Why Less Is More (Clear) To Begin With

Less is more or more is more? What do you think?

Now, think about the last time you went shopping for a product. What was the deciding factor that made you choose one product over another? Chances are, it wasn’t the number of features that the products had. In fact, studies have shown that people are more likely to buy products with fewer features. This is because people don’t like to feel overwhelmed or confused. They want to be able to understand and use a product easily, without having to learn too many complicated steps or features. More than the number of features, they want to understand how well these features work for them. In short, they seek clarity. So why do marketers love products with lots of features?

Marketers in general love products that have a lot of features. The hypothesis here is the more the feature in a product or service, the more we can talk about them, and then at least some or any one of them will resonate with the audience out there. Simply put, the belief here is – more the features your product has, the better the chances of selling that product.

Economics vs Psychology – More vs Less

If you look at the numbers i.e. go by the economics of things, of course, more is better. More of everything you have, more options you have, and greater possibilities exist.

More isn’t necessarily better, at least psychologically. People desire to feel competent and in command when utilizing a product or service. They don’t want to be confused or exhausted by too many choices and features. Instead, they seek goods that make their lives simpler, which we must keep in mind while developing a product’s marketing strategy.

And this is especially true when you seek to change the behaviour. Sony’s Walkman was one such product that changed the behavior in terms of how people consume music.

The Walkman Story

When Sony’s engineering team was ready with the first prototypes of the walkman in the late 1970s, they had effectively integrated a recording button into them. For that era, when a portable stereo player capable of playing music from cassettes was still more remarkable, being able to record voices on a portable stereo player was especially distinctive.

However, before the launch, one of the founders, Akio Morita asked the engineers to remove the recording button (i.e. function) altogether. Of course, the engineers and many other teams protested internally.

From a mass manufacturing standpoint, the inclusion would not have cost a single dollar more. As such, from an economic standpoint, it would have been a better choice to include that as an additional expenditure of $1 would have allowed Sony to command a premium price.

Still, Morita refused to budge, and the first Walkman – the TPS-L2 – was announced without recording capability.

Sony introduced the recording function in the later models of the Walkman. And given the reverence for the Walkman in the 80s and 90s, one would wonder if Morita’s decision was wrong?

However, if you stop and think about it for a second, you’ll realize Morita was correct. Even from an economic standpoint, this option may not make sense; nevertheless, it makes perfect psychological sense.

Morita was very clear about the product from the start. He firmly believed that the presence of the recording function will confuse people about what the new device is for? Should they be recording their vinyl records into the cassette? Or should they record the live music performances? Or should they just record their own voice?

How do you change the behaviour?

A portable music device with the first-ever player of its kind, Morita was concerned with changing behavior. He wanted to deliver a very direct message about what the gadget is, how it works and how users are expected to use it by reducing the gadget’s functionality. By limiting the Walkman’s usage to a single function, Morita made clear that the Walkman was for listening to music.

The lack of a recording function didn’t limit the Walkman’s appeal in any way as it became one of Sony’s most successful products ever, with over 30,000 units sold against Sony’s own prediction of 5,000 for the first month.

It’s always feasible to improve a device’s functionality by adding more and more features in it. However, while adding versatility to the new item, it also reduces clarity – perhaps making it less pleasurable to use and creating purchasing decisions more difficult.

Jack of all trades…

If Sony had released their first-ever Walkman with as many capabilities as possible, it’s highly likely that they would have been in a bind.

People believe that when you focus on one thing, you’re superior to someone who claims to accomplish numerous things.

What do you think about sofa-cum-bade? While it is highly functional as a concept, will it give you more comfort than only a bed or only a sofa?

In Google vs Yahoo, the former essentially was a stripped-down version the later focusing on only one thing.

Starbucks initially focused only on coffee and never intended to branch out into different meals.

In its early years of operation, McDonald’s restricted itself to a tiny portion of the food market (fast food) and never wanted to go higher than that.

As you can see, by reducing the number of features in a product or service, it becomes easier for customers to understand and use it, as well as making purchasing decisions simpler. As such, less is more – at least psychologically speaking. And this is something marketers need to remember when launching new products into the marketplace.

Customers’ seek clarity

We generally prefer to buy things that serve a single purpose. A product that can do multiple things is great, but it’s not always the best. We tend to be drawn to simplicity and products that serve one clear purpose are easier to understand and use.

When a company releases too many features in their product, it becomes difficult for the customer to understand what they’re buying and how they should be using it.

It’s always more effective to focus on one thing and do it well, rather than trying to be a jack of all trades. This is something that Sony learned with the Walkman, and Starbucks has applied it with coffee. McDonald’s did this early on in their company history as well, and it was highly successful.

In marketing, less is more

When launching a new product, focus on the essentials and strip away any unnecessary features. This will make it easier for customers to understand and use, as well as make purchasing decisions simpler. And in a world where simplicity is king, this is definitely something you want to remember.

For a marketer, it is all the more important to acknowledge the value of ‘less’. We need to focus on simplicity for the products we launch and for the communication around them.

When it comes to product development, one of the most important things for us is that we show people who the brand truly is – what we stand for and why we’re different from other brands out there. And this can only be achieved by focusing on essentials and not trying to do too many things at once.

In a world where people are constantly bombarded with information, it’s more important than ever to keep messages clear and concise. By reducing the number of features in your product or service, you can make sure that your marketing communication is as effective as possible.

So remember, less is more for a marketer.

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Amit Tilekar
Customer-obsessed digital marketer and growth marketing consultant

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