When marketers should learn to shut up

You’re great. I know you are. But is your eagerness to share with me how great you are actually turning me off?

One of the problems with how we market ourselves is knowing when to shut up—when to reign it in and leave a bit to our customers’ imagination.

But wonder no more. Behavioural research has some answers. 

Limit yourself to three substantiation points

In their study, When Three Charms But Four Alarms: Identifying the Optimal Number of Claims in Persuasion Settings, researchers Kurt Carlson and Suzanne Shu found that any more than three points of substantiation in a value proposition turns customers off. It was a case of “doth protest too much” once the tipping point had been reached. I’ve written more fully about this research and what is means here.

Ban website “sliders”

Sliding images or “carousels” on your website are sloppy marketing. Why? Because nailing your central value proposition down to one image and statement is hard; including multiple in a carousel is easy. You shift the onus from you as the business distilling your value into a clear and influential message to your customer who has to try to cobble together what those disjointed statements flashing by mean for them. As if they (and their System 1 processing) can be bothered?!

This is borne out in some statistics that show less than 2% of visitors click an image in a carousel, and the vast majority (89% on one site) click the first position.

So why are they used? Lee Duddell from UX firm WhatUsersDo.com says it well. “Carousels are effective at being able to tell people in marketing/senior management that their latest idea is on the home page,” Duddell says.

In short:

  • If you are using a carousel to appease stakeholders, don’t;
  • If you are using a carousel to help conversion, don’t; and
  • If you are using a carousel, don’t. You are not serving your customer or your business.

Don’t dilute great news with mediocrity

Imagine you are marketing a hotel online. You are keen to show off the best of your facilities, so you decide to include your five-star pool and three-star restaurant in the list of features.

According to researchers from Virginia Tech and University of Michigan, you’ve just made a big mistake. It turns out that mildly favourable information can dilute highly favourable information, so in this case, your three-star restaurant has reduced the attractiveness of your five-star pool.

Why? When appraising your offer it is likely your customers will be in a holistic information-processing mindset and therefore be using an averaging pattern. In other words they will be thinking: “all in all, how does this make me feel?”

In contrast, when putting the offer together, marketers tend to think in piecemeal fashion, where each element is judged on its merits. Where we add, our customers average. 

The battle is won on common attributes

This time imagine you are marketing a hospital. How many and which features should you include?

This was the question asked by researchers from Columbia and Stanford Universities, where participants were required to choose between hospitals based on two dimensions: cost and quality. It was found that removing “non-quality” information (for example, ratings of food, or number of visiting hours per day), meant people were more likely to choose the hospital with the highest quality care.

They weren’t being distracted by less relevant information.

The researchers posited that when comparing options, consumers tend to look for common attributes (comparing apples with apples) and base their decision on which is superior. Deleting information that is not most relevant to the decision allows customers to zone in on the common attributes, improving both comprehension and the likelihood of selecting the best option. This throws up two scenarios for you.

  1. If you have the edge on your competitors on common attributes, stick to these markers and remove superfluous points; and
  2. If you are weaker relative to competitors on common attributes, consider substituting them with unique attributes instead (forcing your customer to compare apples with oranges).  

Bringing the discipline to marketing

Marketing is often referred to as a discipline, and I can see why. It takes discipline to make decisions about what you don’t say, as much as what you do. “Less is more” is a well used adage, but one that is apt when we are trying to influence people to take action. Less noise, less clutter, more silence, more science.

Bri Williams deletes all buying hesitation and maximises every dollar of your marketing spend by applying behavioural economics to the patterns of buying behaviour. More at www.briwilliams.com.au.


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