Many marketers use a sales acceleration strategy of more frequent contact, more information, and more repetition. However, with an overload of information, consumers may just shut down. Too much choice can be debilitating for the consumer decision-making process.

In a widely cited and revealing experiment, Sheena Iyengar of Columbia Business School presented a sampling table in front of an upscale specialty market that offered shoppers tastings of flavored jams of several brands and a discount coupon for the purchase of any. The first test included 24 different flavors on the table, whereas the second test included only six. Much more people stopped at the display to taste when there were 24 samples than they did when there were six samples; however, only about three percent of those presented with the 24 samples bought jam after sampling. In dramatic contrast, about 30 percent of those presented with only six tasting samples actually purchased jam. Too much choice may cause consumers to forgo a purchase altogether.

“Decision simplicity”

Spanner and Freeman illustrate “decision simplicity,” the process of streamlining the buyer’s decision, with an example of two digital camera brands each using very different search engine strategies: [hbr]

The first company targets consumers searching common terms related to digital cameras in general, and these consumers are then directed to the company website replete with information on all the various camera models, listing all the features and technical specifications of each.

The second company uses a more calculated search engine strategy to determine how far a consumer is in the buying process. For instance, if the consumer is in the early stage of research, the visitor might be directed to third-party sites with positive reviews of the company’s products. Suppose the consumer is closer to a purchase. In that case, he or she might be directed to the company website section with customer reviews and testimonials, making the process more personal to that potential customer.

The point is to tailor the interaction to the customer’s individual needs and help the consumer make the purchase decision quickly and confidently by (1) aiding in the consumer’s navigation of information; (2) building the consumer’s trust in that information; and (3) making it easier for the consumer to weigh options. [hbr]

Aiding navigation

With consumers today having access to almost limitless information, how does a marketer help in a consumer’s navigation, that is, the gathering and understanding of the information needed to make the purchase decision? A consumer needs different types of information depending on the particular stage in the buying cycle. Marketers must try to determine where a consumer is in the buying cycle in order to personalize the experience and provide what is relevant at a given point in time. It should seek to minimize extraneous and excessive information sources and touchpoints.

A company might look at search terms as an indicator: generalized terms (“SUV”) would indicate an early research position, whereas a search for a specific brand (“Land Cruiser”) may indicate someone closer to a purchase decision. With this understanding, a marketer can determine where to direct the consumer, whether it be too general reviews of SUVs or to a specific dealership.

Some companies are also utilizing data science and analytics to gain insights. Spenner and Freeman cite an example of an electronics company mapping the common purchase paths of consumers using data from social media monitoring, ad-effectiveness, and campaign tracking information, clickstream analysis, and individual consumer surveys. The various purchase paths are analyzed to determine the traffic along the different paths; those paths that provide:

  • The most confidence to the consumer.
  • The best formats for a specific type of message.
  • Common points at which consumers lose confidence.

Building trust

With so many choices, information, and sources of information, how does a marketer aid the consumer in trusting the material and its source? Marketers must build trust in a brand and the information being presented, and how well it applies to the consumer’s specific situation. This involves more than just a presentation of a product’s features and applies more to how well a particular product is going to suit the consumer’s individual needs.

It is commonly understood that people trust third-party user recommendations more than paid advertising or promotion. Many companies effectively employ user groups or owner communities to which consumers are directed. The consumer is better able to assess the trustworthiness of the “advice” if he can understand the advisor’s decision criteria, use of the product, service, or brand, or even background information on the advisor. The goal is to make it easier for the consumer to access “trusted advice.”

Making it easier to weigh options

With so many choices, how does a marketer help the consumer weigh the various options? Consumers often expend the most effort on doing research and comparison-shopping, learning about, and weighing alternatives. Consumers need guidance in this process and confidence about their choice.

Companies often use buying guides with comparisons of features and specifications. These may provide an overabundance of SKUs and information that can complicate the buying decision. The consumer needs to be able to narrow the choices in an easy, step-by-step fashion. Some companies tailor offerings based upon the consumer’s personal data or past behavior or purchase decisions, which can help create confidence.

Marketers are consistently seeking to accelerate sales and help the consumer reach the purchase decision. In today’s world, where people are inundated with so many choices and so much information, marketers can do this by simplifying the decisions – guiding the consumer to relevant and trusted information and providing efficient ways for the consumer to evaluate options easily.