When 25 ‘pieces’ of chocolate is better than 500 ‘grams’
Measure your product in 'units' (e.g. portions, slices, rooms) instead of traditional measures (e.g. grams, ounces, square meters). People will understand its value better
We use two components to measure things:
a number (e.g. 500)
a unit (e.g. grams)
But we often forget that we can change both without changing the actual product. And this makes a big difference in how customers perceive it.
Would it help or hurt sales if Coca-Cola said that each 33cl can (~11 oz.) contains 7 cubes of sugar, rather than 35 grams of sugar? (hint: 35 grams suits them just fine).
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Measure your best product attributes with easier to understand units
Impacted metrics: Customer acquisition | Customer spending
Channels: Ads | Packaging | Product
Most products have equivalent measurement units that are easier, or harder, to understand (e.g. 6 portions is easier to understand than 600 grams). Use the one that suits you to make your product look better in comparison.
If you want your product to be judged by a particular feature (e.g. size, efficiency, power), use an easier measurement unit (e.g. 5 rooms instead of a 140 square meter house). If you’re weak on a particular feature, use a harder measurement unit instead.
We generally underestimate differences. To fix this, use easy-to-understand measurement units (e.g. scoops of ice cream, laps jogged) instead of ‘traditional’ units (e.g. grams, ounces, miles). For example, 25 vs 50 chocolates seems like a larger difference than 500 vs 1,000 grams.
The effect is stronger if you use bigger numbers as well as clearer ones (e.g. website hosting plan for 10,000 visits/month instead of 1 GB/month, or 250 smaller chocolates instead of 25 big ones)
Works particularly well for those not very strong at math.
(The researchers also did a survey asking how different measurement units are perceived. Note: ‘Discrete’ refers to the measurement being an easier to understand ‘unit’ - Click to zoom in)
Why it works
Measurement units that are ‘non-scientific’ are generally easier for us to process. They’re ingrained into us since we’re children (“count how many fingers of your hand that is”) and we’ve used them throughout our evolution (e.g. number of pebbles, cattle, warriors). Measurements units such as grams or square meters require much more mental effort to process.
When we count something by ‘unit’ (e.g. slice of pizza, piece of chocolate), we tend to not care so much about the size of the individual unit. This seems to be ingrained in animal behavior, a 1941 study found the same effect in chickens. A kernel of corn cut up into 4 pieces (i.e. units) was a more effective reward than a single kernel.
At the same time, we don’t necessarily pay much attention to what the unit is, so we perceive 500 grams as larger than 0.5 kilos.
The study ran several experiments in different contexts so we can quite safely generalize results. However, it did not directly test:
Comparisons between more than two products/numbers
Whether this could be applied to pricing (e.g. those jeans are $50 vs 10 ‘fivers’)
Comparisons between products with different measurements (e.g. packet A contains 100 chips, packet B 190 grams)
Decision making theory would suggest that the effect still works in the above situations (and that packet A is better because it’s easier to understand), but be extra careful.
Companies using this
In the past couple of years, many SaaS companies have become quite good at selling packages based on easily understandable units (e.g. Carts Guru uses the number of contacts you can have).
For consumer products, a notable example is dishwasher tablets. 32 dishwasher tablets are easier to process than the equivalent 512 grams worth of powder. However, it’s still quite rare for it to be used extensively.
Steps to implement
Your imagination is the limit here. Sell a packet of chips for the number of bites you’ll get or shampoo for the average number of showers.
Test pricing something for ‘4 coffees’ instead of $10. Or ‘half a Benjamin’ instead of $50 (a ‘Benjamin’ is a $100 bill).
Of course, you will usually be required to report legally approved ‘traditional’ measures too on the product, but that can be smaller and less visible.
It works best if you’re comparing your own products (e.g. small vs large size, standard vs premium plans) because you can choose the unit you want to use.
You can apply this to your packaging, ads, or product descriptions.
Lab and online experiments, The Netherlands
Lembregts, C., & Van Den Bergh, B. (April 2018). Making each unit count: The role of discretizing units in quantity expressions. Journal of Consumer Research, 45(5), 1051-1067.
Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University, The Netherlands
Remember: This research could be disproven in the future (although this is rare). It also may 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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