Brands and Choices: Keep it Simple

Apr 1, 2017

As consumers, we are exposed to hundreds of brands and ads daily (if not more, depending on the city we live in). From branded household items, to morning radio ads, to outdoor ads on the way to and from work, to ads online, to brands and ads in the mall or at the supermarket, to TV ads, etc…Everywhere we turn, we are reminded of one brand or another. And since there is only so much ads our brain can (or wants to) handle, we have developed automated filtering and blocking mechanisms, which is why we only retain the powerful few (thus highlighting the importance of creativity & channel strategy). Think of banner blindness, the phenomenon by which web visitors consciously or unconsciously ignore banner-like information.

To add to this ad exposure frenzy, there are branding choices we are faced with on many occasions. Take a simple trip to the supermarket: You are looking to buy cereal; Not only do you have multiple brands selling the same kind of cereal, you also have sub-brands that you have to choose from…with extra fiber or without? With fruits? With chocolate? What about honey? And it doesn’t stop there. It’s the same in the juice, biscuits, detergent and even toothpaste categories, just to name a few. Sometimes, we just pick haphazardly because we cannot give so much attention to such choices (usually leading us to pick what is most familiar to us).

Therefore, such choices aren’t always making life better, sometimes they are making it more difficult. Books and much literature have been written about this paradox of choice. And increasingly, studies are showing that too much choice leaves us desensitized (and worse, less happy).

The irony is that these “fabricated” choices are intentionally created by companies to increase sales and revenues. But somehow, it appears that the opposite is actually helping grow the bottom line. A study carried out by Sheena Iyengar, author of The Art of Choosing and Professor at the University of Columbia did an experiment on consumers, by displaying jams in front of a supermarket.

In a nutshell, on one table, there was a display of 24 different flavors and on the other table, there was a display of 6 different flavors. Where there was a wide range of flavors, more people sampled the jams but very few actually bought any. Where there was a smaller range of flavors, fewer people sampled the jams, but more actually bought some (significantly more). It appears that computing all these different choices and trying to make a viable comparison isn’t that easy after all. However, when exposed to fewer choices, the decision is easier to make (not to say intuitive).

Large-scale companies have apparently put this to the test with positive results as well. At a point in time, P&G cut its Head & Shoulders product line from 25 to 16 and saw a 10% increase in profits.

The takeaway from all this is the following: When thinking about your product portfolio, keep your focus on your consumer. By simplifying the purchasing process, you are not only providing convenience in a chaotic world, your product is also more likely to be perceived positively by your consumer, which will encouraging a repeat purchase.