Simplify the decision process for your customers

Karen Freeman, Patrick Spenner and Anna Bird in an article for Harvard Business Review talking about the traditional purchase funnel:

This has been adopted, with some changes, as the standard across industries. But the funnel model is fading. Decades ago, consumers may have methodically winnowed their choices as the funnel describes. But today's consumers, barraged by information, are adapting their shopping habits to cope with the noise — and that has profound implications for marketers

In a study, they found that the biggest contributor to customers actually following through to buying and recommending the product, was "decision simplicity". In other words, make it as easy as possible for your customer to make a decision.

That was one of the main strengths of Steve Jobs. He made things as simple as possible for the customer. Yes, this removes choice, but too many options confuse people and cause them to either second-guess their decisions or to just give up because it's too hard. What Jobs did is remove the psychological stress that too many options generate. He made a purchasing decision easy.

Consider the choices a customer that's in the market for a new smartphone has. To illustrate, lets run through a scenario. We'll call our customer Sue. And to keep it simple, let's look at phones from Samsung, HTC, and Apple only.

Sue has heard about the iPhone and it's already her first choice. Everybody has one after all. In all likelihood, she has no idea what models the other brands sell and she doesn't know, or care, what iOS or Android mean. But she does have a few geeky friends that insist Android is better and convince her to have a look.

She anxiously goes to Google and eventually finds her way to each manufacturer's website.

At Samsung she finds she has 17 options to choose from and the site only allows her to compare 4 at a time. The names don't help. Most are "Galaxy something" (S II 4G, Xcover, S II, Ace, Gio, mini, 5, Nexus, etc.) and then there's a Nexus S (no Galaxy) and a few others. She picks 4 at random and clicks "compare". The first thing she sees is a bunch of nonsense (GSM? UMTS? MHz? Class 12? Multi slot 33? Super AMOLED Plus?). Whatever, she thinks, what's the camera like? Battery life? Video?, the stuff she cares about? Ah yes, scroll down, and down, and down, and eventually there it is. But what about the other 13 phones? In frustration, she gives up and leaves.

Then she heads over to HTC and finds they offer 22 different smart phones. And no way to tell the difference between them or at least compare a few. Just thinking about the hours she'll have to spend wading through all that gives her enough anxiety that she leaves without even looking at one.

Finally she visits the Apple site. One phone. She has 2 decisions to make. Does she want it black or white? And does she want to have some music and video, lots or a ton? That's it.

It doesn't matter if the Android phones are better than the iPhone. The amount of time, confusion and stress that wading through all the options will cause her is not worth the hassle.

Steve Jobs famously said in an interview with Business Week in 1998:

That’s been one of my mantras – focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: you have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.

I believe this applies to products and services as much as it applies to advertising. We'd all do well to remember this every time we're overcomplicating things with good intentions.