Don’t say “It’s usually better”
When presenting a product, don’t add comments such as “it usually looks nicer”, “it looks even better when…”. They backfire. For example, people were 24% less likely to buy an indoor plant.
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Imagine you are a real estate agent showing a house to a potential buyer. The view is usually beautiful. Unfortunately, during today's viewing it’s foggy outside.
Should you simply say “Look at this view!”?
Or should you also add “Sadly it’s foggy today, usually the view is even better!”?
Let’s take another example. You are about to give a presentation. But your laptop is having an issue and your slides look a bit blurry.
Should you say “Sorry* my slides look a bit blurry today. I’m having an issue with my laptop, usually they look better” (*Or better: “Thank you for your patience”, not “Sorry”).
Or should you stay quiet?
In both cases the research is clear. Hold your tongue and keep it to yourself.
Saying “It’s usually better” backfires and hurts your sales
Channels: Messaging | Sales | Marketing communications
For: Both B2C and B2B
Research date: June 2022
Don’t point out “It’s usually better” or “It can be better” when presenting or selling something.
For example, instead of saying “It looks better under a better light” or “Sorry my voice is usually clearer, I’m sick today”. Don’t say anything or pretend the imperfection is not there.
By pointing out a small imperfection you get people to notice it - when they probably would not have.
People’s impressions will worsen. They will be less satisfied and less likely to buy your product.
When something (e.g. product, gift, situation) is temporarily not in its ideal condition (e.g. not perfectly clean, slower than usual), people tend to point that out. For example, “The city is very busy today, usually it’s nicer”. Their intention is to improve the receivers’ impression.
This study found that, in reality, pointing out the problem backfires. People’s impressions worsen and they are less likely to buy.
For example, as part of a series of 12 experiments people were asked to imagine different scenarios and make a choice:
Customers were 24% less likely to buy a slightly withered plant when told “the plant looks a bit withered now due to insufficient sunlight”
Gift receivers were 8.3% less happy when told the dog they got as a gift was usually more friendly, when not sick. They were also less grateful of the gift
Diners gave a 14.6% lower Yelp rating and tipped 15.3% less when, at the end of their meal, the owner of the restaurant told them that their dish would have been even better when the crab they had was in season
The effect weakens or reverses when the imperfection is obvious. For example, a presenter’s apology for the quality of their terribly blurry slides is good - but it backfires if the slides are only slightly blurry.
🧠 Why it works
When we’re presenting something we know well, we have a clear mental image of what it's like in its ideal state.
From our perspective, the imperfections in its current state are obvious because we think in a “comparison mode”, while the receiver sees it without any comparison.
Due to the curse of knowledge, we struggle to see it from their perspective of no comparison, without which it probably is not that bad.
The receiver might not even have noticed the “temporarily imperfect” feature or detail. Even if they did, they might not give it much importance.
But when we point out the problem, we focus the receiver’s attention on it, and they start thinking of the negative aspects of the object.
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How bad does an imperfection need to be that pointing it out becomes beneficial? At some point, honesty about an issue might have such a positive effect that it overcomes the negative effect of pointing out the problem.
This was untested, but people might be less likely to point out an imperfection when they are the one that caused it (e.g. forgetting to wash the car before showing it to a buyer), since we tend to hide negative information about ourselves.
🏢 Companies using this
Most people make this mistake (between 59.4% and 87.4% did, across five of the experiments).
Companies don’t yet seem to explicitly train their employees to not add these comments.
⚡ Steps to implement
Before sharing a comment about an imperfection, stop and think about the receiver’s perspective. From their point of view would they even have noticed it?
Unless the problem is glaring, and you will seem dishonest unless you mention it, avoid doing so.
🔍 Study type
Lab and online experiments.
“It Could Be Better” Can Make It Worse: When and Why People Mistakenly Communicate Upward Counterfactual Information. Journal of Marketing Research (June 2022).
Xilin Li. China Europe International Business School (CEIBS)
Christopher K. Hsee. Booth School of Business, University of Chicago
Ed O’Brien. Booth School of Business, University of Chicago
Remember: This is a scientific discovery. In the future it will probably be better understood and could even be proven wrong (that’s how science works). It may also not be generalizable to your situation. If it’s a risky change, always test it on a small scale before rolling it out widely.
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