To sell your products, services and ideas, offer less
Here’s a famous story among persuasion researchers and Malcolm Gladwell fans:
When a researcher offered shoppers 24 types of jam, many customers stopped by for a sample, but only 3 percent made a purchase. But when the researcher offered only six kinds, 30 percent of shoppers ended up buying jam.
“When people had too many choices, they just walked away,” says Sheena Iyengar, the researcher and author of The Art of Choosing.
Iyengar, a business professor at Columbia University, studies how people make decisions. When it comes to choice, her research shows again and again, less is almost always more.
Less is more when it comes to:
- 401(k) plans. In a study for Vanguard, Iyengar found that for every 10 funds a company added to its options, the number of employees enrolling dropped by 2 percent.
- Medicare plans. When seniors had to choose a Medicare prescription drug benefit in 2006, they were overwhelmed by the options. In the end, some 10 percent of seniors didn’t enroll by the deadline, even though it meant they’d have to pay extra to enroll late.
- Accountants and emergency room doctors also make better decisions with less information.
What’s wrong with choice?
Making a choice takes three mental tasks, Iyengar says:
- Figuring out what you want
- Understanding the options
- Making tradeoffs
This exercise becomes more complex as the choices multiply.
So how can you make it easier for your readers to make a decision — instead of giving up and going home?
Think in decision layers.
One way is to try the three-by-three rule: Offer a matrix of three categories, each with three options. Instead of deciding between nine options, readers make two decisions between three options each.
Source: Penelope Wang, “How to make better investment choices,” Money, June 2, 2010