The Problem with Too Many Choices

57I’m not a shopper. I admit it. Shopping for me is work. When I do shop, I like places like Costco because while they offer choices, they don’t offer so many as to overwhelm. I like stores that do the “heavy lifting” for me and give me a selection of the best to pick from.

Less is More

Al and Laura Ries write in “The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding” that many businesses fall into the trap of thinking that more products equals more sales. This type of strategy is a trap and can lead to negative consequences in the long term.

Apple’s Quest for Simple

When the iPhone7 finally was released, everyone was talking about the missing headphone jack. The 3.5mm audio output port is 19th century technology. It doesn’t allow the highest sound quality to be transmitted. It is a way for water to invade the electronics of the iPhone. It takes up a lot of space. It adds a level of complexity where having the lightning port do this function or better yet, wireless transmission of audio to a set of AirPods, makes more sense.

Steve Jobs put it this way:

“Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

Give Me One Good Reason

In media sales, we try to have our clients identify that one thing that makes them unique and special. What makes their business so different that consumers will want to come to you instead of anyone else. You may have heard this stated as finding a business’s “unique selling proposition.”

Ten Reasons Are Not Better Than One

The problem is that often it is hard for people to give just one reason. Instead they offer lots of reasons. This adds complexity. When you become burdened with lots of choices, you tend to avoid making any choice at all.

In the book “The Paradox of Choice” author and psychologist Barry Schwartz tells the story of very memorable jam study by psychologists Mark Lepper and Sheena Lyengar. The study compared the amount of jam sold if consumers were given either 6 varieties of jam to choose from or 24 varieties. While the table with 24 varieties attracted more people, the table with only 6 varieties saw thirty percent of the people buy a jar of jam versus only three percent who bought a jar when confronted with a choice of 24 jams.

One Good Reason

There was a great billboard in New York City that promoted AM66-WNBC’s drive time personalities that has stuck with me since the one and only time I saw it. It gave one reason to listen to this iconic radio station. It simply said “If we weren’t so bad, we wouldn’t be so good.”


This one simple sentence captured the essence of both Don Imus and Howard Stern. It was this radio station’s one good reason to listen. It was this radio station’s one good reason to advertise on it.

Something for Everyone = Nothing for Anyone

Variety is a word that used to come up in radio station focus groups so often that many radio stations began to brand themselves as “Variety Radio.” It was an attempt to appear to be offering something for everyone.

The Better Way

If you want to be more effective, be specific versus general. Use words that have color, create mental pictures and surprise the listener. Don’t use two words when one will do. Tell your own story, the one no one else can tell.

Choice vs. Complexity

In the end, we all like to think we have a choice. But if the number of choices becomes too great, then complexity is introduced into the decision process. Complexity produces paralysis, whether the choice is a product, a service or listening to one of your radio stations.


Filed under Education, Mentor, Uncategorized

13 responses to “The Problem with Too Many Choices

  1. Knowing your audience was the way you got folks to turn on your station in the morning, and leave it on all day. If you listen to talk radio today, you will more and more hear callers say, “I change the station as soon as your show is done”. You can’t be everything for everybody, so find your audience, and program for it!


    Liked by 2 people

  2. IIRC, didn’t Malcolm Gladwell write about this, indirectly, in “Blink”, too? I recall him talking about the infamous jam study. It should be required reading for everyone in radio.

    BTW, though, removing the headphone jack is the OPPOSITE of simple. It’s far, far, FAR more complex. 3.5mm jack-based technologies are EVERYWHERE. Whereas lightning-connector-based gear is much more rare. For a long time, an extra lightning-to-3.5mm adapter cable will be necessary, which is adding complexity by definition in that it’s another part you need to make the damn thing work. Plus it’s a part that’s easily lost or misplaced.

    If you’re telling me wireless headphones are “simpler” then I’m telling you you’re drinking waaay too much koolaid. There is no such thing as a “simple” bluetooth pairing. It’s ALWAYS more difficult to do than it should be, and even when it works flawlessly, it still takes several seconds (often 20-30+), which is far, far longer than just plugging in a 3.5mm cord.

    I look at the elimination of the headphone jack as spitting in Steve Jobs’ face in his relentless quest for simplicity. This is adding complexity in a naked attempt to raise profits by forcing users to pay a lot of money for “official” Apple adapters and headphones that have a 900% markup.


    • I certainly understand where you’re coming from Aaron. Since the world is moving in the wireless direction, I believe we will see wider spread application of everything going wireless over time.

      I can’t imagine going back to a wire to connect any of my devices to the internet, can you?

      WiFi changed the world into wireless connections for good.

      I can’t wait until our units will charge wirelessly too.

      Thank you for reading the blog and contributing your POV.



      • I went out of my way to connect my Xbox One to a wired connection to my FiOS ISP gateway, because it yielded noticeably better online gaming performance…especially when downloading 6GB of updates every few weeks.

        I use a wired connection on my printer because the wireless one never works properly.

        We use wired connections on our desktops because it’s better performance and it’s more secure.

        Wireless connections have their strengths and weaknesses just like wired connections do. But this massive push for “EVERYTHING MUST BE WIRELESS” is utter nonsense. It’s like how “EVERYTHING MUST BE DIGITAL” was back in the 90’s. Yes, it dragged a lot of stagnating technology into modern and, in most (not all) cases, a better experience for the user. But there were plenty of examples where it just went nowhere because the technology wasn’t really an improvement.

        I suppose we’ll see. But six months from now, my money is that iPhone 7 sales are at least 30% off pace from after the release of the benchmarks the iPhone 4, 5 and 6 set.


  3. Robert

    Thanks for the article, loved it. However, I have to disagree with you.Given a choice between 6 items or 24 items, the initial choice may be to go with the 6 items, but over time, people will get tired of the same 6 items and want to try another flavor, so they will eventually migrate to the 24 items. Same for radio. I think at this point people are given very limited choices as to what to listen to because almost all AM stations broadcast syndicated shows. And yes, it gets very boring listening to the same topics discussed by different radio personalities. Which is why AM, in my opinion, is dying a slow death. I don’t listen to AM anymore except maybe to check how traffic conditions are, but other than that, its either FM or SIrius. Also, I believe listenership to AM and FM will substantially drop due to smartphones integrating yet even more in our lives. Cars today can link to your android/Iphone via certain apps so that what is displayed o the car’s screen reflects your phone’s screen. In the coming future, people will be streaming content from their phones to their cars on a much greater basis and I forsee the end of Sirius coming soon to as there are a lot of free streaming channels available.
    Lastly, Apple’s move to eliminate the speaker jack on the Iphone was just plain stupid. It really didn’t save any space nor make the phone lighter, but the Apple CEO wants to force people to abide by what he wants rather than what the consumer wants. It’s always been that way with Apple which is why I switched to non-Apple products. I also bet that very soon, the headphone jack will be back with the updated model of the Iphone.


    • Hi Robert,

      Thank you for reading the blog and contributing to the discussion.

      When it comes to choice, even with the old radio pre-sets, we find consumers really only actually program about 3 to 5 stations that are their regulars.

      We also see that with Apps. Of all the Apps a person many download, only a few are used on a daily/weekly basis.

      Smartphones are now used by 72% of Americans, so the penetration rate is past the tipping point, but the latest research I just saw at The Radio Show 2016 in Nashville shows radio usage holding pretty steady by all age cells.

      No doubt about it, the place in the dashboard, formerly reserved for a radio is now called the “center stack” or “entertainment center” and it will display your smartphone’s screen on the dashboard and give you control over your phone from the car’s internal buttons.

      Apple eliminated a DVD drive and everyone was up in arms saying it was a mistake. My new MacBook Air doesn’t have one and quite frankly I don’t need one. It’s light way, sits on my lap without burning my legs and I love it. My Air came with a free set of $300 Beats wireless headphones and I love those too.

      Wireless is the future and I’m willing to bet that one day people will marvel over those Apple iPods with the white ear buds and cords.

      What I do know is that when we make advancements, we never return to the way things were.

      Don’t hold your breath over the return of the headphone jack in iPhones and don’t be surprised if Samsung is next to take that port out of their phones too. More wireless headsets now are being sold than wired ones. That’s a pretty big indicator of where the consumer wants things to go IMHO.

      Enjoy your non-Apple products with the technology you have for as long as you can.



      • Bob

        Another thing: I hear that you should not put your cellphone to your ear, or near the testicles and for women, near the breast area because of the fear of getting cancer. Now, the reason I love headphones is because its cabled. BUT with these wireless in-the-ear devices, won’t they also emit harmful waves like a cellphone that may give you cancer?
        As for the radio, I have 6 buttons programmed for AM and FM. Problem though for me here in California is 2 fold: 1: lack of originality in programming(too many syndicated shows) and 2: tooooooooo many stations broadcasting in another language.
        Thanks for your blog!!


      • Hi Bob,

        The cellphone issues – from RF EMR radiation – is still inconclusive at this point in time. It IS recommended that cellphones be used in either hands free or speaker phone and to not keep them close to your body by either putting them in a pocket or clipped to a belt. (Yeah, like anyone of us is going to be able to do that.)

        Also recommended is bluetooth wireless headphones. Bluetooth is a very low RF connection unlike the amount of RF EMR that is required to connect your phone to the system. That’s why. So the new wireless AirPods that Apple has come out with are actually a good thing for this concern of RF EMR radiation.

        My presets – 6 AM and 12 FM are all loaded with stations I want to monitor. Stations outside of my market I listen to via TuneIn Radio or StreamS+ (a very high quality stream that Art Vuolo – Radio’s Best Friend – turned me onto).

        Syndication of the same program on more than one station is an issue to be sure. I remember working in Iowa and when Paul Harvey time came on the radio, I could turn my radio from station to station to station and hear Mr. Harvey on almost everyone of them. He WAS very popular!

        Here in South Central Kentucky, we don’t have any foreign language stations, so that’s not an issue here.

        Thank you for contributing to the discussion and for reading the blog.



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