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Toothbrush Paralysis

Johnny Molson


You are living in the age of overchoice.

Time to buy a new toothbrush. An ominous dread washes over me. I didn’t put this on my calendar. Do I need to close up shop for half a day? For the love of Mike, don’t text me right now. I need to focus. There are just too many choices.

Wait a minute. I need to focus? Why do I need to focus? I’m the customer, and you are making my life miserable.

You, my friend, need to focus.

It feels right to offer customers a dazzling display of choices. More is always better. “Come to our store, and you’ll find the bestest selection in the tri-county area.” “No job’s too big. No job’s too small. We do it all!”

The research that has been done about overchoice is dramatic. There’s the case study about Hamburger Helper reducing their selection from over 30 choices, down to 5, and sales rose 11% year over year. There’s the study done in a grocery store with a display of 24 types of jam. 3% of the people stopped and made a purchase. The number was reduced to 6 types of jam, and an amazing 30% of the people who approached the sample display purchased a jar of jam.

What’s happening here? You are living in the age of overchoice. There are over 33 brands of toothbrushes out there, and within those brands are 8 variations: Hard, medium, soft. Large head, small angled head, mysterious rubber nibs, twisty, vibrating, and so on. If you feel like you’re looking at 264 toothbrushes at the drug store, it’s because you are. I really hate toothbrush buying day.

The advertising lesson to take away is this: Don’t bury your potential customers under a mountain of choices. If you want people to come to your accounting firm for tax help, then talk about tax help AND NOTHING ELSE. I don’t want to hear “and we also do small business accounting.” Don’t tell me you “also do estate planning and can help with employee benefits packages.” Tell me about taxes. Tell me why you’re awesome at taxes. Tell me you’ll save me money on my taxes. Tell me you’ll make it easy.

This doesn’t mean you eliminate the other products or services you have. It means you promote only one. Pick your profit leader, and bring the rest along for the ride. Find the small end of the wedge that will open more doors. If you’re a dentist, get me in for cleanings… and then tell me how awesome your root canals are. If you’re a mechanic, get me in for an easy oil change. Then have a conversation with me about my brakes.

If you try to do all of it at once, you end up doing none of it at all.

A flashlight and a laser beam are both light. One casts a nondescript glow on the wall, the other will burn a hole through to the other side. I want you to burn a hole through to the other side.

Johnny Molson

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