In Brand Positioning Less Is More

Andy CunninghamOctober 4, 20173 min

 Core DNA and the corresponding genotypes offer an opportunity to narrow positioning choices while at the same time ensuring that a company’s position is aligned with its identity. Once you know your genetic makeup and the DNA “set” in which you thrive, there are dozens, hundreds, thousands (even potentially millions) of ways to position your product or service: gluten-free snacks for the toddler set, a temperature-sensitive tea kettle that also brews coffee, adventure tours for extreme skiers, light aircraft for commuters. As it turns out, limiting choice around positioning is more than half the battle when it comes to successful marketing and, in fact, life in general. In theory, an abundance of choices is appealing; in reality, however, it can be incapacitating. Studies have shown that despite a belief, particularly in the United States, that there is no such thing as too much when it comes to choice, an excessive number of options can result in paralysis. In his book The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less, psychologist Barry Schwartz challenges the idea that more choice equates to more freedom and, as a result, more happiness. Instead, he argues, an overload of options can result in increased anxiety, wasted time, and even depression.

Schwartz’s research is supported by that of psychologist Sheena Iyengar, a professor at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Business and the author of The Art of Choosing, and Mark Lepper, a professor of social psychology at Stanford University. The pair conducted one of the best-known experiments in consumer psychology, the so-called Jam Study, which demonstrated that offering shoppers fewer choices results in increased sales. They found that consumers were 10 times more likely to buy a jam if the number of varieties on display was reduced from 24 to 6. The study showed that 60 percent of the shoppers were attracted to the larger display but only 3 percent opted to buy after sampling on average two jams. However, among those who tasted the jams presented in the smaller array (these shoppers also sampled an average of two jams), 30 percent made a purchase.

Researchers have replicated the Jam Study across a variety of categories, including chocolates, financial services, speed dating, and essay writing. In all cases, the study participants showed greater satisfaction with their choices (or, in the case of the essays, a better finished product) when the number of options to choose from was limited. In addition to requiring more time and effort than people are often prepared to invest, being confronted with too many alternatives— known as choice overload—can result in a psychological burden (decision fatigue) that opens the door to worry about making a bad decision and potentially to feelings of regret and self-blame. Eliminate the excess, however, and the predominant emotion is relief rather than disappointment or the dreaded FOMO (fear of missing out).

It’s the same thing with brand positioning. Too many factors polluting the choice weaken the result; they make the positioning statement a conglomeration of want-to-haves with very little purity or alignment to strategy. This is what leads to the dreaded “all things to all people” positioning: “My product is the first to do X, Y, and Z for market A and improves the performance of X for market B while at the same time pioneering the Y space for market C.” Such positioning results in an embarrassment of abundance and in the end contains so much that it says very little.

Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider by Andy Cunningham, excerpted from her new book Get to Aha!: Discover Your Positioning DNA and Dominate Your Competition (McGraw-Hill, 2017).

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