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Designing for the Shopper Mindset: Overcoming the Curse of Knowledge

Posted by SellCheck Team

Overcoming the Curse of Knowledge

The Curse of Knowledge may seem like the title to the next Avengers movie, but it isn't (as far as we know). Instead, it's an essential behavioral science learning highly relevant to the development of marketing communication.

As much as marketers seek to understand consumers and shoppers - and can now source data to help do this from a plethora of sources - in reality, it's a struggle. Why is this?

Psychological biases often get in the way.


Tappers and Listeners

In 1990, Ph.D. candidate Elizabeth Newton involved Stanford students in a simple experiment. She recreated a game we've all played…a variation on Name that Tune. Newton divided students into two groups: Tappers and Listeners. Tappers were asked to tap out the rhythm of well-known, famous songs (think "Happy Birthday," "Jingle Bells," and "Baa Baa Black Sheep"). Listeners were asked to guess the song title.

Before the experiment began, the Tappers were asked to estimate the probability that the Listeners would recognize the song. They guessed 50%, yet the real result was just 2.5%.


There's a big gap between the perception of the tappers and the listener's reality. When the tapper was tapping, they could not help but hear the song playing in their heads. The listeners, on the other hand, only heard a bizarre unrecognizable rhythm.

The Empathy Gap

Now think about the last game show you watched. Maybe it was the $1000,000 Pyramid or Win, Lose or Draw. In both these games, one contestant is given a keyword and then must entice other players to guess the answer with clues. If you're like most people, you get super frustrated with the guessers because the answer seems obvious. However, that's only because you know the answer.

Watch The $100,000 Pyramid TV Show -

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The Science Behind How Our Brains Work

The research study and gameshow scenario show how bad we are at predicting what's happening in other people's heads. When you know something, you can't imagine what it's like for the listener to NOT have that knowledge. To you, it's crystal clear. You might say your knowledge curses you.

What's worse, recent research found that people have trouble accurately recalling just how difficult a situation is that they have experienced. We lack empathy (and may even get angry) with others even if we have been in their shoes before.

What to Do About It: Overcoming the Curse of Knowledge 

Now let's fast forward to today and talk about implications for marketing. Here are three keys for effective communication based on learnings from The Curse of Knowledge and the Empathy Gap.

Keep it Simple. More is rarely better. A single-minded message cuts through the clutter, in the store, online, and in the mind.

Create with Empathy. Forget what you know about the brand and design what the consumer or shopper needs to know. Ensure that the product benefit is instantly recognized, understood, and compelling.

Design for Context. Judge your communication where and how (and where) it will actually be seen. Ensure the ad is not too ambitious (too many objectives, cluttered) for the medium.

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Learn More

A better understanding of "shopper science" - and adopting fundamental principles - can help marketers better drive sales and improve ROI.

SellCheck seeks to help marketers do their best by providing clarity and confidence through the discipline of creative effectiveness. Our "Designing for the Shopper Mindset" Series was created to help you improve your business by highlighting key design principles and what to do about it to be more effective.

SellCheck is a marketing research platform designed to streamline the creative process, produce better marketing, and boost sales. Whether creating digital ads, in-store signage, or packaging, science-based design principles can improve your creative effectiveness. Why is this important? Ads optimized for selling outperform those that are not by 30% or more.

Please contact Chris Bedford ( for more on how we blend shopper expertise and behavioral science to help you better “Design for the Shopper Mindset”.

Topics: Creative Effectiveness, Tips and Tricks, Insights, Shopper Marketing, Messaging, Behavioral Science


About SellCheck

SellCheck is a marketing research platform designed to streamline the creative process, produce better marketing, and boost sales.

We provide clarity and confidence through the discipline of creative effectiveness.

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