The Less You Know, the Happier You Are :)

Recent University of Iowa research concluded that blissfully ignorant shoppers are happier with their choices:

"We found that once people commit to buying or consuming something, there's a kind of wishful thinking that happens and they want to like what they've bought," said assistant professor of marketing Dhananjay Nayakankuppam. "The less you know about a product, the easier it is to engage in wishful thinking. But the more information you have, the harder it is to kid yourself. This can be contrasted with what happens before taking any action when people are trying to be accurate and would prefer getting more information to less."

Which is worth thinking about when you aim to sell something. Sometimes the mystery is part of the appeal. Sure you want to answer many common questions to aid the perception of value, but sometimes a vague answer that allows wishful thinking to wonder is better than concrete answers that kill the imagination.

One of the things that holds back many semi-successful people who do not fully appreciate their own value is trying to answer everything possibly before the sale, which focuses too much time and effort on non-customers, while killing the imagination of legitimate prospects.

Update: In the comments NickB mentioned this TED talks video by Dan Gilbert.

  • He highlights that unlimited choice, excessive fear, and unrestrained ambition kill happiness.
  • We often vote against happiness because we think that given more choices and more time to debate our options we will like the outcome more. For most trivial matters the opposite is typically true.
  • Another interesting tidbit is that amnesiacs who did not remember what specific gift they were given liked it more after they were given it (even if they did not remember that they owned it).

Watch this's great stuff.

Published: March 4, 2008 by Aaron Wall in marketing


March 4, 2008 - 3:50pm

I just had a conversation with someone in the airport over the weekend. They were recently hired by a Fortune 500 company from a pool of over 100 applicants. After she was hired, she circled back and asked the question 'why did you choose me?' The reply from her new employer, "Because you asked for the most money."

gerald hand
March 4, 2008 - 4:16pm

In the car industry, it is a long-held maxim the more a customer pays for a car, the happier they are. With the proliferation of Internet searches and pricing, it is no wonder people are unhappy and dealership CSI scores are falling. With all the information someone gathers, they are naturally going to think they could have save a few more dollars if they had asked for something more, or held their trade until the end, etc.

Ever notice people brag about how little they pay for their car and how much they pay for their home?

March 4, 2008 - 4:20pm

Ever notice people brag about how little they pay for their car and how much they pay for their home?

I think to get past that cars (and dealerships) need to change their story...there needs to be a "worth paying extra" or "customized for me" or "lasting service" element that is told.

A big problem is that cars are viewed as commodities and are intentionally designed to break (at least when you compare them to semi-trucks) such that you need to keep buying a new one every so many years.

Tyler Banfield
March 4, 2008 - 5:43pm

This is definitely an interesting concept to ponder. I know that I'm personally guilty of falling into the category of people you describe in the last paragraph, so it's good to know that in the long run, it is more beneficial to get yourself or your product out there instead of holding it back because you're obsessing over a few small details.

March 4, 2008 - 6:14pm

This morning I had to go clean my son's pre-school. My wife has volunteered to do the job weekly and she was unable to do it this morning.

Before I knew what was going on, I figured it wouldn't be so bad... then once I got into it... and knew more about it... I hated every minute. And it was all because of laziness. I just didn't "feel like it".

I think when people buy services, products and other things they don't know many details about they are juiced and excited... but once they realize that it's not a get rich quick or an easy fix, they get discouraged and laziness sets in.

March 4, 2008 - 6:35pm

I am struggling with some things right now as well. Lots of small things I need to work on, but the truth is I gave the small things priority because I wanted to be lazy.

March 5, 2008 - 7:19am

A lot of theories come and go when it comes to sales, but providing a top-notch quality service/product will keep you in business. Just concentrate on improving your service/product(s) and you won't go wrong. Let your competitors buy into all these theories while you just concentrate on compelling new customers into hiring you/buying your product because they want quality and are willing to pay for it. End of story.

March 5, 2008 - 8:51am

Hi Andrew
That can sound nice in theory, but some changes I made to sales copy and promotion tripled the income of this site overnight (and I did that twice on two separate occassions - once with the old model and once with the new model).

Same product of same quality with the same brand, with 3x the money.

March 5, 2008 - 8:43am

Funny that you write this article days after I find this presentation:

It's interesting that people are happier if we give them less choices/information. However I wonder how we take this to the web, where people are so used to tons of choices they may be turned off if you offer them something very concise.

Thanks for this article, I sell a physical product over the web, and now I have to think about a way (ad copy) to fabricate some mystery, or some wishful thinking about it.

March 5, 2008 - 9:03am

Great video Nick! Thanks for that.

March 5, 2008 - 11:45am

Yeah, its not a new proposition, but its an important lesson to learn - I saw it covered recently here: "Too much choice is Pure Hell" -
(no affiliation)

Wing Yew Lum
March 6, 2008 - 5:45am

"He highlights that unlimited choice, excessive fear, and unrestrained ambition kill happiness." -- weighty

March 6, 2008 - 12:20pm

That was when I came across a wishful customer who is looking for a branded good quality product at a mall. The customer asked for the highest priced available stuffs on the shelve rather than the designs or models. Wonder how faithful the person is with the commodity priced the highest. Can I always believe, the dearer the stuff is, the better it is?

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