Information overload

In our everyday life we are bombarded with in­formation – it goes against the way we naturally interprets our surroundings. As a marketing strategy it’s simply bad communication. But there’s a another way…

(I wrote these words sometime in 2008)

Advertisements in the mail box, fast paced TV, interviews never lasting more than 3 minutes, signs and symbols everywhere we go, in­ternet pages, chat sessions, offers to buy this or to do that, and lots of other stuff. We are overloaded with information: the more input, the more we shut off and become cynical. But ad-people, designers and producers respond by feeding us MORE information!

The reason is that they rest in a 300 year old mindset, established and maintained by newspapers: that as much information as possible should be conveyed in as little space as possible.

The latin word omnibus means ”everything for everybody” and that old newspa­per doctrine shows as a desire to impress through a diversity of features mixed in a big bowl of con­fusion. The intention is to show the most pro­ducts and information, so that each one has an ”scatter-gun”-ish opportunity to reach a target audience: ”Look how exciting I am, here You won’t be bored” – see the screenshot from Banana Republic, wanting to sell sweaters – good luck to you trying to find one that fits your preferences. The focusing on features results in everything being emphasized – and therefore nothing really is!

Information Overload: 43 options in one big pile!

The brochures and websites of even big and famous companies cannot be used as an ideal of well de­signed communication – to the contrary! The big­ger the company is, the worse it’s communication usually is – simply because it isn’t capable of ad­ministering and conveying all the information.

I call it featureism.
Featureism is a statement of what the transmit­ter wants to sell, it’s not a guide for the recipient to find what she wants. Featureism is not in­formation, it’s desperation. Featureism is to go against the way humans naturally interprets our surroundings. Featureism is bad communication – and the result is information overload. But there is another way…

Focused information
All communication is basically about saying the right thing to the right one at the right time in the right way. The easiest thing in this equation is the external part, finding the target audience, while the hard thing is to handle the internal part: the trans­mitter: ”me”, ”myself”, ”I”, ”we”, ”us”. The hard part is to shut up. The result, however, is transmitter focus, instead of recipient focus, the result is lost attention and lost market shares.

Knowing that too much information alienates the recipient, focused information is about narrowing the at-one-time information, and customizing it to the recipient. See the picture of featurism versus focused information – the Banana Republic example is a good example of the former – but the internet is literally crammed with bad webshops in that style – while the latter would asking 3-4 simple questions to the user browsing the site: do You like this or this or this? Should the shirt have this or that or these additions? Which of these 4 colours do You want it in? What price are you willing to pay? Show results, cue shopping cart.

To the left, featureism – 16 choices at one time results in confusion. To the right, making 4 thematically grouped choices at a time, results in a decision.

Focused information often use what I call in­formation tunnels. You can see a simple example of parties having very different expectati­ons of a product or a piece of communication. Communication is focused when it’s precisely adjusted to a certain group of recipients. When a transmitter adjusts a certain message to several groups of recipients, and allow the individuel recipient to choose which group she belongs to, the transmitter has created an infor­mation tunnel. See the example below, where a text is published through 3 information tunnels. Using information tunnels effectively, means that one can divide all recipients in groups – but these doesn’t have to be socio- or demographi­cally based. I believe that dividing people by age or income, or voting pattern, is less important. It’s why they interact with You, their intention, that counts!


Imagine the 3 different visitors to a toy company’s website – a business man, customer and a concerned member of a nongovernmental organization.

Businessman:“We want to sell 7000 DytBot-figures(TM) from The Figure­Company during 01/03-11 til – 04/05-11 with 18%+ profit, offering up to 3% rebate for customers signing up for the CustomerCLub ™, so we can send ads to them.”

Consumer: “I also want that robot that can turn it’s arms around and shoots arrows. But I can’t see it here on the website, and there’s too much text and numbers. What happens if I click something random…no, that doesn’t work. I try with typing “red robot that shoots arows” into the search field…. no that didn’t work either – bummer.”

NGO: “Is the DytBot Figure pro­duced without toxic chemi­cals? Under suitable working conditions? Is is safe for chil­dren under 3 years? What’s the producers environmen­tal values and financial sta­tus? I don’t need those fancy pictures and getting rebates stuffed in my face.”

An accepted idea in business communication is ”integrated communication”: that all parts of a company ”speaks the same language”, that communication is stream-lined. Besides this principle being de-facto impossible – maybe even undesirable – to realize, it doesn’t influence focused information: integrated communication deals with the companys communication with, and in relation to, it’s surroundings: what’s to be said. Focused information deals with how it’s to be said. Focused information is therefore not to change the message, but to vary the delivery and expression, depending on whom the recipient is. See the description picture of Information tunnels.

To the left is a diagram of how a certain information theoretically should be customized towards the user.
To the right is practical examples of how a message can be differentiated towards different user groups.

In this case, the recipient’s age or daily-life is of no or little importance, only their intention for reading this: whether they are belonging to A, B or C, My claim is that Whatever we do, we are not divided by sociology, but by our intentions. (although these may show in our demographics) Key to reaching a recipient is not kno­wing her age, but what she wants to do.