all posts tagged marketing

“The Curse Of Knowledge”

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People who know a lot about certain subjects are particularly susceptible to the Curse of Knowledge.

You could be suffering from “the curse of knowledge” and not even know it.

(There’s irony for you, huh?)

The term “the curse of knowledge” was coined by Chip and Dan Heath in their book Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die. It occurs when you know something so well you mistakenly assume others know it.

It gets worse with time too. The longer you’ve known something, the harder it becomes to imagine others not knowing it.

But here’s the worst thing about the curse of knowledge: It stops communication dead in its tracks. It causes you to confuse, bore and even alienate your audience.

That’s why marketing professionals must always be on guard against it.

Here’s an example of how it can happen (it’s a domestic scenario, but it applies to professional communication as well):

I enjoy figuring out songs “by ear” on our piano at home. One day my wife, who also plays a bit, asked me to show her how to do it. (She mostly just plays songs from sheet music.)

“Oh, it’s easy,” I said. “Just listen to the bass line; it’s usually playing the root. Then you just have to figure out if the chord is major or minor.”

I droned on for a few seconds after that, happily explaining my method, until I noticed that her brow had furrowed.

“I don’t get it,” she said. “What’s a root?”

The curse of knowledge had struck.

I’d mistakenly assumed we knew the same stuff about music. But, unfortunately, no one had ever taught her any music theory. So when I launched into that “root,” “major” and “minor” bit I lost her. Plus I felt like a schmuck.

Of course, when the communication is just between two people the curse of knowledge is easy to overcome. One person just says, “Hold on, I don’t understand. Could you explain that?”

But when we’re speaking to a mass audience, as we do when we’re marketing a brand or product, we don’t have the benefit of immediate feedback that lets us correct things. We have to be clear the first time. There’s no one to say, “You’re talking over my head” if our message bores, confuses or overwhelms our audience.

Picture a minister addressing his congregation. If he forgets that his flock hasn’t attended seminary, he might start peppering his sermons with obscure biblical references that would sail past most of his listeners. Too much of that and they’ll tune out, fidget or fall asleep. But if he remembers to keep it simple – even his Boss spoke in parables – he keeps them engaged.

If we’re going to engage people with our message, and avoid being stung by the curse of knowledge, we need to do the same.

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Related Links

http://www.businesspundit.com/the-curse-of-knowledge-why-communication-at-work-is-sometimes-difficult/

http://www.idratherbewriting.com/2007/01/24/the-curse-of-knowledge-the-more-you-know-the-worse-communicator-you-become/

 

A lighthearted look at why some ads work and others don’t.

The cover of one of the best books I’ve ever read on advertising features a drawing of an oversized frog sitting atop a bright pink pig.

The pig is wearing snorkel gear and flippers.

It’s a silly visual meant to illustrate the absurd limits to which people might go for an “original” ad concept.

You can imagine a marketing manager being presented with it and exclaiming “That’s our new ad campaign…?”

Which just happens to be the title of the book.

“That’s our new ad campaign…?” by Dick Wasserman is a great resource, as the subtitle states, “for CEOs, Presidents, Ad Managers, Account Executives, Art Directors, Copywriters, Students, and Anybody Else Who Wants to Learn Howto Create Better Ads.”

(If you’re reading this, you’re at least one of those people, right?)

It’s a book that gets right down to the basics: What makes good ads good and bad ads bad; how to achieve the former and avoid the latter.

Although it’s a perfect primer for folks just starting out in the business, there’s plenty in this book for seasoned professionals too.

Here are three (of many) reasons you’ll want to read it:

1. You’ll learn useful stuff (or at least better ways to articulate what you already know).

Stuff like how to judge the merits of a creative concept. Why ads should be more like plays and less like speeches. And why what an ad implies – intentionally or otherwise – is as important as what it actually says.

Sure, some of this is fundamental. But let’s face it, many people working in advertising and marketing began their careers in a different area altogether; some of these lessons may be things they’ve never formally learned. They’re lessons well worth hearing.

2. You’ll enjoy reading it. (Again and again.)

Wasserman infuses his book with a lighthearted tone that makes it a pleasure to read. Even some of the chapter titles induce chuckles, most notably Chapter 9: To Arms, To Arms! Every Man Look Sharp! That Damn Agency Is Asking Us to Trust Its Intuition Again!

But just as fun as the writing style is the illumination the book provides, especially regarding the way consumers and advertisers respond to ads. Wasserman pulls back the curtain on the human mind, unveiling why ads with a sense of “drama” are so effective (pages 7–9). He delves just as deeply into the fear factor that makes advertisers reluctant to approve any idea deemed too “different” (page 42).

3. The chapter called “Some Good Examples of Bad Advertising” is alone worth the price of the book.

In this chapter the author has created a series of print ad concepts for a fictitious advertiser (“The Widget Group”). These funny little thumbnail sketches perfectly illustrate common mistakes advertisers can make – such as trying to say too much, lack of drama/tension, and failing to communicate on a personal level. By taking note of these examples, advertisers can avoid falling victim to trite, banal ad concepts. Agency folks will find this chapter a valuable resource for steering clients away from tired ideas.

Here are a few more pearls of wisdom from Wasserman’s pen:

On simplicity: “Making an ad try to say more than one simple thing at a time is like inviting two people to give a lost driver directions at the same time.”

On the hazards of “safe” advertising: “The risks involved in trusting (your agency’s) judgment are small when you consider the risks and economic waste involved in paying for advertising that nobody notices or remembers because it looks just like everybody else’s advertising.”

On agency account executives: “A good account executive…should be encouraging your firm to accept more innovative, provocative advertising. This means…he’s always going to be bugging you a bit. If he’s doing his job, you will sometimes find him irritating.”

I’m convinced that if everyone involved in creating and approving advertising would read this book, the quality of advertising in America would increase tenfold. So by all means give it a read. It’s as entertaining as it is enlightening.

(Although this little gem is currently out of print, it’s well worth the effort to find a copy – which you can do easily at your library or amazon.com).