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Too much choice can choke your business

'Choice' has become a buzzword in politics and industry. We now have 'choice' in the NHS, in the education system, in local government, whether we want it or not. Companies often feel they have to keep up with or exceed the amount of choice on offer to attract customers. It's tempting for businesses to believe that choice is a good thing and adding brands automatically adds value. It doesn't. Extra brands often add confusion and complexity. They always add cost.

The problem is that each brand costs before it starts delivering a return. Unilever, the giant consumer products company and major advertiser, researched its numerous brands and closed down many of them as loss-makers. Every brand requires a sizeable investment to develop, differentiate and communicate, and even mighty Unilever couldn't afford to spend on them all.

With so many near identical products on the market today, potential customers get confused and irritable. They resent having to work for their purchase and focus instead on easy to understand differences, such as price.

When less is more

The consumer wants more then choice. When you get off the Motorway to unwind with a simple cup of coffee you may not be in the mood for a series of decisions on type of coffee, type of flavour, size of cup, to eat in or take away. research revealed that 75% of Starbuck's customers valued friendly, fast, convenient service compared to just 15% who thought new, innovative drinks were really important.

Consumers feel uncomfortable when presented with choices they don't understand or cannot see the value of. When confronted with an array of products, consumers want to be helped to their decision.

Amazon, the online books and electronics store, guides its shoppers through choices by recommending alternative products similar to those you've already chosen. Then, when you arrive at the product page there's a review of it so you can make a decision based on someone else's opinion or experience.

Too much information

Recently the AA published the results of its research into the seemingly unstoppable growth in UK roadside signs. They showed pictures of locations with up to seventeen different roadsigns for the driver to read and react to. The signs had been put up to direct drivers or improve safety and warned drivers of hazards, speed limits and so on. But research proves that the brain cannot take in more than three or four instructions at a time. Too many road signs could actually overload the brain, making it more difficult for drivers to drive safely.

How many brands do you need? Launching new brands and sub brands may seem smart, but are those brands necessary? Are they pulling their weight? They will certainly cost you money, but if customers are confused they could also lose you sales too.

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