This Week In Business

It Had to Be You: On Decision Making


Shopping with me stresses people out. Pondering whether or not I should get this shirt, dress, jar of nutella, etc., inevitably develops into musings on how my entire life trajectory may be affected by the decision in question. Launching into a Butterfly Effect-esque contemplation of how the future of the entire world would be altered based on whether I chose the yellow or pink shoes detracts from the joy of decision making, or shopping in general. What do you mean “Just pick one already?” Don’t you know what’s at stake?! 

Anyway, I do solo shopping trips nowadays. From a marketing perspective, though, I’ve become curious about what makes people tick. Forbes published this article back in February that discusses trends to look for in consumer behavior this year. This helps businesses market their product(s) so they fall into one or more of these trends, and thus appeal to the 2014 human psyche. 

As both a buyer and a marketer, I’ve noticed the following 3 factors in how we make choices:

1. Risk. No one wants to experience buyer’s remorse. Whether it’s a side dish or a new car, you don’t want to be caught wondering “What might have been?” This article from LifeHacker offers some ideas for avoiding purchase-related regret. 

From a marketing perspective, the objective is making the consumer feel “safe” about their investment. You want to minimize the amount of risk a customer associates with your product. I’m not saying you need to patronize or be all schmooze-y, it’s beyond putting a fancy guarantee on a box to make someone feel warm and toasty (thank you, Tommy Boy). Sometimes, it’s as simple as customer service. People remember how you made them feel, so why not make them feel good? Show them you respect and care about them, and that fear will likely melt away.

2. Positioning.  You know the old saying, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” Even if your water is the most satisfying and pristine in the market, or if it’s different from any other water out there (say for instance, artisnal water, which probably doesn’t exist…yet), if that horse doesn’t want any water, it really doesn’t care about yours. Trying to force your water on that horse is wasting your time. There may be a severely thirsty llama out there, focus your marketing energy on him.

This blog post from a few weeks ago discusses another positioning issue: the number of choices you’re giving customers. Less is more, folks.

3. Timing. We’re all locked in a battle with time. We may have too much, not enough, or experience inopportune timing (hey, we’ve all been there. Just ask Romeo and Juliet). I think of the timing factor in terms of “It’s not you, it’s me” (i.e. “This BMW rocks, but I am a toddler and have no use for it yet,” or “It’s summertime, so I’m not thinking about buying a shovel”). A lot of this depends on finding the sweet spot between supply and demand, and economics isn’t exactly my forte.

In terms of social media marketing, there’s quite a bit of information about what time of day is best to post on certain sites, such as this infographic from Hubspot. You can also check out analytics on your business’s website and social media channels, and gauge when your audience engages more versus less.


In the end, free will remains a baffling concept. How much control do we really have? What if everything is predetermined?

Unfortunately, I don’t have many answers, and the few I do have may be wrong. But, I know marketers can’t do Jedi mind tricks and force me into buying something (although those last minute register purchases feel that way in retrospect). We all have a choice, and they don’t need to be so daunting.

Is It Worth Your Time?

Sometimes, with any task in life, it’s easy to wonder (out loud or otherwise): Is this worth my time?

While I can’t answer that in every instance of your life, I can help you with the internet stuff. Here are some questions you should ask yourself before you do something:

How many eyeballs are looking at this?

For example, I’ve been wanting to improve the ‘clients’ page on this website for about three months… but I had to pick between working on that page or updating my ‘events’ page. The events page gets more traffic (plus we had two workshops this month to promote) so that took precedence.

You can do the same thing in real life. Should you spend your money upgrading your lounge area or bathroom? Asking yourself how many of your customers see each might clarify where your priority should be.

Who is looking at this?

As important as the number of eyeballs to think of is who is looking at this.

For example, if you just sent out an email newsletter with a link to a page on your website you want your subscribers to see, you know that people you care about are going to be looking at that page from the moment you click ‘send’… so make it beautiful and functional before you do.

If less people are looking at something but they happen to be important people to you, it’s worth prioritizing.

What does it matter?

Now there are people who make a living dissecting words on a page. Should you be using ‘hair stylist’ or ‘beautician’? Should you put the customer quotes in the middle of the page or have them scrolling on the side or the page? Is the 14 point Helvetica really better than the 12 point Veranda font.

This is minutia, people, and you know it.

Also, all these questions can paralyze you into doing nothing.

When you have a slow news day, that’s when you can implement what you’ve learned in Copy Hackers to optimize an important page. That’s when you decide it’s time to overhaul all the slides in your slideshow. Make a list of those things you’d do if you had time and you can knock them out over the course of a few months.

What matters?

1) Up to date information (hours, menu, pricing, etc.).
2) Nothing weird/off putting (a slide that won’t load, a button that links to a social media page you haven’t updated in a year, the top of your favorite employee’s head cropped off).

If you have an hour or so to devote to this a week, spend it first on that critical stuff.

What’s gravy? The best wording possible. New photos. Trying out that font. Social icons that match your brand.

You can spend an infinite amount of time online but asking yourself ‘What’s worth it?’ will let you still do what you need to do online and run your actual business.

Tech Thursday: How to Deal with Difficult People Online

Let’s face it, people don’t always play nice online. Have you ever had someone leave a negative comment on your business page? Give you a harsh review?

We’ve got a few pointers on how to put these fires out. Remember, you can’t control other people, but you CAN control how you react!



Why Too Many Choices Are Paralyzing Your Customers

When I was showing Kassie around our Google Analytics the other day, I couldn’t believe what happened when I drilled down into the data. Over 50% of people are leaving off the homepage. Here’s what it looks like:


Holy crap, people have no idea where to click. I mean really neither do I. Too many choices!

When you overwhelm people with choice, it turns out you overwhelm them period (there’s a paper all about it from Stanford and a book on the subject that came out recently.)

Here are some fun facts about choice:

  • Americans make 70 different choices a day on average.
  • 77% of people with nine options used an elimination strategy while only 21% used an elimination strategy when given three options to make a decision.

Not only do people not like a lot of choice but things like sleep and food effect the decisions that are made.  Check out this graph that seems nuts but actually makes a ton of sense (click on it  or here for the original source and full article):


In other words, the more choices you give people, the more paralyzed they become and the poorer their decisions. These poorer decisions are increased when health and other conditions are not ideal.

So when you wonder why someone isn’t buying what you’re selling; isn’t going beyond a certain page of your website; isn’t making that choice, you may want to ask yourself if you are giving people too many choices… or if maybe they just all need to go eat an apple. 😉

There are some amazing articles I’ve read on this topic recently. Here are some worth checking out if you are also interested in this topic:

Mequoda’s indepth article about how Scientific American’s four subscription offerings could work better with less choices

Here’s an article summarizing why people don’t like so many choices and how it effects your website visitors. 

A Globe and Mail piece with some examples about how improving customer service (versus giving more choices) actually increased revenue.

Here’s a TED talk about how to make decisions more easily (you know, in case you need that sort of thing).

An article from Fast Company about how to make better decisions.

Now please excuse myself while I take 10 of the average American’s 90 decisions a day off the homepage of my website.

Tech Thursday: How to Manage E-mail

Know that you could be managing your email better? Here’s a few tricks to get you down to a ‘zero inbox’ (though if you are interested in this topic, you should totally read that book). Also a shoutout to, the website that makes checking your email kind of fun.

Run your inbox, so your inbox doesn’t run you!

The Death Of Branding

Since the beginning of this year in particular, I’ve been reading a bunch of articles about the death of brand loyalty, Forbes and The New Yorker’s recent articles in particular.

To summarize (probably overly so): people now have access to information. Gone is the ability to take out a hundred thousand dollar ad campaign in Time magazine with your logo and have millions of Americans swooning over owning that item.

Gone also are the days where it was cool to walk around with a Coach wallet covered in logos.

What, you don't want this $20 wallet covered in a brand's logo?

What, you don’t want this $20 wallet covered in a brand’s logo?

So not only do we care less about having a cool brand name literally on us (as a collective anyway) but we can also comparative shop, bid, and otherwise get what we’re paying for until our heart is content.

So is branding dead? Not really, it’s just reappeared in another form. Like a zombie.

We now care more about who we buy from than we ever did. 

To demonstrate this idea, let’s look at mattresses.

 1950s- Englander mattress’ brand name is on this ad twice… and associating itself with Goodyear, another brand.mattress-ad-1950s

2014- You can buy a locally made mattress delivered to you on a bike. Mattress Lot delivers mattresses on bike to people in the Portland Oregon area.

Ok might not be fair to compare a large brand to a local mattress store but this is our economy folks. People who own local mattress stores can do well too.


A business started in 2010 to be getting half the amount of Google searches as a brand in existence for over 100 years? Not bad!

As you see in both these cases, we have a ‘brand’. In case one, it’s the manufacturer and in case 2, it’s the store selling certain kinds of products.

Consumers understand that many of our products are being manufactured in China, Bangladesh, and other countries… so we have to make that ‘human’ connection with the person selling the product now, not necessarily the manufacturer.

I bet you can think of a few ‘brands’ you and your friends still love. Maybe Converse sneakers or Subarus. But I bet your loyalty is stronger with the businesses where you buy those things now than it ever was before.

As a small business owner, I’m excited to live in a time where I don’t need to promote that I carry x and y brands but can instead run the best business I can selling the best products and services I can find. And here’s hoping you are too.