Have you ever sat down to eat at a restaurant and the waiter brought you a daunting 17-page, 3-pound tome of a menu?
You manage to slog through 174 entrees, 3,764 permutations of sides and half the salads as the waiter walks back to tell you about the specials. You’re terrified that you’re going to pick the wrong thing, and you probably are! Your odds of picking the “right” entree are 0.57%. Who even knows what that drops to after futilely attempting to pick the perfect combination of 3 sides.
The waiter asks what you want. You freeze, paralyzed. You lie and tell him you just want a gin and tonic. You cry into your drink. You walk to your car hungry, shamed.
What you’ve experienced is the Paradox of Choice, a concept coined and written by Barry Schwartz.
More = less
At the risk of grossly oversimplifying Schwartz’ magnum opus, it asserts that by increasing the number of options available to consumers, you also increase their level of stress and decrease their happiness.
But how do more options decrease happiness? It seems to be counterintuitive, doesn’t it?
Let me explain.
When you look at that epic menu we were talking about, a lot of things happen behind the scenes. Your brain processes hundreds of potential outcomes while simultaneously trying to predict the optimized solution based on your past experiences, reviews on Yelp, health and nutrition considerations, and who knows how many other inputs.
This stupid menu effectively turned a seemingly relaxing lunch into a highly complex probability computing exercise.
If you run marketing programs for your company, you know exactly what I’m talking about, but the stakes are much higher than a bad lunch.
When you’re at the bottom of the totem pole, you loathe being told what to do. At least, I did. I wanted to break everything and rebuild it anew. Then do it all over again. It was all about exploring new ideas.
Most marketers who have achieved some level of success follow a similar path of seeking contentment through finding and fixing broken things.
But then one day people stop telling you what to do. You’re free from the box, and with it, free to make any number of the millions of mistakes you’re entrusted to avoid.
Should we email our prospects more often?
Does our branding need an overhaul?
Do we need to rebuild our website? Who is the best vendor? What’s the most modern design being used today?
The box was a form of structured freedom, wasn’t it? When your rebellious ideas failed, they failed small. When you tried new things, they weren’t ever expected to work. And when they did work, you were lauded as an innovator, going above and beyond the call of duty.
But when the box you were given was removed, you were forced to create a new box from which everyone would operate. That meant selecting all of the right pieces from an infinite selection of possibilities.
That’s the job. And that’s your paradox of choice.
Over time you likely added a number of marketing activities that weren’t necessary, and sometimes entirely ineffective. You know the activities I’m talking about: the 80% of your attention that creates 20% of your results.
It’s inevitable. Every marketer will unintentionally add nonessential “fluff” that sucks time and resources.
If there is any positive to take from the coronavirus crisis, it’s that you’ve likely been forced to rebuild your marketing framework without any fluff.
A lack of options = efficiency and focus
Unless your organization is in one of the few coronavirus-proof industries, you’ve certainly had to scale back your marketing efforts to some degree or another. And in doing so, it’s forced you to really, really think about what’s essential and what’s not.
And you’ve likely been forced to get creative about how to be twice as efficient with half as many resources. You’ve also likely had to quickly uncomplicate things you no longer have time to sort through.
In just a few weeks I’ve learned the following:
- Email was unwieldy: Everyone on the team used to know which lists were getting sent what types of content, and when. Now we need complicated spreadsheets and an Advil to figure it out.
- Writing: As we grew, I wrote less. Somehow I got it in my mind that writing content was a time suck, and poor use of time. This was absolutely false. The idea of abandoning a tool that brought you past success because you should be working on “more important things” is a foolish notion.
- Ideation: Writing content naturally taps into the creative side of the brain, which leads to many other ideas. There is a downstream benefit to regularly tapping into creativity.
- Manual work: There’s something to be said for doing simple, seemingly monotonous tasks that you’ve done hundreds of times before. While you’re always taught to delegate these things and “focus on strategy,” your brain needs to find peace in simple tasks, and the win of small accomplishments.
- Cut your losing bets: All marketers have projects or initiatives that they won’t give up, either out of inertia or stubborn resolve. When the option is taken from you, it makes moving forward without those losing bets simple.
What this has allowed us to do is lean down into only the most important marketing activities that drive our business, and focus 100% on nailing those tasks rather than giving partial focus to dozens of other tasks. Back to the basics, if you will.
It’s also given us a nostalgic taste of that structured freedom we’ve been lacking. Our potential range of solutions has been simplified, which gives us a sense of control. And that control, in a weird way, actually provides a space for creativity and fun.