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Solving the Marketer’s Paradox of Choice

Even marketers aren’t averse to the Paradox of Choice. Here’s how technology can prevent us from feeling overwhelmed with the infinite options.

In my position, I’m fortunate to regularly speak with industry leaders, clients, and those paving the way for us here at Optimove. But recently, one conversation stood out to me: an Optimove user from the travel industry explained how customers experience higher degrees of anxiety as a result of the overwhelming technological options in today’s digital booking world.

The phenomenon, known as the Paradox of Choice, was coined in 2004 by American psychologist Barry Schwartz, and was first discovered in the early 2000s as part of a now famous study focusing on jam. Researchers presented shoppers at an upscale supermarket with jam displays and free samples in various sizes. The study eventually revealed that a large variety of jam options translated into lower sales than when shoppers had fewer items to choose from; customers felt overwhelmed by the options, preferring not to choose and strain themselves by sorting through all the varieties.

Almost 20 years later, we marketers rely on personalization to neutralize the paradox’s effects on our customers. We enjoy the best of both worlds: offering multiple choices, while also limiting the options for each specific customer. However, few—if any—have explored the effects of the Paradox of Choice on us, the marketers.

Today we can communicate with customers across more channels than ever before; we create more content and have a growing number of offers to serve customers. As a result, we have a near infinite amount of marketing strategy combinations at our fingertips.

You might think I’m exaggerating, but let’s look at a simple example in which a marketer has email, SMS, direct mail, Facebook Ads, and GDN as potential execution channels, a library of 20 evergreen content pieces, and 2 offers for customers. This simple example leads to a whopping 200 possible combinations or campaigns, and this is before we even consider the number of segments who can receive these combinations.

Clearly, any marketer would struggle in executing and measuring these options, and that’s when the Paradox kicks in. More options, which hypothetically should lead to easier decision making, actually causes the opposite effect, increased anxiety. Marketers, just as would-be travelers, do one of two things. Either they decide to implement fewer campaigns, or they stop trying new combinations.

Today’s technology, however, can prevent these types of overwhelm. Not only can capabilities like self-optimizing campaigns ensure each customer receives the combination that maximizes their value, but more advanced technologies can help marketers uncover new combinations that otherwise would’ve been left off the table.

Imagine the potential when all marketers need to do is create a combination and let technology decide who and when to serve it based on value maximization. The days of questioning “what if I choose the wrong combination” or “how do I know the next combination won’t have even worse results” will be long gone.

At Optimove, we are hard at work developing the self-optimizing journey, a capability that will free marketers from the Paradox of Choice and present a similar solution to personalization technology. Marketers can create all the combinations they can dream of and the machine will determine which combination maximizes the value for and of each customer.

Yes, this opens the door for never serving customers specific combinations, but it also creates the possibility of serving combinations that would otherwise, not shone through. The day marketers can offer a giant display of “jam” to customers and know that they, nor the customers, will be paralyzed by the assortment is just around the corner.

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