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Is the Curse of Knowledge Killing Your Marketing Strategy?

Curse of Knowledge in Marketing

Is it really possible to know too much? I hate to be the bearer of bad news but having in-depth knowledge of a business doesn’t automatically mean you will excel at marketing it. The curse of knowledge could be covertly killing your marketing strategy.

What is the Curse of Knowledge?

The curse of knowledge is a cognitive bias that occurs when you communicate based on the assumption that everyone knows what you know.

Have you ever tried to understand a car mechanic explaining what’s wrong with your engine? Between the technical terms and the shocking dollar amounts they are throwing around, your brain turns to mush real fast.

Although it should be reassuring to have such a knowledgeable person fixing your vehicle, you really just want to understand what they are saying so you can confidently say yes or no to the plan.

Graduate student Elizabeth Newton further illustrated this concept using the “Happy Birthday” song. A group of people were tasked with tapping out the song while another group had to listen to the taps and identify the song. The people tapping predicted that at least 50% of listeners would guess correctly. “It’s “Happy Birthday”! How could they not guess such a well-known song?!” they probably said.

In reality, only 2% of the listeners guessed the song correctly. What seemed obvious to the tappers sounded like a mess of taps to the listeners. When the psychological effect of the curse of knowledge is clouding your marketing messages, your words often sound like a mess of taps to consumers too. 

The Curse of Knowledge in Marketing

Let’s imagine you were working at OpenAI in 2022 and your task was to share ChatGPT with the public. If you went to social media and said “ChatGPT can perform tasks that would normally require human intelligence by making mathematical predictions” you would get 0 likes, 0 shares, and 0 hype.

However if you said, “ChatGPT can answer literally any question you ask it within seconds. It will save you tons of time. Go try it out!” you’d spark a frenzy. In fact, that’s pretty much how the tool went viral and gained over 1 million users in 5 days.

That is the curse of knowledge in action. In the first example, the marketer was so familiar with the product that they forget what it’s like not to know. They were blind to what mattered most to their consumers. Insider language and technical jargon crept into the writing. Instead of hitting a home run, they would have hit a wall.

Overcoming the Curse of Knowledge in Marketing

Thankfully, the curse of knowledge doesn’t have to derail your marketing efforts. These 8 tips will help you overcome the curse and regain clarity.

Know Your Ideal Customer

The best way to know what matters most to your customers and what they want or need from you is to ask them. Schedule regular customer interviews to get feedback. This will reveal what you are doing well and where this crazy phenomenon called the curse of knowledge may be causing confusion.

Focus on Your Customers’ Pain Points

Instead of focusing on the features and specs of your offering, talk about your customers’ pain points and how your company can solve them.

Bryan Eisenberg is credited with saying, “facts tell, but stories sell”. Instead of trying to sell a product or service with information, invite your audience into a story. Provide concrete examples of how you can make their lives better. Help them imagine what life could be like if they had what you’ve got to offer.

Avoid Over-Explanation

The curse of knowledge often leads us to assume that potential clients need to know everything we know before they will buy or hire us. So, we lay out every detail, answer every question they never asked, confident that our outpouring of knowledge will leave them utterly impressed and clamoring to work with us.

In reality, over-explanation usually backfires. For consumers, all those extra words sound more like noise than reassurance. Your clients don’t want to know all the details. They just want to know that you can fix their problem.

The best way to prove that you’ve got what it takes to get the job done isn’t sharing more thesis-level knowledge but sharing social proof. Use testimonials, case studies or reviews to prove that you’re the right company for the job.

Keep it Simple

Give ’em a KISS (not that kind of kiss). When writing a product description, sales page, or any other marketing collateral: Keep It Simple Stupid. (Remember that one from when we were kids?!).

Simple words and clear communication will almost always give you an edge over your competition. 

However, simple does not mean simplistic. You want to strip away complexities that don’t add value to your customer’s understanding and focus on what truly matters to them. Explain your concept in engaging, clear language that is free from jargon or fluff.

Go One Step at a Time

Imagine you’re guiding a friend through a maze. You wouldn’t distract them with details about every wrong turn—you’d tell them about the right path and focus on helping them move forward, one step at a time.

Marketing works the same way. You don’t want to overwhelm potential customers by telling them everything you have to offer at once. Focus on leading them toward the right next step.

Share Relevant Expertise

Just like your customers don’t need to know about everything you do, they also don’t need to know about everything you’ve done. Only share the credentials and expertise related to what you offer.

If you are a plumber, they don’t need to know that you are CPR certified and that your dad founded the company back in 1928. They just need to know that you can fix their pipes. A few certifications and customer success ratings should be more than enough to achieve that goal.

Ask for Outside Perspectives

Possibly the most critical step in overcoming this cognitive bias is recognizing that great marketing requires outside input. Not everyone understands things on the same level and your brain’s assumptions can easily lead you astray.

Before you finalize any marketing materials, ask for outside input. Ask your grandma, your 8-year-old or someone far removed from the industry to verify that you are explaining things in a way that makes sense to them. A pair of fresh eyes will help you find blind spots in your writing that you would have missed on your own.

The Easiest Way to Lift the Curse

The curse of knowledge is like a subtle leak that can drain your marketing of its power. By recognizing this bias and taking active steps to shift your perspective, you can transform your marketing from an insider conversation to a relatable, customer-centric dialogue. 

The best way to overcome the curse of knowledge once and for all is to stop doing all your marketing on your own. When you outsource your marketing to a company like Guide MKTG, we are able to look at your business the way customers would, with a beginner’s mind.

Although we are incredibly knowledgeable about marketing, we don’t know the ins and outs of your business (and in this case, that’s a good thing). We will naturally weed out the technical terms and simplify industry-specific concepts because they are just as new to us as they are to your audience. We can be the fresh set of eyes you need so that your marketing doesn’t fall prey to the curse of knowledge. Schedule a call today so we can help you lift the curse and start communicating effectively with your customers.


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