Editor’s note: Bill Salokar is vice president, client solutions at marketing research firm SKIM, Atlanta.
Freedom of choice. On the surface it sounds like a good thing, and in marketing research studies, respondents unequivocally say they prefer to have choices. But with choice comes complexity.
Anyone who’s shopped for a car knows this all too well. Diesel, gas, electric or hybrid? Full-size, mid-size, compact or subcompact? Which makes or models are best? And then there’s exterior and interior color, entertainment, communication options and so on.
This dizzying array of options in cars – and just about every other product and service today – creates a decision dilemma: Consumers find it difficult to choose and even fear making the wrong decisions. Paradoxically, freedom of choice and the complexity it brings can be paralyzing.
So, in a market full of choices, how can a brand optimize a product or service to give consumers the freedom to choose without creating decision dilemmas, while also benefiting the bottom line?
In the design of marketing research, specific questions about product mix and pricing depend on the understanding of someone’s concept of choice. The S.T. Lee Professor of Business in the management division at Columbia Business School, Sheena Iyengar, is one of the world’s leading experts on choice, and she argues that cultural factors are essential to understanding both basic marketing principles and specific research findings.
Consumers only consider choice to be valuable when they can meaningfully distinguish between the options being offered. Being permitted, or compelled, to choose among a vast selection of things that seem essentially similar might inhibit choice or even lead to the rejection of the opportunity to choose.
This precept took on added meaning for Iyengar after a research meeting with a group of Eastern Europeans accustomed to very little co...