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12 February 2013

Give us as much choice as possible - said no consumer ever

Strawberry, Root Beer, Bubblegum, Buttered Popcorn, Cappuccino, Caramel Corn, Chocolate Pudding, Cotton Candy, Dr. Pepper, French Vanilla, Island Punch, Kiwi, Very Cherry, Tutti-Fruitti, Toasted Marshmallow, Pink Lemonade,…The more choice the better; give us as much as possible!… Said no consumer ever (unless you’re a Jelly Bean affinado of course). Although consumers seem to be attracted by more variety, this isn’t reflected in their purchasing behaviour and therefore often reduces their motivation to buy. This can be explained by the fact that an extensive amount of choice is enjoyable because there is a higher chance of choosing the right option. At the same time it is overwhelming due to the amount of information and limited time and energy available in this fast paced world. As such the fear of later regret comes into play; more attractive options go hand in hand with more lost opportunities.

The ambiguity of choice

But, let’s not be too pessimistic, not all choice is negative. So when is variety positively increasing your market share? A lot of it has to do with how comparable your selection of products is. When products only differ on one single dimension (e.g. yoghurt flavours), a certain amount of choice can be positive because it meets individual preferences. On the other hand, when having complicated products that can be compared on multiple dimensions (computers, mobile subscriptions,…), adding extra choice has the opposite effect because the consumer gets lost. Therefore additional efforts have to be made to understand product differences.

Focus is key

Independent of the number of products, the struggle remains: how to optimize your product offering? There seems to be one critical question that marketers are overlooking: Is there an overload of choice or a selection problem? Whatever the product type or the amount of products, a lot can be overcome by using simplicity marketing to facilitate choice. It is a mean to bring focus to your assortment. This will give the consumer an understanding of the differences between the overload of products he’s faced with. There are two options, both derived from the insight that if choice is too difficult, consumers will discriminate on price because it will be the only comparable dimension left.

  • Giving the illusion of comparability: categorize the offering by feature bundling and labelling the packages accordingly. Now it seems as if you can compare them on one dimension.
  • Guiding consumers: implementing online filters, recommendations and product information in human language, not technical jargon.

The pace of change is dictated by consumer insights

This simplified offering can of course not persist throughout the end of time and should be updated, but when? In my opinion, product refresh should be driven by the evolution in consumer needs and use and not by the promotion of a new manager, marketer or even CEO. Often they want to make big changes only to associate their name with it and be noticed. Therefore the consumer needs are forgotten and the effects are not as positive as expected. Let’s not forget, consumer insights are a marketers best friend. They will dictate the sort of product refresh needed. Do you need to adapt an existing product/service, launch a new product/service or change your entire product offering and categorisation. Secondly, the sort of product will also influence the refresh rate. More specifically the purchasing frequency will determine how fast your offering can change. For example a yoghurt flavour can change more often than a cellphone, and a cellphone can change more often than services (e.g. mobile subscription plans). This because for durables it can bring about frustration when having an outdated product and for services there is an absolute need for transparency and ease of decision making.

Ask yourself the question: “Is this relevant information to communicate?”

The same is true for your communication; do not overwhelm consumers with big launches each time you change a minor element in your product or on your packaging. Consumers get confused, they don’t find the product they were used to and feel regret when too much changes too often. So remember that big launches are not always necessary and that not every change needs to be communicated.

So this is my plea to all product, brand managers and marketers: present your consumers with relevant choice options that cater to their needs, categorize your offering, simplify your websites and your communication and don’t forget to adapt to their changing needs and use. Doesn’t seem so hard, or does it?


Check here for the ppt version of this point of view.