Let’s kick this off with a true story.
I added a payment plan to my Worditude Annual Pass. The updated sales page stated that the total amount would be split into 3 equal payments. I hit publish and continued on with my busy life, confident that I had made myself clear.
A lovely member of my Facebook community contacted me to ask for more information about the payment plan. Did a payment go out right away and then once a week, once a fortnight or once a month?
Excellent questions. And information that should so very clearly have been on the sales page, and yet I’d omitted it.
A few months ago I bought a training course and made use of the payment plan option. ⅓ of the cost was taken immediately, another ⅓ one month after that, and the remaining ⅓ one month later. So my brain was now confident that it knew how payment plans worked - and much like gravity or breathing air, I’d assimilated this knowledge into my life and felt it needed no further explanation. I’d fallen victim to the Curse Of Knowledge - incorrectly assuming my audience had the same background level of knowledge and understanding.
I am lucky that someone was confident enough, and wanted the product enough, to ask the question. Many times a prospect will simply bounce away from a sales page as soon as they encounter an information gap they can’t plug.
And it’s not just on sales pages we commit this communication faux pas - social media, blog posts, web copy - anywhere you assume a background level of understanding you are at risk of knowledge blindness.
I’m frequently asked by exasperated entrepreneurs why their Facebook ads for an informative webinar aren’t converting. I ask the same three questions:
If you use the word ‘webinar’ are you confident your audience know what that means?
Have you explained how to attend - it is free to download the software, how to get the software, that they can connect from anywhere they have an Internet connection.
Have you explained that it’s not the same as Skype - they won’t have to talk, they won’t be put on the spot?
It can be hard for us to imagine not knowing what a webinar is, we’ve attended so many of them. But for some audiences, the ‘w’ word is a mystery and requires a little further explanation before they can decide whether it’s something they want or not.
The Guessing Brain
Our brains don’t feel comfortable with an information gap, so when we see a word or phrase we don’t understand, we make a best guess at it.
Yesterday I read something containing the word ‘Enneagram’. My brain had taken me to ‘pentagram’ and then ‘witchcraft’ before I had time to slam on the brakes. As it’s my job to help people communicate effectively, I backed myself up and did some research, but many people won’t bother. They may not even notice that their brain has made a ‘best guess’, so they’ve no chance of realizing they’ve misunderstood what you intended to communicate.
Using The Curse Of Knowledge As An Audience Screening Tool
Back to our ‘webinar’.
Despite using it as an example of something-that-needs-explaining, I wouldn’t explain what a webinar is - because if you’re so new to the world of online marketing you haven’t heard of them already, you’re not likely to be ready for me and what I have to offer. In my target audience most (almost all) would know what a webinar is. Yes, I’m at risk of alienating the one or two people that don’t. But if I add explanations, the majority of my audience may start to wonder if I’ll be too basic for them, and I’ll lose their interest. So when I use the term ‘webinar’ without explanation, that’s done on purpose (but the payment plan thing was a big fat error).
If you’re trying to reach health-conscious people who want to improve their diet, or knitting fans who want to learn advanced skills - webinar needs explanation. If you’re connecting with business owners who want to uplevel their online marketing skills, you can assume they already know what the word means.
Sometimes assuming a certain background level of understanding will help you pitch your communications to the right people.
How To Avoid The Curse Of Knowledge In Your Business Communications
1 - Know Your Watch Words Or Phrases
Now you know what the Curse of Knowledge is and how it can impact the effectiveness of your communications, you’re already less likely to make this mistake. To increase your vigilance even further make a list of words you commonly use in your communications and evaluate these from your audience’s perspective. Do they really understand what you are saying? Would they benefit from a simple explanation or more basic choice of words?
2 - Speak To Real Humans
Use your ‘watch' words or phrases in conversation with a real human (who is near enough to your target audience). You will be able to see by their reaction if further explanation is required. With written communications you have no chance to correct misunderstandings, but face-to-face (even via video chat) you can get a much better feel for how well your words are being followed.
3 - Get To Know Your Ideal Client/Imaginary Customer
Create a persona to act as your ideal audience member. How knowledgeable is this person about their problem, and the possible solutions available? How much research have they done? What words would they use to describe their situation, fears and dream outcome?
4 - The Sliding Scale Of Knowledge
As a general rule, the more pressing the problem (or attractive the outcome) and the longer they’ve been seeking the solution, then the more research your audience will have done in this niche and the more knowledgeable they will be.
5 - Mount A Recon Mission
A little online spying will help you uncover the language your prospects are using when they write/talk about their problem (or much-desired outcome). Hang out in Facebook groups and forums, and poke around customer reviews for relevant books and products to discover what your target audience is saying, and what their level of knowledge and understanding is.
Where To Go Next
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