The Paradox of Choice

A few years ago, an Ethiopian doctor visited and observed in a healthcare facility where I did the marketing. After I picked him up at the airport in Nashville, I helped him get settled in the short-term apartment where he would stay for the next three months. We took him to K-Mart to pick up all the stuff he would need for his stay in the USA. I remember standing in housewares/linens and asking which kind of sheets he wanted. I looked at his face and saw utter confusion as he had become overwhelmed by too many choices. He said, in Ethiopia, when you wanted sheets…there were maybe two kinds to choose from….not the entire Martha Stewart collection. It was the same with everything we bought for him that afternoon: towels, plates, etc. We eventually just started to choose for him.

Barry Schwartz had a book last year called “The Paradox of Choice” that mainly dealt with too many choices in the supermarket. (1st line of book…”Scanning the shelves of my local supermarket recently, I found 85 different varieties and brands of crackers.) Think about how many different varieties and choices there are in a supermarket as the nefarious “brand extension” mentality of corporations takes over and R&D has to find a reason to exist. As the number of choices we are presented with increases, we don’t always have the time to look at all the information to make the best choice.

It eventually hurts your company and your brand. Why Variety Backfires is the focus of a new paper co-written by Harvard Business School professor John Gourville and Dilip Soman of the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. They even give it a name…”overchoice”.

Check it out. It’s a good thing to ponder the next time you’re browsing the menu/book at The Cheesecake Factory.

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1 thought on “The Paradox of Choice

  1. Laura Ries

    I totally agree. More choice is not necessarily a better thing for consumers. It is confusing and overwhelming for them. But even more important is the fact that line extension damages the power of the brand in the long term. The more you expand the brand the weaker it becomes. The more things you put your brand name on the less meaningful it becomes. The more you focus your brand the more power you brand will have in the mind of the consumer. Brands should strive to own a word in the mind. Volvo=Safety. BMW=Driving. Red Bull=Energy drink. Google=Search.

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