Euclid taught me that without assumptions there is no proof. Therefore, in any argument, examine the assumptions. – E. T. Bell
Today I learned from Steven Pinker about a thing called the curse of knowledge.
It turns out there is an experiment you can do with a three-year old.
Show a child a box of chocolates and ask them what’s in it.
They will probably say, “Chocolate.”
Now, get them to open the box.
Inside, they’ll find pencils instead of chocolate.
Now, ask them what’s inside the box.
They’ll say, “Pencils.”
Now, bring another child into the room and ask the first child what the second child thinks is inside the box.
The answer is, “Pencils.”
What’s happened is that the first child cannot now “unknow” what’s in the box.
But also, the first child now believes that everyone else also knows what it knows.
This is something many people never grow out of.
We believe that because we know something other people must know it as well.
And that causes us to make mistakes in the messaging we create – the things we write and design to explain what we do and how we work.
You probably see this all the time at work.
If you ask someone to pull together a briefing paper or a presentation on a topic, what you will get is a comprehensive statement of what they know.
There are all these things you have to start with, and we did all this stuff, and carried out these complicated calculations and did all this really detailed things about these really specific elements and so on and on and on.
But, what does this mean for someone who doesn’t know what you know – but who is bright and capable?
How do you get a message across to people like that?
For starters, you think about what they need to know.
Are they interested in the mechanics of cocoa production or are they interested in why your chocolate is different?
Take Tony’s Chocolonely, for example.
I like chocolate, probably too much, but I’ve never given it much thought.
My default has been something in the Cadbury’s or Galaxy line.
I was introduced to Tony’s Chocolonely as a “slave free” chocolate – an ethical brand.
I tried it – it was nice, but expensive.
And then we went to Amsterdam – before the world shut down – and visited the shop where it was made, and that left an impression.
And more recently, when I bought a few bars, I read some words on the marketing that said something like “unequally divided, because the world isn’t fair” – or something on those lines.
You don’t get nice clean squares with this chocolate.
There’s a lot of messaging with this brand – and some of it is clearly getting through, for me, at least.
All these things make the chocolate stand out in a way that’s different from brands that talk about being the finest chocolate, or having master chocolateers or focusing on the colour purple.
By this time, you’re probably thinking about chocolate and I’m losing my train of thought wanting some…
To pull things back.
The hardest thing for us to do is see things from the point of view of someone else who doesn’t yet know all the things we know – or actually someone who doesn’t want to know at all.
When you write or ask someone to write a piece of marketing you should see that as a first draft.
What’s probably going to happen is that first draft puts down everything you know about what you do – it’s a list of features.
What you need to do next is remind yourself of the curse of knowledge – remind yourself that you need to know what you know to be able to understand what you’ve written.
Then you need to sit down and rewrite every sentence in your draft so it make sense to someone coming to it with little or no knowledge – but someone bright enough to get what you’re talking about.
You don’t need to talk down to people or be patronising – you just need to be clear about what this means for them.
I remember, years ago, going to a marketing class where we did just this.
We were asked to write down a few words about what we did for customers.
Two of my examples were “risk management” and “carbon offsets”.
Then we were asked to try and write down what this meant for customers – how did they benefit?
And I suppose I wrote something like “Buy what you need as cheaply as possible” and “do business in a green and sustainable way”.
The second attempt, hopefully, make more sense than the more technical words that make sense to me.
The fact is that writing is bloody hard work – you’re not just going to sit down and dash off a masterpiece of marketing copy or a story or anything like that.
The first draft really is just you telling the story to yourself.
The second, third and fourth drafts are where you start telling the story to someone else – and how you eventually get to something that is so easy to read that people just “get” it.
But it’s not easy – if it reads well it’s because someone worked for a long time writing it.
And maybe that’s the lesson.
You worked really hard to learn what you know.
Now you need to work twice as hard to get other people to see it.
And that’s marketing.