You’re one in a million
Messages a year, that is
Information, these days, is hard to escape. Even formerly message-free spaces now bombard us with data.
Our audience members see messages printed on water cooler cups, embossed into their pizza’s cheese — even tattooed onto human skin.
Recently, a 20-year-old in Omaha, Neb., auctioned off his forehead on eBay. The highest bidder paid $37,000 and change to place a temporary tattoo on this kid’s noggin for a month.
All told, our audience members face 5,000 attempts to get their attention, every single day.
That’s nearly 2 million messages a year.
That means that when your newsletter, magazine, press release or brochure lands on your readers’ desks, it competes with 4,999 other things for your audience members’ time, interest and energy.
No wonder some 70% of American workers say they feel overwhelmed by information.
As one MasterCard ad proclaims:
“Seven days without email: Priceless.”
Less is more
With all that information, you’d think our audience members would be well informed and able to make great decisions.
Unfortunately, the reverse is true. The more information people get, it seems, the worse their decision-making skills become.
- Shoppers buy more when they have fewer options. In one study, researcher Sheena Iyengar set up a tasting booth of gourmet jams. When offered six flavors, 30% of folks who stopped by the booth bought some jam. When faced with 24 options, only 3% of shoppers made a purchase.
- Accountants are more successful with less data. Accountants were most successful at predicting whether a company would go bankrupt within three years when they had six financial ratios to work with. When they had eight pieces of data, their predictions were less accurate.
- ER doctors are more effective with less information. A cardiologist named Lee Goldman, for instance, found that when ER doctors have three pieces of information about their patients, they diagnose heart attacks correctly 95% of the time. When doctors have more information, they diagnose heart attacks correctly only 75% to 89% of the time.
‘You’re not more informed’
In Blink, Malcolm Gladwell writes of Goldman’s research:
“We take it, as a given, that the more information decision makers have, the better off they are. But what does the Goldman algorithm say? Quite the opposite: that all that extra information isn’t actually an advantage at all. In fact, that extra information is more than useless. It’s harmful. It confuses the issues.”
As Tom Rosenstiel, former media critic for the Los Angeles Times, says:
“You’re not more informed. You’re just numbed.”
Are you informing your readers? Or just numbing them?