Content Marketing and the Psychology of Choice

Posted by Owen Matson, Ph.D. on January 12
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remember once, at a deli in NYC, trying to comprehend a menu that looked more like a newspaper.  It took me about 2 seconds before I gave up reading through the choices.  It was a Deli.  It was NYC.  I put down the menu and asked for the chicken-and-matzo-ball soup.  (By the way, Carney’s Deli in NYC—pictured in this article—was a great place; it’s menu could be a bit overwhelming, but then so were their potato knishes!  I was sad to hear it was closing.)

As I have explored in another post, we need choices.  And the freedom we associate with choice takes on particular meaning in an era of information overload, where we find ourselves bombarded with information often imposed on us—without our permission.

How does this translate into content strategy?  For one, try indexing content with subtitles, even linked subtitles—like a mini table of contents—that allow readers to navigate content without having to read through material less relevant to their needs.  Take advantage of hyperlinked menus within your post.

But do not make that menu too long. While choice provides us with a sense of control; too much choice is paralyzing.  


I learned about this need for balance during my time as a teacher.  Whenever I gave students choices in their assignments, I saw a boost in engagement and motivation.  But when I offered too many choice, they just shut down.  They were overwhelmed.

In a similar vein, media critic Douglas Rushkoff argues that the digital world offers an overwhelming range of choices, leading to what he calls a “multitasking brain… actually incapable of storage or sustained argument” leading to term a kind of temporal disorientation. Instead of gaining pleasure from focusing on one activity, “we hop from choice to choice with no present at all.”  In turn “we lose the ability to imagine opportunities and excitement arising from pursuing whatever we are currently doing, as we compulsively anticipate the next decision point.”  

For related tips on effective marketing in an Age of Distraction, read our piece on how to balance simplicity with relevant, long-form content.

For a more extensive overview of distraction and it is implications for marketing, read our piece on marketing in the age of distraction.

All of these articles are available on the MarketScale blog

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