Too Much of A Good Thing

Dear Persuader,

Have you ever gone into a supermarket or drugstore for a tube of toothpaste and found yourself confronted with forty different varieties?

It’s a simple enough substance—toothpaste—which we use every day (hopefully – don’t get me started on Jessica Simpson), and yet there are dozens and dozens of choices.  There are toothpastes with whiteners and/or baking soda; toothpastes for sensitive gums; natural toothpastes; toothpastes of various flavors —cinnamon, spearmint, fennel, wintergreen; kids toothpastes–silly strawberry, bubble gum, berry. And once we figure out the brand, we have to figure out what size and then tube, pump, squeeze bottle etc…

It takes most of us seconds to choose because we don’t stray from what we’ve been using ‘forever’ or staying brand loyal to what our parents used. But when our parents were growing up, there weren’t nearly as many choices.

It’s a minor, run of the mill decision, but one that illustrates just how very many choices we make every single day, from our toothpaste, to cell phone provider, to the brands we eat, wear and use.

Barry Schwartz, professor of Social Theory and Social Action at Swarthmore College, has written a book called, ‘The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less—How The Culture of Abundance Robs us of Satisfaction’.  It is a very interesting look at how the ever expanding amount of ‘choice’ we have in every dimension of our lives is eroding the simple pleasures that used to be omnipresent.

This is an important perspective especially as it relates to our professions, products, and services. How many of you are there out in the world? Are you one in a million or one of a million? And how can your existence simplify the life of your prospect or client?

The goal of choice has been to liberate us, to give us a degree of control over our lives, to give us autonomy and distinction. However, as Mr. Schwartz suggests, ‘. . .as the number of choices keeps growing, negative aspects of having a multitude of options begin to appear. As the number of choices grows further, the negatives escalate until we become overloaded.’

As people who sell a product or service, we need to keep in mind that there are a multitude of similar products or service providers out there and that what makes us special is that, as persuaders, we are able to reach into the core of our prospects and clients to discover their specific key, their unique combination of values and criteria. When we establish rapport, elicit criteria, and establish ourselves as ‘the answer’, there is no need for this unbearable overload to occur in the minds of our prospects.

Schwartz writes of the political philosopher Isaiah Berlin, who beautifully described the continuum of towards and away in his distinction between ‘negative liberty’ and ‘positive liberty’.  He says, “Negative liberty is ‘freedom from’—freedom from constraint, freedom from being told what to do by others. Positive liberty is ‘freedom to’—the availability of opportunities to be the author of your life and to make it meaningful and significant.”

Wow!  A better description of the ‘towards/away’ continuum doesn’t exist. Do we see in our prospects the desire to be free from constraints? How can we show them that our product or service is the answer to this? Do we have a towards person who wants to take in all the amazing opportunities our products and services have to offer? In what ways to do you see the paradox of choice at play in your business life?

Be sure and post your comments to the blog.


Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 2 comments
Buck - June 3, 2010

People’s preferences for range of choices depends somewhat on their personality type. In the widely respected Myers-Briggs personality system, people with the “J” preference tend to make quick decisions and are comfortable with fewer choices. People with the “P” preference tend to consider the options longer and always want options before deciding. As one of my clients told me, “Never show me just one suit on the rack”. Of course I provide marketing services and not suits, but I never forgot his comment.

So I have often found it helpful to give clients and prospects three choices – high, medium and low (although I usually refer to them as Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3). That way their options are limited, but they do have options.

I always enjoy your columns/newsletters Kenrick, and consider you one of the leading experts in persuasion. Thanks for all the help you’ve given me and my business.

Best regards,
Buck Lawrimore

DrBillToth - June 3, 2010

Great post – thank you. We always teach 1 or 2 options equals a sale….
3 or more options = paralysis of anal-ysis and no sale.

Live with Intention,


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