The Silent Marketing Roadblock – Choice

Ice cream parlors feature dozens of beautifully displayed flavors waiting to be tasted, purchased, and consumed. By sampling flavors, you hope to gain clarity about your decision. Yet, often, after a few taste tests, you aren’t any surer about which one to choose – in fact, you’re more confused than ever. So you’re faced with two options: Forge ahead with potential regret over selecting the wrong flavor – or walk away.

As marketers, we present our customers with many choices. But these choices, like the array of ice creams displayed in the store freezer, can create confusion and dissatisfaction and even paralyze action on the part of our customers … which impedes sales.

So, providing many choices is not necessarily the best tactic. Let’s take a look at what’s behind this phenomenon.

Why Choice Generates Attention … But Not More Sales

In 2000, psychologists Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper published an interesting study for marketers. They tested the power of choice when presenting jam at an upscale food market.

The psychologists set up a display table featuring 24 varieties of gourmet jam on the first day. They allowed people to sample and purchase jars. The second day, they set up a similar display, but this time featured only six varieties. They wanted to find out whether more choice translated to higher sales.

On day one, people flocked to the large display of jam and were interested in and engaged with the products. As marketers, we might think “This is great!” But when it came down to making a purchase, interest fell flat. In fact, people who viewed the large display were one-tenth less likely to purchase than people who viewed the smaller display. But why? The answer resides in the human brain and how it processes all that choice.

Marketing and Decision Fatigue

A New York Times article describes how decision-making fatigue works. “The more choices you make throughout the day, the harder each one becomes for your brain, and eventually it looks for shortcuts, usually in either of two very different ways. One shortcut is to become reckless: to act impulsively instead of expending the energy to first think through the consequences. (Sure, tweet that photo! What could go wrong?) The other shortcut is the ultimate energy saver: Do nothing. Instead of agonizing over decisions, avoid any choice.”

Those last couple of sentences explain what happened with the jam experiment. People were so overwhelmed by the large number of choices that they took no action, which resulted in less revenue for the sellers.

This single principle is why Albert Einstein, Mark Zuckerberg, and Steve Jobs each wore different versions of his favored outfit each day. The famous physicist Einstein explained that he did not want to waste brainpower choosing clothes each morning. And, in the case of marketing, each new decision not only tires out prospects’ brains, but it also subtracts from their feeling of well-being.

Why More Choice Equals Greater Dissatisfaction

Choice has a direct link to a customer’s perceived satisfaction. Take, for example, making the choice about ice cream. Let’s say that you do select a flavor. One would think the process is complete after you make the choice, but unfortunately, your brain is still back there at the counter, thinking about the flavors you passed up. Were they better? Did you miss out?

With each new option that marketers present, people feel just a little worse. But luckily marketers can strategize to reduce decision-making fatigue and drive greater satisfaction. Here are a few tips.

Reduce Options Everywhere, Even in Social Media

The practice of offering too many choices isn’t limited to products; it’s also prevalent in other areas of marketing, such as social media. For example, most companies offer several different ways to share via social media. But does this negatively affect social shares? Maybe. Find out through testing.

Identify the top social channels in which your prospects engage. Simplify social sharing to include only a few important options, and measure the results. For example, the Forbes article below, “Marketers Have It Wrong: Forget Engagement, Consumers Want Simplicity,” says they could scale back social sharing from the current five options to only three, such as Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Keep the Call to Action Simple: One Choice, One Path

There are many places where marketers place calls to action: landing pages, email campaigns, brochures, and other content marketing materials. But when you place too many requests within a single marketing piece, the results can suffer. Instead, use a single call to action for each piece.

Make your CTA benefit-oriented to help drive higher click-through rates. For example, QuickSprout makes the promise “Double Your Conversions in 30 Days” in the call to action below. This quickly generates excitement and engagement.

Even better, test two different CTAs with different groups to determine which performs best, then use the one that drives greater results.

Reduce the Complexity of Choices

For example, marketers may include a comparison chart so that prospects can fully understand all options. Reduce that complexity by limiting the featured traits within each option, and make the items directly comparable.

For example, check out this chart proposal from SaaS company Bidskitch. They provide three different options, with a handful of attributes for each selection.

The call to action for all three options is also the same, with an offer to start a 14-day free trial.

Provide Social Proof

When making a purchase, customers consistently want to reinforce their decision. As they shop for new products and services on the Internet, they’re simultaneously checking competitors online to ensure they’re getting the best deal. Toggling around and comparing sucks the energy from consumers, and if the task drains them too much, then customers may avoid purchase.

Take steps to decrease this purchase fatigue through social proof (a form of peer pressure). In fact, social proof is so influential that it’s more powerful than the promise of saving money. Here are a few tips for creating powerful social proof:

  • Use testimonials with pictures. The best way to make content more influential is to include pictures of the customers who give the testimonial content. Research found that making this one change instantly increases trust.
  • Use testimonials that look like your target demographic. Most people subconsciously are attracted to marketing that features people who resemble them. When drafting testimonials, use customers who look most like your target audience.
  • Opt for no proof rather than low proof. For example, let’s say your B2B company just started a blog, and currently it has very few social shares. It’s better to omit the numbers at first, because they make the blog appear less trustworthy.

Presenting social proof with your marketing efforts reduces the “responsibility of choice” burden on customers, assisting them with making faster and more confident decisions.

Minimize the Risk of Purchase

“Decision overwhelm” is fueled by the fear of making the wrong decision. You finally make a choice after sampling ice cream, but even though you’ve chosen chocolate mint, you’re still thinking about the mango sherbet you passed up. B2B purchases aren’t ice cream, but the fear of making the wrong decision is still great – and arguably the stakes are much higher. So how can you minimize the risk?

In addition to using social proof, reduce risk by offering escape options. Money-back guarantees and no-hassle return policies reduce the fear of getting trapped by the wrong product choice. As a result, the perceived risk of moving forward with a purchase is far less, which drives higher conversion rates.

Reduce Items per Page

Marketers often carefully design website home pages and landing pages to create the highest conversion rate. But it’s wise to revisit these pages frequently, especially when seeking ways to simplify and reduce decision-making fatigue for your customers. But how?

Start with the category pages. Navigating through your website should require the fewest decisions and least energy possible. So ask yourself, “How can we streamline navigation to result in fewer decisions to arrive at the intended destination? Can we simplify messaging on the home page or include fewer but higher-impact calls to action?” Seek opportunities to make the website more straightforward and user-friendly and reduce resistance in the online experience.

Moving Forward With Less Fatigue

It’s tempting to provide customers with more – increased options, multiple calls to action, and greater benefits. The research, however, is clear: If you want to create more positive feelings about your brand, reduce confusion, and increase sales, you must provide less.

Fewer calls to action and fewer choices help consumers arrive at decisions faster, which may help shorten the sales cycle. As Barry Schwartz, the author of “The Paradox of Choice,” points out, you must find a sweet spot. He says, “Do people benefit from variety? Absolutely. But you must strike the balance between variety and not paralyzing your customers. And once you find this magical spot, you can maximize each and every marketing effort.”

Do you think that decision-making fatigue affects B2B marketing? Share your experiences and results.