When it comes to marketing products, especially online, creating an ‘illusion of choice’ can often bring about big rewards if done well. However, finding a balance that doesn’t overwhelm your customers is a tricky part of the equation.
In this article, we’ll dig into how the illusion of choice can be used to market your business. We’ll also review some of the potential pitfalls to avoid in order to leverage this technique. Let’s get started!
An Introduction to the Illusion of Choice
Some of the most cited studies on the impact of choice on our shopping habits date back to the mid-1990s. While it may have been hard back then to fathom all the choices we now have online, the data is still quite telling.
But before we dig into that, let’s look at exactly what the ‘illusion of choice’ refers to and how we might experience it. Essentially, when executed correctly, this technique offers multiple options to consumers that lead them further down your marketing funnel, regardless of which they select.
One very simple way to illustrate this is to revisit a situation you might recall from either childhood or parenthood. Advertising a choice of either carrots or broccoli to a child (consumer) often gets them to eat at least one of the two vegetables (your sales goal).
It’s the same with marketing alternative products for your customers. However, the illusion of choice goes beyond offering a variety of sizes or colors of an item. It’s really focused on creating an experience or path for the consumer that helps psychologically eliminate ‘no’ as an option.
It’s worth noting that you can go overboard with creating an illusion of choice. Sheena Iyengar is considered a leading expert on how decisions impact purchasing behavior and has experimented with this. In fact, her early research found that fewer options lead to a higher purchase rate.
That doesn’t mean that choice is a bad thing. It just highlights the need for strategy and balance when using this technique. Basically, too many options can cause confusion, while simple and easy to follow alternatives are more likely to boost your conversions.
The Benefits of Incorporating the Illusion of Choice Into Your Marketing Strategy
The popularity of online shopping indicates that there are retailers out there doing something right when it comes to choice. In fact, 40 percent of worldwide internet users have made purchases on the web, creating a market of over 1 billion people.
Consequently, incorporating the illusion of choice into your marketing strategy can benefit your bottom line. With such a large pool of potential customers, offering well-designed opportunities is pretty low-risk when done correctly. Essentially, you want to make leads feel empowered to make decisions—so long as it results in a sale for you.
How to Create the Illusion of Choice for Your Customers
Now you should have a more complete picture of what the illusion of choice might look like and how it’s meant to function. With that in mind, let’s take a look at three ways you can actively leverage this technique for your own business.
1. Create Win-Win Situations by Altering the Language You Use
Rephrasing some of the language you use with customers can easily create an illusion of choice. Essentially, you want your copy to establish opportunities or openings, rather than dead ends.
Author and speaker Phil M. Jones uses the example of offering choices in order to get an appointment on the books with a potential client. He notes that fully understanding what your goal is can help you appropriately line up the options you should present to help you close the deal.
Instead of asking leads when they want to make an appointment, you can offer them choices by suggesting two days that you find convenient. Additionally, if you leave it open with ‘or another day that works for you,’ then you’ve effectively nudged the possibility of a ‘no’ a little further off the table.
This can be effective in digital environments as well. For example, you can use this approach when developing a chatbot to help with lead conversion or customer retention. By using branching responses, even your automated communication system can employ the illusion of choice.
2. Make Suggestions in Order to Avoid the ‘Zero’ Option
Similar to making small tweaks to your language, you can also use suggestions as a way to create the illusion of choice. This can help establish your expertise. After all, you don’t want your client to start wondering why they have to make all the decisions.
In practice, this might mean you use your experience to help guide your customers. If you know something that might be helpful, you can tie that into the options you present. For example, rather than restating that a customer wants 25 cupcakes, you can use suggestions to interject the illusion of choice.
By asking, “Will 25 cupcakes be enough, or do you want to lock in 50 for the discount?” you’re opening up an opportunity for the customer to pause and think. You’ve also introduced some doubt and presented an alternative option that may benefit the buyer.
This can be elegantly executed in a number of ways online during the checkout process. Whether with exit popups or other applications, you can offer choice at key points throughout your funnel.
3. Develop Personalized Customer Experiences With Advanced Technology
As a marketing strategy, ‘personalization’ is a highly-evolved version of creating an illusion of choice. For example, consider how Artificial Intelligence (AI) algorithms can deliver the ‘perfect’ options to shoppers. Based on online activity, the results can be presented as various alternatives customers can decide between.
On the other hand, some marketing professionals have expressed concern about the use of AI in marketing. In fact, members of the Chartered Institute of Marketing voted in 2018 on whether it was a threat to consumer choice or not.
In this interesting debate, the vote came down in favor of AI. Researchers indicated that these technologies actually do improve consumers’ ability to make choices. This is especially true when they’re faced with a glut of options. Product recommendations can narrow the available alternatives so the decision doesn’t become overwhelming.
It’s clear that with research and strategy, you can leverage the illusion of choice to increase your sales. However, if too many options are overwhelming your buyers, try providing fewer alternatives through the use of strategic language, suggestions, and technology.
Are you still wondering how the illusion of choice might impact your marketing strategy? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below!
Image credit: Arek Socha.