henry soon started making plans to acquire P.T. Barnum’s entire wardrobe.

All was wonder in the Palace of Marvels. As it should be.

The moral of the story

Physical businesses generally have a clear path to the money, whether it’s the Pay Here sign over the cashier, or the Exit Through the Gift Shop. They work for business owners – of course – and for the customers.

Businesses win because they get paid. Customers win because they don’t have to spend their precious mental energy and attention deciphering where to go next.

You’ve seen this done badly, especially in dimly-lit stock clearance stores. Remember how tiring and frustrating they are? Life is too short to spend stumbling around looking daft, attempting to find what you want, find the cashier, and find the exit.

Far too many websites are like this.

In the jumble of Free! Downloadable! Thingie! and Sign up for the newsletter and Please Like This on Facebook and Teleclass Next Tuesday, most people behave like they’re in the front yard of the Palace of Marvels: they wander, admire, and then leave.

No-one wins here.

For both of your sakes, you need a path.

Your people can leave the path and wander as they want to, of course! But give them an intelligent default on one path that will guide them from “Never heard of you before” to “You wonderful creatures, here’s my money”.

You’ll both be ever-so-glad you did.


Creative Commons License photo credit: joiseyshowaa

  • Anonymous

    signed up. looking forward to speaking with you.

    • Hooray! And thank you for proving that being completely transparent about the path doesn’t scare people off!

      • Reading this made me see how being completely transparent would have the completely opposite effect. (No wonder I ran up your path.) I appreciate the example, the template, and the trip down my memory lane to you.

  • Yay! You touched on a couple things I hate. 1. Working hard for food (no crab please, unless it’s pre-cracked and piled nicely on the plate) 2. Digging for the coolest clothes at the bottom of the thrift store bin. Let’s light the path, and could we put in a moving sidewalk too? Nicely done.

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  • Anonymous

    Ohhh – and I thought the path thing was just for me πŸ™‚

    Thank you to the ever lovin’ gods for saying this to me and for writing it here too. My eyes were opened and my head started to spin – in a good way, of course – at the possibility.

    • Oh, it’s most definitely not just you, dearest. πŸ™‚

  • appreciate how very specifically specific you are about the steps of delighting. That’s a muddy, muddy area for me.

    • Well, I ran a functional business for seven months before getting that clear about it, so it’s not an auto-fail if there’s muddiness.

      But more clarity = more power.

  • So where do I find this Le palais merveilleux? Because it sounds rather marvelous! πŸ™‚

    Thanks for such a vivid reminder, Catherine! I think it’s one of those things that we’re often too close to see — the path might be perfectly clear to us, but not to those who come to visit for the first time. Of course, that’s where your can help most, right? πŸ˜‰

    P.S. Thank you for the link to my post to all the Awesomes! Just now noticed it and it totally made my day! πŸ™‚

    • Worse, I think a lot of people don’t really know what the path SHOULD be. The mental picture is something like:

      1. I make shiny stuff.
      2. People turn up?
      3. PROFIT

      P.S. How could I not? It was GRAND. I mentioned it in Mo’Cash, Mo’Joy too!

      • Worser.

        I’ve never taken a path unless it was laid out the way yours was, AND I would tell you so knowingly that it didn’t even make sense that other people would run up a path they didn’t know was there or couldn’t navigate.


        My path-etic (don’t worry I’m not denigrating myself, just amusing myself, you know) before you was EXACTLY 1-3.

        (Except no question mark at 2, of course people were just going to turn up.)

  • Thanks for this Catherine. πŸ™‚ I’ve been developing my own path over the last few weeks. It’s silly how excited I got about seeing that little “sign up” box under my posts. And every sign up is like a making a great new friend. I love it!

    • Isn’t it wonderful! It’s a victory every time. πŸ™‚

  • Great tip, Catherine. I’m going to get a little box doo-hickey after each one my articles, too. Simple and (I’m willing to bet) highly effective! Thanks for the inspiration.

  • Hi Catherine!

    What a great story to illustrate this. πŸ™‚ And a very important lesson. I’ve become much more aware of the path for my business and website and have really cut back on the amount of “stuff” that goes onto my site. Too much stuff is just a distraction and leads people AWAY from what they should be doing! πŸ˜‰

  • Path! So important. Like, monkey important.

    Also, I think I have a crush on your blog. #justsayin

  • Btw, speaking of signups, I think having a ‘sales page’ for your newsletter sign-up is freaking brilliant!

    So fantabulously Brill, in fact, that I have shamelessly swiped the idea for “The Crafty Crows”. (So far. More swipery will be forthcoming later, I’m sure. ;-D)

    • Well, I nicked it from other people, so I don’t think I can press charges there. πŸ™‚

  • Damn you’re good at writing this stuff – you had me signing up for a newsletter that I’m already susbscribed to!!

  • I’m still laughing at your use of the word doohickey. That’s fantastic!

    I wholeheartedly enjoy everything I read here and one day I will actually take the next step. I am going to get my business going in the next month or so and I’ll need some of your wisdom to help me along. As the Governator would say “I’ll be back.”

    • And once I have all the doohickeys in place, I can start investigating my best thingamajig options.


      Looking forward to talking with you in person, dearest. πŸ™‚