Forget What You Know, Because You’re Cursed

Your marketing is hampered by what you know. You’ve spent years and years working on your dream and acquiring knowledge. All that hard work has given you a curse. It’s called the curse of knowledge and it’s bad for marketing. Let’s explore why that is and what to do about it.

Trial and error has taught you much as you’ve struggled and succeeded with your business. Unfortunately a trap comes with all that knowledge. The more knowledge you acquire, the more difficult it is for you to communicate effectively. That is especially true for your marketing messages.

In their best-selling book, Made To Stick, Chip and Dan Heath tell us how the curse of knowledge affects your marketing:

“Lots of research in economics and psychology shows that when we know something, it becomes hard for us to imagine not knowing it. As a result, we become lousy communicators.”

The Knowledge-Marketing Connection

Being a lousy communicator makes you a lousy marketer. That’s the primary reason local advertising is so bad. Most local ads are recitations of facts, features and abstract reasons to buy. After all, it’s what you know best. You have become bogged down by all the information that comes from years of owning and running a business. As a small business owner, all that information is valuable. As a marketer, it’s not.

What you have to understand is that you are tuned out from the way your customers think. Your knowledge does not resonate with most normal people. In their book, Tuned In, authors Craig Stull, Phil Myers & David Meerman Scott point out

“Of all the causes of tuned-out behavior, the most common we’ve observed is the logical (but incorrect) assumption that, because you’re an expert in a market or industry, you therefore know more than your buyers about how your product can solve their problems.”

In short, you are uniquely unqualified to talk to your customers. You simply don’t think they way they think. Let’s look at some examples of how this plays out in the real world. First a national ad from Chevrolet on YouTube.

The logic for buying the truck? Features, benefits and abstractions. Namely, the frame. It has hydroformed technology and straighter rails. The design helped Chevrolet get segment-leading aerodynamics. Not to mention that height is an exponential function making it four times stronger instead of twice as strong. Probably all very important stuff in the design of the truck. And all stuff buyers could care less about. Chevrolet Vehicle Line Executive GM Gary White is cursed with the knowledge of how to build a stronger frame. Chevrolet would have been better off sticking with the “truck with a backbone” theme at the beginning of the video. That’s what truck buyers want.

Now let’s take a look at this local print ad for a nursery.


The reason to shop at this nursery? According to this ad, the selection and prices. After all, they offer flats of Spring flowers and a cazillion other things, even pottery from around the world. All these items are very important to the owner of the nursery. The owner probably ordered many of these items personally. Each is important to that individual, but not to customers. Most people don’t want to take the time to “Compare Quality & Price With The Big Box Stores.” We want help. That’s something we can’t get at big box stores. The nursery owner is cursed by the knowledge of all the products he has to personally touch every day.

What should you say when you know too much?

Understand that your reasons why customers should buy are not the customers’ reasons. They are unencumbered with the curse of your knowledge. Customers are free to choose their reason to buy. You deal in the complex reality of running a business. So you think and communicate in complex abstract ideas. Customers don’t. Customers just want to buy something for specific reasons.

So the answer is to simplify your communication. Forget what you know and concentrate on what the customer wants. They want a truck with some backbone to project a personal image of toughness. They want to know how to get a green and colorful lawn that looks better than their neighbor’s.

One of my favorite big brands is the U.S. Marine Corps:

The reason to be a Marine? Very simple: pride and exclusivity. Now here’s a local print ad for hospice and home health care:


The message is one of reassurance, personalized with the owners’ picture.

So here’s how to overcome the curse of knowledge: Forget what you know and engage in empathy. Don’t think like a business owner or a marketer. Your customers are buying for their reasons. Those reasons are personal and emotional and have nothing to do with all your personal knowledge. Simplify your message and connect with your customers. If you didn’t know what you know, why would you be buying your product? Answer that question and lift the curse of knowledge.

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