Marketing To Avoid Decision Paralysis

Josh Chambers, Former Viget

Article Category: #Strategy

Posted on

If you give people too many choices, their brains will melt and they will retreat to the option thatoffers the least amount of uncertainty and confusion. In the online world, the most popular method of eliminating confusion and uncertainty is the "leave this site" option. Avoiding decision paralysis is imperative to effective marketing.

In their book, Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath reflect on what makes an idea stick -- a topic I think quite a bit about. On the road to "sticky" marketing, my experience is that decision paralysis is a very sneaky little trickster.  it's just an easy trap to fall into, and no trap is more appealing than offering too many choices.

The Heath's cite a study in which college students are faced with the following choices when planning their evenings:

Scenario 1:

Choice #1: Attend a lecture by an author you admire who is visiting just for the evening, or

Choice #2: Go to the library and study.

(Is "neither" an option?)

Scenario 2:

Choice #1: Attend the lecture.

Choice #2: Go to the library.

Choice #3: Watch a foreign film that you've been wanting to see.

The choices made between Scenario 1 and 2 are surprisingly different.

In Scenario 1, only 21 percent of nerds (sorry, students) chose to go the library. In Scenario 2, a remarkable 40 percent decided to go to the library -- doubling the number from Scenario 1.

The moral of the story is obvious: give people too many choices, and they clam up. It's irrational, but it's just how it is.

When working with clients to market their web sites, I'm always asking myself, "What components on this site are absolutely necessary to enable the user to accomplish their goals?" I find that, often times, the answer to my questions is, "Get rid of stuff."

Each site is different, but I've found this approach to be almost universally applicable. It does tend to contradict my natural way of thinking -- which is to offer as many options as possible to ensure I cover all my bases. But, it's absolutely necessary in order to avoid melting brains.

In the end, it's all about helping the users accomplish their goals (which should be the same as my goals) as quickly and easily as possible.

When engaging in online marketing, strip down your message to its core and only present users with the options that are absolutely necessary.  This will enable them to efficiently and seamlessly accomplish the desired goals.

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