2 MIN READ
2018 has been an eventful year, and with Brexit uncertainty ahead, many businesses are having to work harder than ever to stay competitive.
My Christmas gift to you is to offer some thoughts on how to make things just a little easier on yourself, and maybe make it a little more possible to take a well deserved rest this holiday.
You may have heard of the principle of ‘cognitive ease’. This concept is discussed at length by Nobel Prize winner Danny Kahneman in his renowned bestselling book Thinking, Fast and Slow.
When we are launching new products, events or initiatives, there’s usually a lot of information that needs to be communicated to the target audience. In a busy world, we’re competing against a lot of noise to get our information out there, and have it received well.
This simple principle can help you in designing press releases, marketing and social media campaigns for maximum uptake with minimum stress.
Cognitive ease is when our most basic, instinctive operating system receives new information which feels palatable, acceptable and familiar. Unfamiliarity, complexity and effort all trigger our brains to switch into a more interrogative mode—and that can result in your audience simply turning off.
Make It Easy
For an initially positive response, choosing words, fonts and a colour palette that are easy to pronounce, assimilate and understand allows your audience to relax into a receptive frame of mind.
Even more effective is repetition. Kahneman describes an experiment based on social psychologist Robert Zajonc’s ‘mere exposure effect’, in which various foreign words were repeatedly (and without explanation) published on the front page of a college newspaper over a period of months. At the end of the campaign, when the newspaper readership was polled on the perceived ‘good’ or ‘bad’ qualities of these foreign words, those which appeared more frequently were rated much more favourably than those shown only once or twice.
This apparently bizarre response is explained by our historical biological conditioning to be wary of novel events. It’s not our ‘conscious experience of familiarity’, but what we perceive at a base level.
Novelty that works
You may have new or challenging ideas to communicate, and you’re certainly looking for audience engagement and response—but using familiarity and safety to reach out doesn’t mean killing creativity. In a recent Freakonomics podcast, Tessa Amabile, a psychologist and a professor emerita at the Harvard Business School, describes creativity as “essentially, novelty that works. It has to be somehow feasible, workable, valuable, appropriate to a goal.”
So there’s something about even the newest and most radical idea that has to have a hook in our consciousness; something which resonates, makes itself palatable and understandable. Something just a little familiar.
The world-renowned graphic designer Michael Bierut takes up this idea in the podcast, and expands on it, referencing a 20th century designer, Raymond Loewy, who coined the credo:
MAYA: Most Advanced Yet Acceptable… it was based on his theory that everyone has these two impulses. And one is the desire for regularity and comfort, and the other one is the quest for surprise and novelty, right? If you have too much regularity and comfort, you get bored. If you get too much surprise and novelty, you get overexcited, wired and distracted and exhausted. It’s the idea that it’s novelty with a purpose.
So when you’re planning your next communication, remember that good things come in easy-to-open packages: whatever’s in the box, get the wrapping right!