Why knowing too much is killing your sales, and how to fix it.

Do your brand communications suffer from your “curse of knowledge”?

Have you ever visited a website or watched an ad and thought to yourself, “I have no idea what this business sells,”? If so, whoever wrote that copy had likely fallen victim to the curse of knowledge. It’s when a business speaks in a way that people don’t understand.

Why? Because they have been in the industry for such a long time that they think that their customers understand know what they know… but customers don’t. It’s quite likely that you suffer from the “curse of knowledge” too. And it costs you sales.

In the written word, the curse of knowledge is a particular problem. Unlike in face-to-face communication, the reader can’t give spontaneous feedback by asking questions or through facial expression, which show you they don’t understand.

This phenomenon was researched by a psychology graduate from Stanford University in 1990. In her study, she assigned people two roles. The first group, the “tappers” were asked either to tap the rhythm of a well-known tune on a table. The second group, the “listeners” were tasked with naming the song.

Before the experiment started, the tappers were asked to predict the number of songs that would be correctly identified by the listeners. They predicted 50%. In fact, only 3 out of 120 tunes were correctly identified. Just 2.5%. So why this differential?

Your customers don’t want you to be clever, they want you to be CLEAR

When we know something, it’s incredibly challenging to put ourselves into the shoes of those who don’t. Our knowledge has literally “cursed” us. You can’t “un-know” what you know.

In the words of Rob Balon, CEO of Balon Research Group “You have to keep in mind while you may have abundant knowledge of your product and your brand, your target doesn’t. Moreover, they probably don’t care.”

Ways to defeat the curse of knowledge

1. Your first line of defence is to be aware of it.

The more aware you are, the less likely you are to fall victim to it.

2. Don’t assume your customer knows what you know. 

Customers don’t know everything you know. It’s the reason they need you. So, keep your language and your words simple and break down your information into bite-sized chunks. Take the time to rid your copy of jargon and explain the necessary detail, your customers and your bottom-line will thank you.

3. Knowing your audience is essential.

If you know that you have a highly educated audience, you may be able to use more industry language than the rest of us – but still, keep it in check. The easier it is to read, the more your audience will thank you.

4. Focus on the customers’ problem and the fact that you can solve it.

If you are an electrician, I need to know that you can make my electrics work, I don’t want (or need) to know which laws you need to comply with, or which superior fusebox you are using. I want to know that it will work and it will be safe.

5. Don’t try and be smart, often we think that customers will be impressed by our intellect. 

The truth is they will probably be confused… and confused customers don’t buy. Your job as a marketer is to be clear, not clever.

6. Ask the opinion of your customers. 

Show customers your marketing collateral, ask them if they understand it. If the reader takes more than three to five seconds to be able to tell you what you do and how you can add value to their lives, then you’ve probably missed the mark. Simplify your message and try again.

7. Tell stories. 

Facts and figures are quite simply hard for our brains to digest. When we see facts and figures, we check out quickly and don’t remember the information later. Seeing a 5-star review at a restaurant is one thing. Hearing a story about the wow moment when the dressed lobster arrived at the table, and beaming smile of the wife set across the table… that’s more potent.


The curse of knowledge is a fact of life. Be aware of it. Attempt to put yourself in your readers’ shoes, and you can defeat it. It takes practice, patience, and in honesty, it probably takes an outside opinion.

Ultimately your goal is to help people understand. So, in business being clear, beats being clever every time. Your customers and your bottom line will thank you for it.


Unsure if the “curse of knowledge” is confusing your customers? Book a free consultation today.

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