Curse of Knowledge
In 1990, Elizabeth Newton,
a graduate student in psychology at Stanford University, conducted an
experiment to measure knowledge and familiarity. One group “tapped”
popular songs with their fingers, and another group tried to identify
the tunes. When the tappers were asked to predict the number of tunes
that would be correctly named, they consistently overestimated. The
tappers predicted the listeners would have a 50 percent success rate,
but the listeners named only 2.5 percent correctly. That’s a huge gap.
That illustrates what some people call the Curse of Knowledge. Once
we know something – even something as simple as the melody of a song
– it’s difficult to imagine not knowing it. As a result, it can be a
big challenge to get in step with someone else when dealing with that
topic. It’s nearly impossible to teach algebra to someone who doesn’t
know algebra if you don’t remember what it was like not to know algebra.
Curse of Knowledge is a big factor in the world of sales. I recently
shopped for a computer at a store where I had bought electronic equipment
before. Unfortunately, I got stuck with a salesman who assumed that
everyone knew as much about computers as he did. I repeatedly asked
him to simplify his explanations, but he wasn’t capable of seeing things
from a non-tech’s point of view. It was impossible for me suddenly to
gain enough knowledge to understand what he was talking about, and it
was impossible for him to remember what it was like not to know as much
as he knew. The experience was frustrating for both of us, and I eventually
had to find someone else to help me.
The business people in your market have varied ranges of ad knowledge
– from highly informed to neophyte. Like the old saying, “If you’re
treating all of them the same, you’re treating most of them wrong.”
Here are some points to keep in mind:
1. Learn as much as you can. It should be your goal
to know more about advertising in general, more about your specific
advertising product, and more about each one of your clients and prospects
than anyone else in your area. That will give you plenty of reserve
2. Listen carefully to find out how much your prospect knows.
A sales appointment is not a performance. It’s an opportunity to get
in step with your prospect, so you can tailor the conversation to his
or her specific marketing needs – in terms that are clearly understood.
3. Don’t assume that you’re being understood, just because the other
person isn’t saying anything. He or she might be bored, or
might feel unsure in his or her lack of knowledge.
4. Develop a variety of ways to explain advertising concepts.
The good news is that you can prepare explanations and examples in advance.
Some should be basic and some should be advanced. And some can be used
with all levels.
You see, it’s not just what you know about advertising. It’s what you
know about communication.
Copyright 2016 by John Foust. All rights reserved.
John Foust has
conducted training programs for thousands of newspaper advertising professionals.
Many ad departments are using his training videos to save time and get
quick results from in-house training. Email for information: email@example.com.