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Reducing Confusion in Healthcare Communications

Greg Kirsch

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In the 1984 film, Moscow on the Hudson, Robin Williams plays a defector from Communist Russia. In one memorable scene, he ventures into a grocery store soon after defecting. Accustomed to very few choices in his native land, he suffers a panic attack coping with the seemingly endless choice of coffee brands on the American grocery store shelf. Overwhelmed, he collapses. At the end of the scene, he flees the store having purchased nothing.

Research quantifies this phenomenon. Offering too many options or too much information at once leads to confusion, uncertainty and delayed decision-making.

Quoting one such study, Psychology Today reports,

“When supermarket customers were offered samples of 6 different types of jam, 30% of them purchased a jar of the jam. But when they were offered 24 different choices, only 3% ended up purchasing a jar.”

In another study, an online retailer cut the bottom half of stock-keeping units (SKUs) from inventory. Sales overall rose 11%.

We naturally think the more we say, the better. Think about how often we are tempted to throw everything but the kitchen sink in our marketing communications. We rationalize it this way: “If I mention feature A, B, C, plus D and E in this communication, I’ll hit all of the prospects for which any of these factors might be most effective. I’ll reach a broader range of my audience.”

But it’s not true.

Let’s look at some healthcare examples — but first, a caveat. Aside from targeting professionals, I know nothing about either of these companies. I don’t know the objectives, the mindset or knowledge of the target, or legal requirements. Perhaps, I’m comparing apples and oranges, but just looking at these two print ads, it’s clear (at least to me) which one does a better job of providing a clear, focused message.

In the first example, the many callouts, features and copy points all scream for attention. Too many things to look at — too many choices.

The second example is clear, concise and single-minded. It’s simple: “HydraSolve makes lipoplasty easier for the surgeon.” And the metaphor of comparing skiing to skin — smooth is better than bumpy — reinforces the message.

In this example, as is often the case in marketing communications, less IS more. Reduce choice — improve communication.

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