Archive | May, 2017

It’s What You Don’t Say

11 May

Mies van der Rohe may not have coined the phrase, “Less is more” but he is inextricably linked to it.

Over the years, it’s become a mantra for good design and design thinking.

It makes even more sense today with our shrinking attentions spans.

Microsoft’s famous study says we’re barely better than goldfish.

And our poor goldfish like brains are bombarded by ever-expanding media.

No wonder, one of the secrets to effective messaging is what you leave out.

People don’t want more information, they want the right information.

That’s harder than it sounds, because even assuming you’ve figured out what the right information is, people hate leaving stuff out.

We’re programmed for more: the car with more features, the job with more money, surf & turf; because why settle for one if you can have both!

Maybe this approach makes some sense in life, but marketing doesn’t work the same way.

While you may be tempted to cram more in, often all that cramming just confuses consumers.

It confuses marketers too.

You can present people with as much information as you like, but that doesn’t mean they will read or retain it.

100% information with 50% cognition is, in effect only 50% information, because that’s all that’s being understood.

Say you change the mix to 75% information with 90% cognition, now 67.5% is being understood. Paradoxically even though there’s less information, you communicate more.

Of course these numbers are arbitrary, but the principle is not.

You can prove this for yourself with a simple thought experiment.

Imagine a tray with 20 random objects that you are allowed to look at for 15 seconds.

How many objects can you recall?

Cognitive psychologist George Miller’s 1956 experiment suggests the answer for the average adult is in the 7 – 10 range.

Now imagine the same tray with a single object that you’re allowed to look at for 2 seconds.

Congratulations, you have 100% recall!

But telling consumers less still feels counterintuitive even if you are saying more.

And if something feels sufficiently counterintuitive, people will act against their own best interests as the Monty Hall Problem clearly shows.

Especially if they get to avoid the hard work of paring something down to the essential.

This tendency to say too much is at its worst when describing benefits.

A laundry list is not a benefit.

And if your product lacks a unique benefit a laundry list won’t disguise this.

To paraphrase Seth Godin, if you can’t describe a benefit in eight words or less, you haven’t got one.

So stop pretending.

What you don’t say is every bit as important as what you do.

You’re better off selling with pizzazz rather than trying to cram tenuous benefits into an already overstuffed consumer.