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Symetric’s Free Ice Cream Truck Explains the Paradox of Choice

Too many choices can make it impossible to pick an option. How many times have you been to an ice cream shop that has so many flavours you can’t choose, or you end up rushing to order and aren’t happy with the flavour you picked? Well, we know just the feeling. This is called the paradox of choice, and its important to keep in mind for any marketing campaign. 

It’s an idea that Barry Schwartz, an American psychologist, says explains why modern Americans have more choices available to them than anyone in the history of the world, but they aren’t “benefiting from it psychologically.” In his 2004 book, The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less, Schwartz describes the general decision-making process as consisting of six steps: 

  1.  Figure out your goal 
  2. Evaluate the importance of each goal 
  3. Array the options 
  4. Evaluate how likely each of the options is to meet your goals 
  5. Pick the winning option 
  6. Modify goals  

The first part of making a decision—figuring out your goal—is easy. Your goal may be finding afternoon entertainment. It may be to meet a new potential partner. Your goal might be to eat ice cream!

Problems occur when it’s time to array and evaluate the options. How will chocolate ice cream satisfy your goal to eat ice cream? Will it be too chocolatey and rich? What about mango ice cream? Will that do the trick, or will it leave you feeling that you missed out on something more traditional and creamy? 

In an ice cream parlour packing 50 flavours into its freezers, how could you possibly know which single choice will be the most satisfying? The truth is, you can’t. Even if you taste-tested every single flavour, you wouldn’t necessarily have a concrete answer. It’s the same with any kind of product, be it university courses or china patterns. The more options, the more likely customers are to become overwhelmed and ultimately be unhappy with their decision.  

sweetie saves the day!

That’s where our ice cream truck, Sweetie, comes in! Sweetie attends events around the Niagara region to provide free ice cream treats while her management team (hey, that’s us!) meets new people and does important networking. She’s cute and friendly, and everyone is always happy to see her. And, she has anywhere from 3-5 ice cream flavours to offer. That’s it. That’s it, and it really hits the spot.  

It's like Schwartz said – fewer options allow people to make quicker decisions and generally experience more satisfaction once the deal is done. Almost anybody can choose between vanilla, chocolate and strawberry…and yes, unicorn toots…and be happy for the treat. We know firsthand that less really is more and that’s why Sweetie, our free ice cream truck, offers a limited range of flavours, taking the pressure of decision-making off your shoulders. After all, getting ice cream shouldn’t feel like work. 

what the paradox of choice means for marketers and businesses

The paradox of choice can be interpreted in a few useful ways when it comes to making sales. In the example we just used, the end goal of the consumer was to have ice cream; when presented with too many types of ice cream, the customer was more likely to be dissatisfied with their choice. The same thing works with anything else. Ketchup, for example. Normally, when you go to a grocery store looking for ketchup, you see a few options. Heinz, Hunt’s and maybe a store brand. Chances are, you already know what you’re going to choose from those three options—and if you don’t, it won’t take forever to make a decision.  

Now, imagine if there were 50 kinds of ketchup on the shelf. Sure, you may still go directly for the Hunt’s, but a lot of people will just get lost in all the ketchups and come home with something weird. That’s the kind of experience you want to avoid giving your customers. So, unless you are specifically specializing in international ketchup, keep your product or service offerings simple.   

Think about it like this. If you sell band t-shirts, obviously you need a reasonable inventory, not just three, to choose from. However, you can narrow down specific categories of t-shirts. For example, offer 3 designs for Our Lady Peace, 3 designs for Sum 41, 3 designs for the Beatles, etc. That way, you have a good range of products, but not too many options in each category. If you’re going to sell ketchup, sell a couple types of ketchup alongside other items…like French fries and hamburgers, for example. 

Make sense? 

There’s a crucial difference in offering a consumer-friendly range of products and offering too much, or not enough. Many successful marketers believe that starting with a small range of products, say six to 12, is ideal. Even though it’s true that loading your digital or physical store with hundreds of products right from the launch will attract more viewers, it won’t actually attract any more customers. Start with a few items in which you are the most confident and watch how they perform. Then, you can move forward.  

use our ice cream for your own benefit!

Did you know that you can book Sweetie for your own local event here in Niagara? It’s true! Get in touch to make a booking and talk to Symetric about your options. Really pack in the attendees of your book fair, food festival, literary reading or what have you with the promise of a sweet icy treat upon arrival. Believe us, it really works. If you need help putting that event together or envisioning a marketing plan that will showcase your brand’s unique selling point, we’d love to help with that, too! Symetric works with many local brands and businesses, as well as international clients, and we’re happy to talk to you about your Niagara marketing needs any time.