The Trichotomous Tree

Courtesy: dimitrisvetsikas1969 @ pixabay.comThe common wisdom is that “more is better”.  More choices for a customer is better for your marketing–and therefore your company.  As with so many things, the answer is “Well… yes and no.”

On the One Hand: Yes

Giving your customers (potential or actual) more choices is good for business.  As businesses, we need to understand that all of our customers are different.  They have differing wants, differing needs, and differing wallets.  Giving your customers as many choices as possible helps you provide just the  right combination of components to fit each customer comfortably.

On the Other Hand: No

Too  many choices can cause potential customers to walk away in frustration.  The phenomenon is known as “Choice Overload“.  When faced with too many choices, we become unable to make any choice at all.  This drives away customers and creates, in their mind, a feeling of dislike. They may not be sure why they dislike your company (especially if they’ve never actually purchased anything from you), but they know that you make them feel uncomfortable.

On the Gripping Hand*: Both

The Concept

Courtesy: Pexels @
How many? (3+2)x(3+2)

This is where your skill in marketing and sales comes in.  The average human is able to quantify 3 to 4 items without counting them.  This is known as “subitizing“, and had been known since 1949.  Basically, if a person is presented with more than 4 items and asked “how many?”, they will either have to count them or separate them into smaller groups and count the groups1In other situations, such as dots on dice, we recognize the pattern and know that it equals a specific number.  If the dots were in a different pattern, however, we would have to rely on subitizing or counting.

You already experience this in marketing and retail sales all the time–you just didn’t know what it’s called.  At the coffee shop, you’re given the choice of small, medium, or large (despite the odd names Starbucks uses).  At the clothing store, it’s men’s,  women’s, and children’s.  At the meat  counter, you’re presented with beef, pork, or chicken2fish is usually elsewhere, and separated into fish, shellfish, and crustaceans..

The Execution

So… how do you take advantage of this in your marketing?

The specifics are going to be different for every business, but the basic template is the same across them all.  You know your business, and its products, better than anyone. So you’ll know best on where to place what on the tree (and things can be in many places; the tree is gnarly).

Imagine a typical customer.  They come to you knowing that they want something from you, but not exacxtly what.  You have to ask a series of questions to narrow it down.  Start with a basic grouping.  This is going to change based on the specific customer, and the specific situation.  In a brick-and-mortar store, it’s much easier to figure out where to start.  In a digital store, your first filter has to be one step coarser than you’re used to.  So give them the option of where to start:  “I want too look at products based on: size, color, price.”  After that, create finer filters–each time giving them no more than 3 choices, but allowing them to look at every item at the current filter level.

Simply ask them:  “A, B, or C?” and use that to guide them to what they want.  In person, this is what you probably do without even thinking about it.  Online,  it’s done using tags, categories, or some other metadata.

The Result

RHO (Real Human Optimization) is the best way to gain SEO.  Building a website that is customer-friendly is the fastest way to build both RHO and SEO.  All the tricks and gimmicks in the world won’t do a thing if your customers can’t find what they want.

For the most part, website readers are exactly like walk-ins. Treat them so.   When a customer comes in and doesn’t know exactly what they’re looking for, you guide them to the right place for them to make their choice.  On your website, you do that by offering 2 or 3 choices at each step and using that to narrow the options.

If you learn how to guide a customer to what they want–rather than showing them everything and “tossing them in the deep end”–you’ll raise your engagement rate.  And that means an increase in your ROI and your bottom line.

* “On the gripping hand” is a concept from a novel by David Niven and Jerry Pournel.  In the book, an alien race has 3 arms, so they present 3 options instead of two.  The option listed “on gripping hand” is usually the one that is most practical.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. In other situations, such as dots on dice, we recognize the pattern and know that it equals a specific number.  If the dots were in a different pattern, however, we would have to rely on subitizing or counting
2. fish is usually elsewhere, and separated into fish, shellfish, and crustaceans.

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