Strive Creative

November 14, 2023

Harnessing Shortcuts

3 Minute Read

Shortcuts; we all use them. We use them to help us make decisions, we use them to decide what to think about someone new in our lives, we use them to decide where to go for dinner, who to date, what clothes to wear, etc. In essence, we use them in every aspect of our lives. Understanding why we do this is the first step in recognizing how to prepare ourselves for the shortcuts people will use in dealing with us and the brands we represent as marketers. Ultimately, the goal as a marketer is to harness these shortcuts so people make the right decisions about our brands.

So, why do we use shortcuts?  The answer is simple; it makes things easier. Decision making can be very difficult, especially when we’re presented with too many options. There’s a classic cognitive psychology term that describes the idea that more choices actually make us less happy with the process and our ultimate choice; it’s called Choice Overload or Overchoice.

When faced with too many choices, individuals may become overwhelmed by the decision-making process. They may worry about making the wrong choice or feel that they haven’t thoroughly considered all the options. As a result, they might find it difficult to make a decision at all, leading to a state of dissatisfaction even after making a choice.

One method, whether consciously or unconsciously, we use to get past Choice Overload is using shortcuts. Shortcuts are the mind’s way of recognizing certain clues and making quicker decisions based on those clues and past experiences. For example, the way someone looks can help us understand what to think about them; wearing the right outfit to an interview gives your potential employer a glimpse into who you are and how you want them to perceive you.

So, what happens when our shortcuts lead us down the wrong path? It happens frequently. Obviously, shortcuts, by nature, aren’t taking every factor into account…hence the name and therefore errors in judgment occur. As a marketer, however, we need to recognize those potential shortcuts, whether they be preconceived notions about the quality of the brand we’re representing, or the public’s perception of the service we’re providing, and figure out a way to navigate through them. 

Good presenters understand this. What you may perceive as charm, wit, or cleverness, is also the presenter’s ability to control the shortcuts you’re making in regards to them; they get you to like them based on very little information; you’re just using shortcuts to come to that conclusion. The best presenters and marketers can take this a step further. First, they understand the shortcuts you might be making and then they walk you down that path towards that conclusion just to turn the tables at the end and surprise you with a different outcome. Using your shortcuts against you, but more is going on. You’re not only surprised by the outcome, but more likely to remember it because of that surprise. The unexpected outcome makes it stick, which is a marketer’s ultimate goal. 

The Pepsi Challenge is a great example of this. People taking the challenge and watching the commercial automatically assumed Coke was better than Pepsi. This was due to a massive advertising budget, longevity and variety of other factors we don’t need to get into here. However, the challenge turned that assumption on its ear and “surprised” everyone with the revelation that Pepsi actually tasted better. Sure there were probably some other things going on behind the scenes and several people who still chose Coke that we didn’t see, but to the casual observer, our shortcuts were wrong, Pespi was better, and the outcome stuck. Whether it was true or not didn’t matter, the goal was to surprise the audience and make them remember the advertisement and brand; and that was a success. So, you may not like Pepsi over Coke but if you were around at the time, you still remember the Pepsi Challenge and that is a testament to the power of harnessing shortcuts.