Honey Copy


Riffs on marketing, writing, creativity and life ––

You might be giving your customers too many choices.

too many choices

I was sweating. I felt hot despite the fact I was standing in the frozen food section of Schnucks, a family-owned grocer somewhat well-known in the midwest.

My heart was racing, my mind was spiraling, my thoughts becoming a frazzled cyclone of anxiety as I stood with the frozen door ajar and my head thrust deep inside analyzing the three dozen flavors of Ben & Jerry’s staring back at me with their vast array of colors and catchy titles intentionally written and designed to get me to choose them over one of their countless competitors.

Even as a marketer, I was not saved. It did not prepare me for this. I, like so many customers before me, fell victim to too many choices… to the paradox of choice.

Finally, after growing worried I was going to melt all the ice cream, I grabbed what I knew –– Chunky Monkey –– and sprinted out of the ice cream section before another brand could sink its frozen claws into me.

I got away safely. Ben & Jerry’s got my $5 and I got Ben & Jerry’s. You and your customers, however, might not be so lucky.

The paradox of choice.

Years ago, a gent by the name of Barry Schwartz wrote a book titled Paradox of Choice (here is his TED Talk on it). In his book he dissects a big question –– are our lives truly easier/ better with more choice?

Barry argues no, explaining that too much of a good thing isn’t necessarily a good thing at all.

And today, nearly a decade after this book was published, we are experiencing first hand what Barry was talking about.

Now, more than ever before, we as customers are inundated (and I would argue spammed) by an endless number of choices. When we step into the gas station for a candy bar, there are fifty to choose from. When we want pizza there’s a whole phone book full of options. When we type the word “coffee” into Google maps there are so many shops that pop-up we are inclined to power down our phones and brew a cup ourselves.

As consumers, we are drowning in choice and we’re looking for someone, anyone to throw us a damn float.

Here in a moment, I’ll tell you how people like you and I are going to be that savior, but first, let’s take a look at an interesting story that sums up the paradox of choice problem perfectly.

Bed in the box… but which f****** box?

Back in 2006, a company by the name of BedInABox started shipping memory foam mattresses right to people’s doorsteps. Like most brands with big ideas, they launched too early. The concept of a bed being shipped to one’s doorstep in a box felt foreign and strange.

Then six years later in 2012, a company by the name of Tuft & Needle came along and did the same thing, only instead with a foam mattress they believed slept much better than BedInABox’s memory foam.

At first, this was all very grand. The pair were solving a serious problem… they were solving the paradox of choice problem.

Before BedInABox and Tuft & Needle, folks who wanted a mattress had to go to a mattress store and stare out at a sea of mattress that went on for miles feeling stranded despite the comfort of the mattress gurus that lurked in the aisles like sharks.

If you’ve ever stepped foot in a mattress store, you know what I’m talking about. Customers don’t leave feeling excited. They leave questioning if they made the right decision. That’s what happens when you’re forced to choose one out of a thousand fucking mattresses.

So, when Tuft & Needle came along and said… “Hey here’s one very good mattress you can sleep on and it’s cheaper and you don’t even have to pick it up… we’ll ship it to you”… the entire planet went wild.

But, then the very solution Tuft & Needle used to solve the paradox of choice phenomenon that existed in the mattress space became in and of itself a paradox of choice.

Casper came along and so did Leesa and Loom & Leaf and Lull and Keetsa and Helix Sleep and Avocado and Nest and Hyphen and Cocoon and… yeah, I think you get the point.

Now, customers are feeling the same anxiety they used to feel in mattress stores… except online as they shop for mattresses.

In fact, if you were to type in any of the above mattresses in Google you won’t just find websites to those specific mattresses, you’ll find a gazillion ads to their competitors. They’re literally paying Google to rank in front of their competitors for their very own name. That to me doesn’t feel strategic. It feels slimy. Shame on them.

But, anyway, I don’t say all this to make online mattress companies out to be monsters. No, I say this to show you how easy it is to transform your industry into a paradox of choice problem. The real losers here aren’t just the mattress companies because when there are this many choices, nobody wins. The customers don’t win because they’re overwhelmed by decision and the mattress companies certainly don’t win because they have to compete with hundreds of other brands in the space.

It doesn’t, to me, feel like a good way to do business. So what does one do instead?

How to truly defeat the paradox of choice problem?

Writing copy is one part creativity, one part salesmanship and two parts simplification. While it’s wonderful to have a creative copywriter that can write words that stick on your customer’s tongues and minds like honey, I’d argue it’s just as important (if not more important) that your copywriter can easily and effectively communicate your brand and what your brand is selling in a very simplistic way –– in a way anyone and everyone can understand.

When I sit down to write copy for a brand one of the first things I do is limit the number of offers or products I’m writing the copy for. I give the customer one or at most three options to choose from.

I do this to avoid complicating the offer and to make a stronger sell. And this is generally much more believable to the customer. As a customer, if I told you I sold 27 flavors of ice cream and all 27 flavors were some of the creamiest sweetest most delicious flavors in the world, how likely would you be to believe me?

On the contrary, what if I told you I sold a few different flavors of ice cream (all of which are quite good) but one of them in particular (Blackberry Pie) is widely considered to be the creamiest sweetest most delicious flavor in the world?

We see this a lot in marketing and advertising agencies. You’ll visit their websites and see a list of 27 different services they offer and as a prospective customer, you’re forced to wonder… how the hell are these people doing these 27 different services really well?

I designed Honey Copy to be an anti-agency of sorts. Don’t come to me to shoot your next commercial. Don’t come to me to build your website. Don’t come to me to design your next logo.

BUT… but… if you need some pretty words written by a copywriter that one day hopes to be one of the best in the world… give me a damn call.

Customers can believe that. They can believe a person or a brand has worked like hell to become the best in the world at [fill in the blank]. They can’t, however, believe a person or brand has become the best in the world at 27 different things.

But, in addition to this believability, simplification makes it easier on a customer to make a decision. There is a strategic reason Chipotle has only a dozen-ish menu items, it’s so people can decide on something to eat fast, feel happy with their decision and then move their asses through the line.

The result? The customers are happy because they got exactly what they wanted (not having to worry if they made the right choice)… and the customers behind them are happy because the line is moving quickly… and the business is happy because they’re selling like a Florida Snow Cone Vendor on the hottest day of the year.

Now with all that said, this doesn’t solve the issue Tuft & Needle ran into as they worked to solve the paradox of choice problem through simplification –– copycats.

As you probably know, when you make something less complex, it becomes easier to mimic. We’ve seen this not only in the mattress space but also in the online razor space with Harry’s, Dollar Shave Club, Shave Mob, The Art of Shaving… my god the list really does go on forever.

So, as you work to eliminate the paradox of choice problem in your industry, how do you avoid the copycats? I can think of two solutions:

1. You invest in exceptional branding –– take a few days with your team and come up with a killer brand and killer branded content you can deliver to your customers over and over and over again. Harry’s has remained a major player in the online razor space because they have one damn good brand. It’s important to remember that today customer’s don’t just buy a solution, they buy a brand. So, make a damn good one.

2. You invest in other spaces –– nobody said doing this once would be enough. The brands that become titans are those that are constantly innovating (or simplifying rather) in new spaces. No, if you’re a mattress company I wouldn’t recommend trying to make simplifying the delivery pizza space your next venture… but why not pillows? Or mouthpieces that eliminate sleep apnea? Or perhaps more modern sex toys that are easy and less embarrassing to buy? Half-way joking on the last bit.

So, what the hell are you getting at here, Schafer?

I know I hit you with a ton of bricks, so let’s piece together a quick summary. Here are the main takeaways…

  1. Don’t make your product or service more complicated than it needs to be.

  2. Limit the number of choices you’re giving your customers.

  3. If a space feels clunky and heavy, it is, streamline it.

  4. Invest in exceptional branding (strive to be the best brand in your space, always).

  5. The game is no longer innovation, it’s simplification… what are other industries within a stone’s throw of your own that you can simplify to stay ahead of the competition?

By Cole Schafer.

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Cole Schafer