The Curse of Choice

And then there’s the talented, hilarious Sean D’Souza, guiding force behind New Zealand’s, who shared top-notch tips with us right and left.

We have called the confusion that results from the online tendency to offer every single option you can think of to your visitors “paralysis of analysis.” And yet, taking any action on a web site is an exercise in making a choice. So how can you make it easier for folks to choose?

Tune in to the tip (and this is his idea of a tip!) Sean gave us for our book.

Do you want to confuse the heck out of your dog?

Do a little test.

Place two bones in front of your dog. And watch what the dog does.

He'll sniff one bone. Then the other. Then go back to the first. And back to the second. Back, forth, back, forth and back again. Oooh this mutt looks like he's watching the finals of the US Open.

You've just witnessed the curse of choice. And not surprisingly, human beings are not a whole lot different from dogs.

Curious? I bet you are. Because the concept of choice can dramatically increase or decrease your sales. What are you doing wrong? And how can you fix it?

Think of an ice-cream flavour

Done? Good!

Now do you realise what your brain just did? Your brain went through dozens of choices in one fraction of a second. It whipped its way through at least a dozen possible flavours. In a blinding flash it went through what is known as the 'elimination factor.'

Contrary to what you believe, the brain doesn't think by choosing what it wants.

No it doesn't, the brain 'eliminates' what it 'doesn't want'

Think about it for a second. When you're in the ice-cream store looking at all of those choices, you seem more confused than ever. You think you want choice, but when faced with one hundred squillion flavours, your brain goes a little waka-waka.

You become 'the dog' all over again.

You struggle to choose and finally when you do choose, you actually do it through a system of eliminating what you don't want.

Ergo: More elimination means more brain work

It's logical isn't it? If your brain goes through elimination to get to a single choice, then the more things it has to eliminate, the more difficult it becomes to choose one thing.

Often the brain just gives up. Yes, goodbye, sayonara and hasta la vista, baby! And customers faced with innumerable choices head rapidly for the 'goodbye, see ya later, I need to think about it.’

It's ironic isn't it?

We want choice, but we don't want the nuisance of having to choose. Aaaaaaaargh, isn't this irony driving you bananas?

Now, now ... don't get so antsy. No one is suggesting you do a Henry Ford. Henry, the inventor of the Model T Ford, was probably discredited with a quotation attributed to him that read: "People can have the Model T in any colour--so long as it's black."

The truth is that the Model T was available in green, red, blue and grey. In fact, right at the start black wasn't even available as an option. The switch to all- black cars was probably a move to reduce the time lost waiting for the various paints to dry. In fact, in 1926, colours other than black were once again offered in an attempt to rejuvenate sales.

So choice is a good thing ...

Absolutely! Your customers hate to have a gun held to their head. They want choice, but not so much choice that they're totally confused.

But now I can see it in your face, you're the one that's totally confused. You don't want to alienate your customers and neither do you want to confuse them.

So how do you use the power of command with choice?

The only way I can explain this is to give you a couple of real-life situations as played out sequentially on a website. Of course you can use this concept offline as well, but since you’re already online...ahem...let's just get cozy online, shall we?

  • Step 1: Visitor arrives at your website. Imagine a prospective client comes to your website. They've got half a dozen links to choose from. What should they do? Where do they go first? Can you give the client a choice and help the client make a speedy decision? On the website we actually tell you where to go next by putting a link in the text telling the client to 'start their journey here.'

  • Step 2: Some Window Shopping. Let's assume the client then heads to your products page. Do they have twenty-five products to choose from? Or do they have three? And do you have a command or suggestion in place? For example, a simple graphic that says 'Most Downloaded Product', sets a chain of thoughts in a client's brain. They think, oooh, if it's the most downloaded or most popular, it must be good. And that causes the client to choose the most popular one over the rest. Now hang on a second. I'm not asking you to be a nasty little crook. I'm not asking you to lie and try and manipulate your clients. All this command is doing, is simply getting the client to not get confused with choice.

  • Step 3: Ok, where's that credit card? Your client scrolls right down to the payment button. And is faced with several different options to pay. All good...but here's what you need to do. Make sure they get to choose between just one or two options. The other systems of payment can be clubbed under option 3. So Option No.1 could be credit card online. Option No.2 could be online cheque. Option No.3 could be Other Options. Under Other Options you could list phone call ins, fax, postal order etc.

  • Step 4: We're on the buying page. And let's say you're up selling a product. Again, do you do the bit and give me twenty options or just one more add on product?

  • Step 5: The client gets the product delivered. Where do they start? On book 3 or book 4? One client wrote in and asked me just that a few days ago. We sell the Brain Audit off our website, and she was confused which of the four books were the starting point. Ah... choice again causes chaos. (We're fixing this problem as we speak :)

Audit your way through your marketing

Take a look at either your web process or your sales/marketing process. Are you giving your clients too much to choose from? I know, I know. I cringe too. There are so many things to offer, yet choice only causes increased confusion. Eventually it boils down to sacrifice. 'Yes, No, Maybe' is hard enough without causing a client to go through 'yes, no, maybes' across multiple choice products and services.

If you want your client to act, make sure you make the process nice and uncomplicated. Less is indeed … more.

Oh, there's ONE more thing. It's called WHY

As the Merovingian, says in the movie Matrix Reloaded, "Choice is an illusion, created between those with power and those without... Our only hope, our only peace is to understand it, to understand the 'why.' 'Why' (read the Power of Why) is what separates us from them, you from me. 'Why' is the only real social power. Without it you are powerless.

Sean’s advice does appear in Call to Action.  But, while the book definitely addresses the dimensions of choice, this specific tip didn’t make it. Would you like to see what did?

Volume 109: 4/15/05

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