How to solve your customers'​ analysis paralysis

Picture this

Your best friend invites you to dinner at a new, fancy restaurant. You haven’t heard much about it but decide to give it a try.

After being seated you are handed the menu which you notice is a large double-sided 10 paged book. They also bring over a separate menu for the specials and drinks. You feel instantly overwhelmed looking at all options. You can’t decide which of the 15 different appetizers to try and choosing the main course is even harder. There are 20 kinds of pasta and noodles, 15 rice dishes, and a build-your-own pizza with 35 different toppings to choose from.

When the waitstaff asks if you're ready to order, you apologize and say you need a bit more time. Your friend notices your distress and says, "If you don't like anything, we can always go somewhere else.'

What do you do?

It might seem like you're helping your prospective customer by offering them a bunch of options. But in reality, it actually makes their decision-making process much more complex, and can possibly lead to inaction.

When presented with options, your buyer needs to assess all aspects of the deal before making a decision to purchase. Barry Schwartz in his book The Paradox of choice wrote: “With so many options to choose from, people find it difficult to choose at all.” He summarized Analysis Paralysis - when a person over-thinks the decision to such an extent that they don't make a choice often stemming from the fear of making a wrong decision.

As humans we are creatures of habit and when given too many choices we tend to freeze and we revert to what we know - We choose the cheapest service. We stick with a brand we've tried before. We pick the safest option - The neutral product!

You see it's not a bad thing if you are a big brand or the neutral choice. There are customers who are quite happy sticking to the same food, technology, bank etc. But what if you're not the neutral choice?

Let's go back to our restaurant dilemma - when confronted with too many options what would you do?

Did you decide to choose a familiar option? - a dish you felt safe with? - the cheapest dish? or Did you turn to others for social proof? - Do you look to see what other customers are eating? Did you ask our friend what they are considering having? Did you look for any Chef's recommended choice? or did you ask the Waitstaff for a suggestion?

Your buyers see hundreds of ads a day as they scroll through social feeds and promotions. There are a lot of options for them to choose from. And here's the thing - I’ve read quite a few blog posts with anecdotes about people being overwhelmed by choice, how they were shopping for ice cream and simply for the sake of their narrative suggests how they thought about walking out of the store without buying. But let me tell you I've never met anyone who entered an ice cream store that never bought an ice cream due to too many options. In fact, I'm sure those people who may seem overwhelmed by choice were the people who walked out with 3 scoops of ice cream! So what do ice cream stores do differently?

Here are some ways for you to combat your customers’ analysis paralysis and help them make a purchase decision

1. Yes you can Reduce the number of options:

In 2000 psychologist Sheena Iyengar set 2 display tables offering samples of gourmet jam outside an upscale food market. On one display they offered 24 samples and on another, they offered only 6 flavours. While 60% of the shoppers stopped at the stand with 24 jams compared to the 40% where 6 flavours were offered when the time came to purchase, only 3% of shoppers bought jam compared to the 30% of shoppers who bought from the smaller display.

And you can Segment your Options

Ice cream stores often group similar flavours together to draw their customers' attention to a smaller selection.

How you can apply this to your business:

By simply providing fewer options for your prospect by categorising, segmenting your choices and niching your services you will help your customers whittle down their options depending on what they need. You can reduce the amount of complexity that they’ll need to process and get them to make a decision faster.

Segment your market and narrow your service options. Get to know your target market and their needs and segment your services to solve those problems

2. Simplify your visual displays and have one call to action.

Ice cream stores generally have a very simple call to action. You might think they are asking you: "what ice cream flavour would you like to choose?" but what they really are asking is: One scoop or 2? cup or waffle cone?

How you can apply this to your business:

What do you want your customers to do next. What is your business goal? Have only a few call to action choices. Whether it's your in-store displays or your company website your display should be clean and simple so as not to overwhelm your customers. Choose to highlight a few products with simple information and one call to action. Allow your customers to find more in-depth information by asking them to click a link.

3. Create a simple buying process.

Although it's not difficult to order an ice cream - most stores usually display an easy step by step guide

How you can apply this to your business:

You don’t have to hold your buyer's hand through the decision-making process but you can provide them with plenty of cues that can help them move along the process and show they are making progress. Using a preset process takes away the need for them to create their own process so they can focus on the decision for instance you can use a number of steps, remaining questions, time remaining, etc.

Make it easy for your clients to achieve that action. If you want them to fill out a form for more information do you really need to know how many people are working in their company? Only ask for the essential data - you can always ask for more when you start a conversation.

4. Show the outcome

Ok- if you've stepped foot into an Ice Cream Parlour you most likely know the desired outcome!

How you can apply this to your business:

Use words and images that evoke an emotion. Using the right narrative will make you more memorable. Choose content or images that focus on your benefits more than just your features.

Use customer testimonials or reviews to show your prospects the desired outcome.

Make the decision reversible: Customers often second-guess themselves out of fear that they might make an “incorrect” choice especially when the risk is higher (often associated with larger purchases). Buyer Remorse is the sense of regret after having made a purchase. Try and de-risk the decision by offering a money-back guarantee, free returns etc. If your buyer feels comfortable knowing the process to get their money back is smooth they will be more willing to purchase.

5. Make your recommended options more distinctive.

The Isolation Effect (also known as the Von Restorff Effect) was a theory set by Hedwig von Restorff who, in her 1933 memory study, found that when participants were presented with a list of categorically similar items with one distinctive, isolated item on the list, the one that differs from the rest is most likely to be remembered!

For example, which word do you remember in the following list of words – desk, chair, bed, table, cheesecake, dresser, stool, couch...

– did you think of "cheesecake" did it stand out against the other words?

As effective as this might be, it’s important to remember that distinctiveness, only works if there are a few different states to choose from, otherwise, nothing will stand out. For example, try this list

desk, chair, bird, bed, cheesecake, pen, dresser, cupboard, kite, couch, pillow, shirt, stool

When you have too many choices trying to be distinct it will devalue each option and may lead to more confusion.

Ice cream stores often use quirky names such as Blueberry Blaster, Cherry Chiller to make their flavours more distinctive. Think about Ben & Jerry's Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, Chunky Monkey, Chocolate Therapy, New York Super Fudge essentially all are chocolate ice cream.

So how can you apply this to your business?

Look for patterns in your industry’s marketing strategies then, do the opposite. For instance, if everyone’s writing in-depth how-to guides try showing a behind the scene video instead. When they zig, you zag!

Stop trying to blend in - think of ways that make you different.

Most businesses are happy with being the familiar choice. They tend to be those that stick with the tagline "Established 1980 - nothings changed" But what if you want to make an impact - what if you want to stand out. Simplifying your marketing strategy ensures you make the best first impression. Your message is clear as to who you are, who you help, what you do and why your customer should consider you.

Ice cream stores don't need to make unnecessary promises, they rarely have to convince their customers to buy. Simplifying your marketing strategy allows you to focus on your ideal clients and your communication - ask yourself the following :

  • Do I have a way to differentiate ourselves from all the other options?

  • Do I have a distinct voice or identity that makes me stand out and be more memorable?

  • Do I know who I want to help?

  • Is my message clear?

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