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The science of simplicity (And why your marketing needs it)

The science of simplicity (And why your marketing needs it)

Taking the easy way out might sound bad, but it’s what humans are hardwired to do.

We enjoy the simple things in life. Why else do you think we spend so much time fantasizing about relaxing at the beach with the sun on our face and the wind in our hair? Such experiences require little work and produce high rewards. 

It’s to be expected that this same sentiment would carry over into the customer journey. Marketing experts have been known to discuss how consumers prefer simple shopping experiences, but what does psychology have to say about this observation?

Consumer behavior expert Colleen Kirk, D.P.S., Associate Professor of Management and Marketing Studies at New York Institute of Technology, talked to us about consumers feeling overwhelmed by difficult decisions, the positive emotions they feel when they’ve mastered something and how marketers can create a positive shopping experience for their customers. 

Consumers like simplicity because it makes them feel good

You know what to expect when things are simple — when they’re clearly laid out and easy to digest. It makes for easy communications, and Kirk says it makes for an even better shopping experience. 

“There are multiple reasons that people might want a shopping experience to be simple. For example, choice research shows that too many choices can become overwhelming to consumers. Sometimes consumers are in a hurry, and simplicity helps them decide quickly. Some people simply hate shopping and want it to be as simple as possible," said Kirk.

Another reason simplicity works well for consumers is that people feel good when they feel they can master something. 

“It’s called a feeling of effectance, or competence, and feeling effectance makes it easier for consumers to feel ownership for a product as they shop,” said Kirk. “When consumers feel a product or brand is ‘theirs’ they will pay more for it, will evaluate it more positively and are more likely to tell others about it.”

Strategies that immediately show consumers that they can have an impact are likely to increase consumers’ feelings of ownership. Marketers can leverage this motivation for psychological ownership by providing opportunities for consumers to invest themselves. Kirk suggests allowing customers to try products out, customize a product, gain special intimate knowledge of a product through a sneak peek at a forthcoming release, or give consumers control of an item through picking it up in a store or by voting on the name for a new product.

“Encourage customization ... to personalize the choices offered to consumers,” she said. “In this way, consumers can invest themselves, and also feel effectance, or competence, while doing so. A win-win for everyone.”

Too many choices can cause consumers to walk away from your brand

This win can go sour quickly if you don’t approach it correctly. Kirk says that while an abundance of options to choose from might seem great in theory, giving consumers too many choices can cause them to grow less confident in their ability to make the best choice possible. 

Just think about it: Say you go to a restaurant and you only see two options you like — if one seems more appealing than the other, you won’t think twice about your decision. But what if everything on the menu looks great? Now the stakes are a little higher because each item seems appealing, and you don’t want to miss out. Instances like this can leave consumers feeling overwhelmed by the decisions they have to make and so tired that they walk away from the choice completely.

“With choice overload, the brain becomes cognitively burdened, and consumers engage in avoidance responses. They may just walk away rather than exert the effort needed to try to make the best choice for them. They may also end up being less satisfied with the choice they make because they continue to think about all the choices they gave up,” said Kirk. “Our brains have only so much capacity at any point in time, and the more choices we have to make, the more tired our brains get and the more biased our decisions get.”

You don’t have to be a psychologist to understand why humans like simplicity, but marketing psychology sure can help you figure out why consumers make the decisions they do when they’re shopping. Keeping things simple for your customers won’t only help create a better customer experience, but it’ll also reflect well on your brand.

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Picture of Lindsay Keener

Lindsay Keener

Lindsay Keener is a brand journalist for Quikly. She covers stories that help to inform and educate consumer-facing marketers.

Picture of Lindsay Keener

Lindsay Keener

Lindsay Keener is a brand journalist for Quikly. She covers stories that help to inform and educate consumer-facing marketers.