The internet offers incredible freedom, placing a vast library of information and entertainment at my fingertips — yet the bulk of the surfing in my free time is limited to a core set of familiar sites. Isn’t this a massive waste? I could be encountering new things and broadening my horizons, but I settle for what’s comfortable and convenient. Why?
Well, one reason is that the unfamiliar is intimidating. Speaking to a stranger can be unpleasant since you have no idea how they think or act, whereas you know what you’ll get from speaking to a friend — even if you’re not tremendously close. But the biggest reason is this: I have too many options. And while it’s bad there, it’s so much worse in the world of content marketing.
Your content needs to be actionable to be worthwhile, of course, but that brings its own complexity. In this piece, we’re going to look at why offering too much choice in your content is so perilous, and set out some core advice for how to get the balance right. Let’s get started:
Knowing opportunity cost is important
When you’re given a choice, you know that taking one of them also amounts to missing out on each of the others. This drives you to consider the opportunity cost for every viable option: what alternative opportunities must you pass up to choose it, and what are those opportunities worth?
For example, suppose you offered me $200 to mow your law immediately, but I had an interview to attend imminently — I would need to consider the opportunity cost of mowing the lawn, which would involve the likelihood that I’d get the job and what I would potentially get paid. It could end up being quite difficult to determine which option I should take.
Additionally, if I ultimately made the decision quite casually, I could suffer what’s known in the retail world as buyer’s remorse. Sometimes one option feels like the right choice only until you’ve chosen it, at which point you realize that your perspective was askew. This is why opportunity cost isn’t something to be taken lightly.
Overchoice can lead to analysis paralysis
So, with opportunity cost in mind, what happens when you’re given a large set of options? Well, there are two possible scenarios. In the first, there’s a clear division in quality between the options, allowing you to easily identify the top contenders (or even the best option) — in which case there’s little point in the content creator providing the other options.
In the second (which is more common), the options are presented as being fairly even — in which case the opportunity cost will be incredibly hard to determine, leading you to struggle. Very often, this will lead to full analysis paralysis (so frustrating for online retailers), which is when you think about something so carefully that you can’t reach a solid conclusion.
Think of someone standing in front of an ice-cream parlor, completely lost in the menu options. Because they’re so eager to get their order perfect, they never actually order, and can only resolve to come back later when they’ve decided (even though they never will). And no matter what options you’re offering someone, you need them to actually choose one.
We don’t always know what we want
How well do you know your own mind? If you’ve put a lot of time into solitude and introspection, then you might have a solid understanding of how you think and how you make decisions. You might even know generally what you want – but do you know what you want specifically? Let’s say you have the goal of improving your fitness. How will you do it? Will you take up running? Start lifting weights? Add ballet classes to your schedule?
Now imagine that you receive a marketing email with a variety of options for achieving one of your objectives. You care about getting it done, but you don’t necessarily care about how it’s done, yet you’re being asked to choose between methods you don’t know how to compare. Or perhaps it’s a matter of service tiers, where you’re presented with 10 distinct agreements ranging in pricing and features but can’t clearly tell why you’d pick one over the others.
As a shopper, I like to be given choices, but I want those choices to be carefully curated. I don’t have the time or expertise to pore through a full range of options. This is one of the reasons why the classic triad works so well: three options that are clearly differentiated, with one cheap option, one standard option, and one luxury option.
You have every reason to offer several options through your content. Not only does it make people feel good to have that freedom, but it also ensures that you’re not reliant upon one particular action for your ROI (if one action doesn’t capture much interest, one of its alternatives might). If you start providing too much choice in content, you might get more visits, but your conversions will dip.