Principle of Least Effort: Marketing Fundamentals 4 of 7

On day 1, we covered Desirable Contrast and how it helps earn that initial spark of a prospect’s attention.

They noticed you, and they’re curious to learn more.

But that curiosity is fragile. It consists of a few seconds to check out whether you’re worth further investigation.

And, whilst the Relativity framework helps us understand what your prospect wants, that insight only has value if we communicate it in a way that instantly resonates.

This is where our third framework comes in.

The Principle of Least Effort tells us that humans always follow the easiest path to get stuff done.

People always look for the simplest path

The simpler you make it for someone to understand what you do for them, the more likely they’ll invest time to check you out.

Seems logical, right?

It’s a concept that often goes hand in hand with the idea that, since the advent of the Internet, human attention span has shrunk below that of a goldfish.

But that particular idea is a myth.

The ability to pay attention isn’t the problem. We pay attention to stuff we care about all the time.

No, the challenge comes because, as a society, we no longer exert anything beyond light effort to find what we’re looking for.

I’ve lost count of the number of Netflix series I’ve started, and then 2 minutes in decided are not for me, so head back to the main feed to find something else.

The introduction of products like Google, Uber Eats, and Spotify have changed our behaviour and expected level of exertion to find and get what we’re looking for.

And this habit seeps into the way we search for everything beyond entertainment.

With each piece of information you add to a sales deck or website, you’re increasing the prospect’s effort required to investigate what you can do for them.

This game I picked up from ​David JP Phillip​ demonstrates that point.

Count the number of circles in the visual below.

There are 7 circles to count

On average, it’ll take you 1.2 seconds.

Now, do the same in the following visual.

Now there are 5 circles to count

This took you 0.2 seconds. In this second visual, you didn’t have to count. You simply see.

7 objects required a massive 500% more energy resource than 5.

And considering you’re trying to communicate with people who don’t yet know you, how much energy do you think they’re likely to spend figuring out what you can do for them?

“People are stimulus rich but context poor. They don't know what it all means. They don't know where to focus their gaze.” Dan Pink

Intuitively, it’s easy to accept the principle of least effort.

But few of us actually apply it.

Clients enjoy a range of benefits by working with you, and because you’re not entirely sure which of these benefits they value most (and why), you list them all (in-depth) across your website and marketing materials.

The message is: “Here’s everything I do. Go through it all and figure out what’s valuable to you.

You’re asking THEM to refine YOUR message, and more often than not, they won’t bother. They’ll just leave.

It’s a messaging error but an understandable one.

We’re constantly reading marketing analyses of companies like Apple and McKinsey.

And whilst there are things to learn from them, without a true grasp on the fundamentals, if we replicate their marketing, we’re in danger of confusing causation with correlation.

Check out McKinsey’s website, and you’ll be hit with dozens of services offered to every industry imaginable.

McKinsey's confusing menu

Their message is abstract, vague, broad, and loaded with extraneous detail that serves no real purpose. But it doesn’t hurt them because it doesn’t matter. They win business despite their messaging, not because of it.

They play to a different set of rules.

They’re world famous. Prospects don’t head to their website to learn what McKinsey do. They already know what they do.

But if we mortals want to draw prospects towards us after they originally become aware of us, we need to work within a framework that acknowledges the Principle of Least Effort.

Here are some examples of how you do that:

  • Use their language - Each of us has different tasks, jobs and emotions that we're struggling with right now. Our senses are heightened at the mention of those struggles, and as we discussed in yesterday’s email, using the prospect’s language to describe the problem you solve is like a calling beacon - it pulls them in. Zero effort is required to comprehend your message, because you’re reflecting the narrative already playing out in their mind right now.
  • The five-second rule - For your prospect, within five seconds of first landing on your website (or any marketing material), the answer to these three questions should be absolutely clear: who is this for?; what is this for?; why should I care?
  • Visual thinking - How you look sends the first message about who you are. But visuals aren’t limited to abstract feelings. They help communicate specific ideas much quicker than words ever could. Just check out the examples below.
  • Ants avoiding the sugar free Chupa Chups
    It's all in the hat
    The diference a dog makes

    My guess is that, even though there are no more than 7 words in each example above, you’ve got a memorable idea of what they're selling.

    That’s not to say that words don’t have a fundamental purpose.

    As David Crow puts it, the job of the written word is to ‘provide precision and detail.’

    But before that detail, what visual communication does is offer an easy-to-understand 1,000-foot view of who you are, what you do, and what you’re about.

    So, with the Principle of Least Effort in mind, tell me, are your prospects working hard to figure out what you do?

    You may want to re-read this email - there’s a lot to pick through!

    Next up is The Narrative Instinct

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