THE CURSE OF KNOWLEDGE IN DIGITAL MARKETING.
The curse of knowledge not only impacts how we communicate daily, but also effects how digital marketers deliver their work and approach their clients. It is a concept that is rarely spoken about, but is it something we should be more aware of? In this article, we will delve into the origins of the idea, real-life situations it impacts, and how we can adapt our communication skills for the better.
SO, WHAT IS THE CURSE OF KNOWLEDGE?
A concept dabbled with for many years, but it was Chip and Dan Heath’s explanation of the idea in Made to Stick which resonated with me. The book explained the concept that we all have insider information or knowledge about things that others do not, but we tend to assume they do.
Essentially, when we are delivering information on any given topic, either in written text or verbally, we instinctively believe the person receiving the information already has knowledge of this topic. Often, they do not have any knowledge at all. This creates confusion for both parties and the critical information we are trying to get across is entirely not received.
WHY TAPPING OUT A SONG SOUNDS LIKE NONSENSE TO OTHERS
The best example of the ‘curse of knowledge’ is the tappers and listeners exercise. We have all tried to tap out our new favourite song using just our fingers but shockingly, the people hearing this very rarely pick up the tune. This is because that when we are tapping, we have the song playing in our head but, of course, the person in front of us does not. The same thing happens when we are communicating our skills to someone without our skill set. If we assume they are on the same wavelength from the off, we’ll be met with blank looks every time.
HOW THE CURSE AFFECTS COMMUNICATING WITH CUSTOMERS
BLOG CONTENT FOR CUSTOMERS
If you work in an agency, it is more than likely that in the initial stages you have very little knowledge of your clients’ target audiences. So, if you are producing content for them, you may well be the ideal person for the job as you have no previous knowledge. All your views are impartial, and your mind is a blank canvas.
For instance, forex trading was never high on my list of skills, let alone having any basic knowledge of it. However, as a content writer this was great for content marketing campaigns for their products and services. I wrote a series of blog posts that targeted a broad audience, high up in the purchase funnel that essentially just wanted to know how forex trading worked. Had I had ten years of forex trading experience, my written content may have explicitly targeted to the seasoned spread betters, and in turn, narrowing my target audience.
KEYWORD RESEARCH FOR CUSTOMER’S AND CLIENT’S BENEFIT
One of the most satisfying parts of my job is finding a relevant, targeted set of keywords for any of my clients – keyword research. But what happens if you have previous knowledge of the industry, you are finding keywords for? If you are a furniture expert, it may be harder to put yourselves in the shoes of a first-time sofa buyer and understand the informational search terms they would use. For example: ‘How do I clean my sofa’, ‘why buy a leather sofa’, ‘how do I choose a sofa style’.
These keywords are as important as the returning customers who seek buyer-intent keywords like ‘three-seater leather sofa’ or ‘navy upholstered sofa’. These commercially focused are very important for one set of returning customers, but the informational queries will ensure your business is gaining new customers.
You have a drilled list of contacts to outreach your content to. You are a niche brand in a niche industry and you want to let people know about your fantastic new product through emailing potential bloggers and news sites. It is imperative those emails are not too jargony. If you have a glow in the dark mug for camping, do not talk about its new technology, instead explain how this will significantly benefit the user.
You may go for: ‘Gone are the days of trying to find your mug of cocoa or soup in the dark, this product takes away all the hassle.’ The email recipient then quickly understands the value to potential customers instead of being lost in jargon and technology specs.
HOW THE CURSE AFFECTS COMMUNICATION WITH CLIENTS AND PEERS
SPEAKING TO A POTENTIAL LEAD
If we are speaking to a potential client, we don’t bombard them with SEO technical jargon even though at times these skills may be on the tip of our tongue. Instead, they want to know how your expertise will affect their business goals and KPIs; not the ins and outs of your expertise.
SPEAKING TO CLIENTS
Communicating verbally has the same principles as the written word. The curse of knowledge can have a profound effect on speaking with clients. You are a digital marketer who’s built up a substantial knowledge of the industry, but will a client understand anything you’re saying when first speaking through your SEO strategy?
Most digital marketers will have had calls where their knowledge has got the better of them. I remember speaking through a keyword research with a new client a client and realising I was going into a lot more granular detail than required. Now, before a call with a new client, I work out what they are likely to know and adapt my explaining and questioning during the call.
SPEAKING WITH YOUR PEERS
Whether you are in-house or agency, the team you work with is not likely to know as much as you in your specialist area. If you are a year into content marketing and you’re next to a paid media specialist with three years’ experience, it’s likely they’ll need things explaining from you despite their longer industry experiences.
There may even be an argument that as humans we naturally like to show off our skill sets, particularly at work. It could be the case that instead of simplifying how we speak to our peers when explaining a detailed topic, we may think it is actually an opportunity to parade our skill set. Of course, this is not beneficial or efficient. We need to understand our peer’s knowledge of our specialist subject and adapt our communications off the back of this.
I have only tried my hand at teaching a few years ago now, but it is something that has taught me so much about communication, and particularly the curse of knowledge. My first presentation was a mess; I was attempting to explain everything I knew in two hours. This is a) not possible, and b) not the point of teaching.
If I had put myself in the classes’ shoes – a mixed group with relatively little digital marketing knowledge – then I would have done things very differently. Making sure they understood one area of content marketing with the help of engaging group tasks would have been much more efficient than me reeling off jargon to blank faces.
THE IMPORTANCE OF USER INTENT AND KNOWING YOUR AUDIENCE
UNDERSTANDING USER INTENT
Everything I have spoken about really comes down to thinking about your audience before engaging with them and understanding their intent. This both means to have a grasp of their knowledge of a subject as well as what they want to know about it.
Whether it is verbal or written communication, if you have never met your audience before then it is important you use all the tools you can access to create a persona around them. Potentially ask all the questions below:
- Who am I communicating with (is the key target audience experienced in the industry?)?
- What is their previous experience of what I am offering (whether someone reading your blog post or a peer asking for digital marketing advice)?
- What information do I have that is unnecessary and hard to understand for my target audience? (Is it worth mentioning the technical specifications of a new product to prospective journalists? Probably not)
These are just a snapshot of the questions you need to answer, the more you think about them, the more they will start to expand.
LIFT THE CURSE BY CREATING PERSONAS
How to combat this and lift the curse of knowledge upon you? Create personas for your target users. It is one of the greatest clichés but put yourself in their shoes.
For example, you are writing a blog for your new client – a small online wine business based in the UK. You have years of wine experience, both researching and tasting, home and abroad. A knowledge built up that is far beyond the norm. However, your end goal is to make people aware of this British-produced wine.
Create the persona of your core target audience:
- 35-year-old office worker
- Lived in Britain his whole life
- Likes to drink wine but bored of the same stuff
Once you have this persona in your head, you’ll write for Andrew, you’ll no longer write from the point of view of someone with above average knowledge of wine. Your initial title before thinking about the target persona might have been ‘how the age of grape affects its dryness’. This is great for wine enthusiasts but what about Andrew.
How about ‘British Wine: Same Quality as European, But Half the Price’. If this is true, which I have to be honest I don’t know, then this will resonate with a much broader audience than the initial title.
FINAL WORD ON LIFTING THE CURSE OF KNOWLEDGE
Always understand your audience. Never let the curse of knowledge rear its ugly head. If you do, there will be heaps of confused faces and unproductive dialogues – either the written word or verbally. Time will be wasted and money will be lost.
It’s not rocket science, but if you are a rocket scientist then make sure you simplify what you say when explaining your work to the average person!