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Rick Ott: Is More Better than Less? A Marketing Perspective By Rick Ott

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Creating Demand by Richard Ott

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“More is better than less,” so says a current AT&T television commercial. That may be true not only in the telecommunications industry, but in other industries as well. In fact, “more is better than less” is the main concept behind all those big-box retailers: Walmart, Home Depot, Staples, PetSmart, Hobby Lobby, CarMax, and more. These are the giants with the most inventories for sale, which allows them to steamroll over those smaller guys — the stores with far fewer inventories. It’s true in other industries too. Restaurants that offer breakfast, lunch, and dinner — with everything imaginable under each category — seem to stay packed around the clock, every day of the week. It happens not only with physical products but with services as well. Recently, the world’s two largest advertising agency holding companies announced a plan to merge, so as to create one gigantic, full-service entity to offer “every service the client desires under one roof.” Same with major airlines… merge so as to offer more flights to more destinations. More, more, more.

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It’s All About Choice Consumers are attracted to “more” because of their innate desire to choose. As you know, the freedom to choose how to live our lives is one of the founding principles upon which the United States of America and other free societies operate. In the world of free enterprise and commerce, the freedom to choose among options is held sacrosanct. As a marketer, if you attempt to stifle competition or overtly limit consumer choice, the courts will rule against you every time. Delving deeper into this, it becomes apparent that buyers want to exercise their right to choose before making purchases. If you’ve got money to spend, you want to line up all your options, and then choose the best one. It’s called the choice exercise…  a function our brain wants to go through before making the purchase decision. (Whatever you do, don’t tell buyers they don’t have options. I once saw a billboard from a real estate agency using the tag line “Your Only Choice.” Ouch!) If we stopped this discussion right here, we’d probably conclude that since “more is better than less” in the eyes of consumers, we marketers had better beef up our effort in that regard. If we owned a restaurant, for example, we might expand the menu. Or have a 50-item salad bar. If you or I were the CEO of a technology company, we might bring to market more products of varying styles and options. If we ran a CPA firm, we might expand our offerings to include all kinds of accounting and tax services. You can probably think of similar examples in your industry.

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What’s Really Going On? Now the other side of the story. Yes, consumers want choices… but easy choices, not difficult choices. When you offer too many options, in many cases you’re making it difficult for the buyer. This results in several problems: 1. Buying slows down. The more options to choose from, the longer it takes to make decisions. Not only that, but other decision makers are often brought into it, which creates debate, discussion, and delay. If you want buyers to stop procrastinating and make the buy decision sooner rather than later, you may be impeding that slide, not greasing it, by offering a myriad of options. (Have you ever been in line at an extensive salad bar where it takes an inordinate amount of time to get through the line because the people ahead of you seem to be mentally debating whether or not to take each and every item? Drives me crazy, as I’m one to zip through salad bars quickly.) 2. Indecision increases. Too many options can create stress in the buyer’s brain. Since the brain wants to relieve stress, the buyer may decide to delay his or her buy decision or not make it at all. When a potential customer has interacted with you and then says, “I’ll come back another time,” or “I need time to think about it,” or the person just fades away in a daze, that could point directly to too many choices creating too much stress for him or her. 3. Buyer’s remorse sets in. The customer examined what you have to offer, made choices, and ultimately the buy decision. But now — after the sale — the customer’s brain can still be replaying all those other options he or she left behind. This is a rich breeding ground for displeasure, which can grow rapidly after the sale. When a previously happy customer suddenly starts complaining, it could very well be that remorse caused by too many options to choose from is the underlying cause. (It could also be that you really screwed up the delivery, installation, or follow-through. Let’s assume that’s not the case.) 4. They buy from a competitor. Because your mind-numbing option array made decisions so difficult, buyers choose to purchase from a competitor that makes the decision process easier. Is ‘More’ Better, or Is ‘Less’ Better? Based on what I’ve presented to you so far, we see two seemingly contradictory phenomena at work in the marketplace. On one hand, consumers are attracted to more options from which to choose. On the other hand, too many options can result in several sales problems. To reconcile this paradox, I’ll offer you the following strategies. Any one, or combination of, these strategies will allow you to use “more” to your advantage, yet avoid the aforementioned problems.
  • Reduce the number of options you offer. When the late Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, the first thing he did was kill several products. Then, he instituted a philosophy that Apple would say no to 99 percent of the product offerings they could embark upon, and only bring to market a precious few offerings. In recent years auto manufacturers have reduced their options significantly. They killed iconic brands and reduced the number of design options of remaining brands. They simply had too many options before, and now they have the “right” number of options. Maybe it’s time for you to right-size the number of your offerings.
  • Simplify your choices. I can’t resist using Apple as an example again, since they do such a good job of this. Apple offers simple, easy choices rather than complicated, difficult choices. For example, an iPhone comes in two or three memory options, and two or a few color options. That’s pretty much it. Simple, easy choices… resulting in fast and furious sales.
  • Use the logic funnel to sell. Perhaps the nature of your business is such that you really do offer an unlimited number of choices or choice combinations. A case in point would be a carpeting retailer. A whole lot of options come into play, such as brand, durability, style, colors, patterns, padding, to name a few. In this case, it takes a skilled salesperson to keep the customer’s brain from spinning and shutting down the sale. The salesperson does this by employing the logic funnel selling strategy. The salesperson asks the customer questions, and based upon the answers, eliminates options. The salesperson takes charge and eliminates options, guiding the customer through the sales process. When only a couple simple, easy options remain, the salesperson then turns the decision making back over to the customer to consummate the sale (e.g.: “So this is what we’ve decided upon. Would you like us to begin installation next week or the week after?”)

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  • Offer two or three bundles at different price points. Maybe the nature of your business is such that you customize each product/service and custom-quote each job. An example would be a landscaping company. You’ve checked out the job site, spoken with the buyers, and it’s time for you to present your recommendations and price. Instead of offering one bundle of specs at one price, try this: Present three different bundles of specs at three different price points. One bundle could match exactly what the buyers have indicated they want, at a particular price. Option two could be similar but with some reductions or eliminations of elements, at a lower price. Option three could be an enhanced, upgraded bundle of elements, at a higher price. By doing it this way, you have provided the prospects with three simple options from which to choose.
Keep in mind that if you didn’t provide three options yourself, the buyers would probably feel the need to get other quotes from other landscapers, thereby reducing the probability of choosing you. (Their brain does want to go through the choice exercise before making a decision, don’t forget.) Furthermore, they might just choose your enticing, upgraded option, thereby increasing your revenue on the project. And if they choose your lowest-cost option? While that would be less revenue than you have hoped for, it’s a whole lot better than their choosing a lower-priced competitor, in which case your revenue for this project would be zero. Now that’s choice!

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