Are You Making These 3 Mistakes In Your Messaging?

Why do potential customers walk away from our stores and websites without buying?

As business leaders, we usually assume it’s our products or our prices that keep people from taking action.

But often, it’s simply that we are confusing the heck out of our potential customers, and they’re going to competitors whose messages they can easily understand.

Human beings are drawn to clarity. They are repelled by confusion.

It’s why we love the movies. If we watched Jason Bourne try to get a girlfriend and a new apartment and a good deal on patio furniture AND discover his true identity and past, that movie would be terrible. Real life is messy, but movies filter out all the clutter and give us a clear, compelling story.

Unfortunately, we don’t think like movie makers in our marketing. When we don’t have a filter, we communicate too much. We communicate the wrong things. We communicate in a way that’s boring. And as a result, we lose customers not because our products miss the mark but because our customers don’t understand why they need them.

Here are the three most common ways that small business confuse (and lose) customers:

Talking about themselves

This is probably the most common thing companies do to confuse their customers. They lead by talking about themselves. Their history, their awards, how long they’ve been doing business in the Tri-Lakes area. Customers don’t understand how the information is relevant to them, and they tune out.


To answer that question, we need to understand a bit of human biology. Every day, you burn calories just sitting around. This resting metabolic rate, as it’s called, is what keeps all your body’s systems up and running. Your brain is the biggest calorie hog, burning through 11 calories a minute — 20% of your resting metabolic rate.

Your brain’s primary job is keeping you alive, so it doesn’t want to burn up too many calories. It wants to conserve them.

So when our brains are bombarded with information that isn’t relevant to our survival, it tunes it out. It doesn’t want to use up the calories considering something that isn’t going to help us survive and thrive.

In other words: if you are confusing, people are designed, by God, not to listen to you.

So when you start talking about your company by saying your grandfather started it 50 years ago, what is your customer’s brain doing? It’s burning calories trying to figure it how this helps them survive and thrive. And once it determines that this information is irrelevant to their survival, it tunes it out to conserve calories.

If we don’t speak in terms that help our customers survive and thrive, our brains just aren’t wired to pay attention.

Trying to communicate too much

The sooner you understand this, the better off you’ll be:

Human beings do not buy the best products and services. They buy the ones that they can understand the fastest.

But every business owner tends to make their own products and services more complicated than they need to be.

That’s because we all have what Lee LeFever calls “the curse of knowledge.” We are so close to the nitty-gritty details of our products that we can’t “zoom out” enough to think about how our customers might encounter them for the first time.

We are so close to the nitty-gritty details of our products that we can’t “zoom out” enough to think about how our customers might encounter them for the first time.

In other words, we know too much, and that knowledge does two things: first, it causes us to make assumptions in our marketing. We never spot the language and terminology that confuse our customers because those things are second-nature to us.

Second, it causes us to give customers too much information too soon. Customers get overwhelmed and tap out. This has been proven, by the way. In a 2000 study, two researchers put out jars of jam at a grocery store. Some shoppers chose from six different kinds of jam. Other shoppers chose from 24 varieties.

Here’s what happened. A measly 3% of those who had 24 choices ended up making a purchase, while nearly a third of people bought when there were only six jams to choose from.

The upshot for us? When we communicate to our customers, we need to keep it simple. Trying to communicate too much ends up paralyzing our customers. They may forgo buying altogether or find a competitor with a simpler pitch.

Failing to open any “loops”

Your brain is hardwired to pay attention to what we call “open loops.” This is known as the Zeigarnik effect, and the idea is that we pay closer attention to those things which aren’t completed. Quite simply, our brain holds onto them because it wants a resolution.

Our lives are full of open loops. Hunger opens a loop, and a sandwich closes it. Cold opens a loop, and a warm fire closes it. Try humming “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” without singing the final note. Annoying, right? That’s your brain trying to close an open loop.

When we don’t open loops in our customer’s minds, they have no motivation to engage us. There is no tension that demands resolution. As a result, they don’t understand why what we’re offering matters to them.

Try humming “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” without singing the final note. Annoying, right? That’s your brain trying to close an open loop.

To ensure you don’t confuse customers, you need to open these loops.

Domino’s did this well. They’d earned themselves a reputation for bad-tasting pizza, and their company was faltering as a result. Their CEO, Patrick Doyle, went on the air in a multi-million dollar campaign and said, “I know you have a problem. Your problem is that our pizza tastes terrible.”

That’s a pretty bold thing to do. Yet, what does it do in your brain when the CEO of a company says, “I know that you think our pizza tastes terrible.”? You pay attention to that commercial, because you want to know if they’ve fixed it. That’s the open loop.

To close the loop, you’ve got to the buy the pizza and see if it’s better. That resolves the question he opened up in your brain.

In their messaging, most companies fail to open up these kind of loops that can only be closed by inquiring or purchasing. As a result, customers find us forgettable and uncompelling, and they simply move on.

Does your marketing do anything I describe on this list? If so, chances are, you are confusing and losing customers. If your products are strong but your business isn’t growing, see if you can spot and resolve these missteps in your marketing. With a few tweaks, you’ll communicate in such a way that connects with prospects and generates more sales.

Want to Fix Your Confusing Marketing? We’ll Help.

If you’re doing anything on this list, come to a StoryBrand Live Workshop. We’ll help you eliminate the clutter from your marketing, communicate clearly, and dramatically grow your business.


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