A subject which is grossly overlooked, something that not only affects digital marketers deliverable work or a client’s organic performance, but also impacts how we communicate on a daily basis. The curse of knowledge is not spoken about enough, so here’s why it’s imperative to look into and how it may impact you.
So, what is the curse of knowledge?
A concept dabbled with for many years, but it was Chip and Dan Heath’s explanation of the idea in Made to Stick which resonated with me. The book explained the idea that we all have insider information or knowledge about something that others do not.
What is meant by this is that when we’re delivering information, either in the form of written text or verbally, we instinctively believe the person receiving the information is also in the know. More often than not, they’re not. This creates confusion and the critical thing we’re trying to get across is entirely not received.
Why tapping out a song sounds like nonsense to others
The best example of the ‘curse of knowledge’ is the tappers and listeners exercise. We’ve all tried to tap out our new favourite song using just our fingers, but, shockingly, the people hearing this very rarely pick up the tune. This is because that when we’re tapping, we have the song playing in our head, the person in front of us does not. The same thing happens when we’re communicating our skills to someone without our skill set. We’re met with blank looks every time.
How the curse affects communicating with customers
Blog content for customers
If you work in an agency, it’s more than likely that in the initial stages you have very little knowledge of your clients’ target audiences. So, if you’re producing content for them, you may well be the ideal person for the job as you have no previous knowledge or impartial views. Your mind is a blank canvas.
For instance, Forex Trading was never high on my list of skills, let alone having any basic knowledge of it. But this was great for marketing purposes. We wrote a series of blog posts that targeted a broad audience, high up in the purchase funnel that essentially just wanted to know how forex trading worked. Had I had ten years of forex trading experience, my written content may have explicitly targeted to the seasoned spread betters, and in turn, narrowing my target audience.
Keyword Research for customer’s and client’s benefit
One of the most satisfying parts of my job is finding a relevant, targeted set of keywords for any of my clients. But what happens if you have previous knowledge of the industry you’re finding keywords for? For instance, if you have worked with furniture clients all your life and you’re finding keywords for a furniture e-commerce brand, you may fall into product buying-specific keywords
It is all about finding those search queries for both knowledgeable users and those first discovering your website. ‘How do I clean my sofa’, ‘why buy a leather sofa’, ‘how do I choose a sofa style’; these search queries are as important than the ‘best corner sofas in brown leather’. Yes, the latter I a search query with a buying intent, but the former will make sure your business is gaining new customers.
So, you have a drilled list of contacts to outreach your content to. You’re a niche brand in a niche industry and you want to let people know about your fantastic new product through emailing potential bloggers and news sites. It’s imperative those emails are not too jargony. If you have a glow in the dark mug for camping, don’t talk about its new technology, instead, explain how this will significantly benefit the user.
You may go for: ‘Gone are the days of finding your mug of cocoa or soup in the dark, this product takes away all the hassle.’ The receiver of the email will then make a judgement call on whether this is ground-breaking enough to write about. If they agree to the perfect, you can then send them detailed press release of all your mug knowledge until your heart’s content.
How the curse affects communication with clients and peers
Speaking to a potential lead
If we’re speaking to a potential client, we don’t bombard them with SEO technical jargon even though at times these skills may be on the tip of our tongue. Instead, they want to know how your expertise will affect their business goals; not the ins and outs of your expertise.
Speaking to clients
Communicating verbally has the same principles as the written word. The curse of knowledge can have a profound effect on speaking with clients. You’re a digital marketer who’s built up a substantial knowledge of the industry, but will a client understand anything you’re saying when first speaking through your SEO strategy?
I’ve had calls when content marketing jargon starts to seep out on the phone, and, quite rightly, it’s invariably met with silence and then a ‘hmmmm… sorry, could you explain that again, please? It’s awkward, there’s no doubt and a time waster. Instead, before the call, understand what they are likely to know then adapt your explaining and questioning during the call.
Speaking with your peers
Whether you’re in-house or agency, the team you work with is not likely to know as much as you in your specialist area. If you’re a year into content marketing and you’re next to a paid media specialist with three years’ experience, it’s likely they’ll need things explaining from you despite their longer industry experiences.
There’s no doubt that sometimes it comes down to vanity. Instead of helping our peers, we may think it’s an opportunity to parade our skill set. This is in no way beneficial. Communicating with your peers comes down to mutual respect and the way you speak with each other; condescending or patronising them with your slightly greater knowledge is not best practice.
How the curse of knowledge impacts teaching methods
I’ve only tried my hand at teaching for the first time recently, but it’s something that has taught me so much about communication, and particularly the curse of knowledge. My first presentation was a mess; I was attempting to explain everything I knew in two hours. This is a) not possible, and b) not the point of teaching.
If I had put myself in their shoes – a mixed group with relatively little digital marketing knowledge – then I would have done things very differently. Making sure they understood one area of content marketing with the help of engaging group tasks would have been much more efficient than me reeling off things to blank faces.
The importance of user intent and knowing your audience
Understanding user intent
Everything I’ve spoken about really comes down to thinking about your audience before engaging with them and understanding their intent. This both means to have a grasp of their knowledge of a subject as well as what they want to know about it.
Whether it’s verbal or written communication, if you have never met your audience before then it’s important you use all the tools you can access to create a persona around them. Potentially ask all of the questions below:
- Who am I communicating with (is the key target audience experienced in the industry?)?
- What is their previous experience of what I’m offering (whether someone reading your blog post or a peer asking for digital marketing advice)?
- What information do I have that’s unnecessary and hard to understand for my target audience? (Is it worth mentioning the technical specifications of a new product to prospective journalists? Probably not)
These are just a snapshot of questions you need to answer, the more you think about them, the more they will start to expand.
Lift the curse by creating personas
How to combat this and lift the curse of knowledge upon you? Create personas for your target users. It’s one of the greatest clichés, but put yourself in their shoes.
For example, you’re writing a blog for your new client – a small online wine business based in the UK. You have years of wine experience, both researching and tasting, home and abroad. A knowledge built up that is far above the norm. However, your end goal is to make people aware of this British-produced wine.
Create the persona of your core target audience:
- 35-year-old office worker
- Lived in Britain his whole life
- Likes to drink wine but bored of the same stuff
Once you have this persona in your head, you’ll write for Andrew, you’ll no longer write from the point of view of someone with above average knowledge of wine. Your initial title before thinking about the target persona might have been ‘how the age of grape affects its dryness’. This is great for wine enthusiasts but what about Andrew.
How about ‘British Wine: Same Quality as European, But Half the Price’. If this is true, which I have to be honest I don’t know, then this will resonate with a much broader audience than the initial title.
Final word on lifting the curse of knowledge
Always understand your audience. Never let the curse of knowledge rear its ugly head. If you do, there will be heaps of confused faces and unproductive dialogues – either the written word or verbally. Time will be wasted, money will be lost, and there will be lots of sad faces.
It’s not rocket science, it’s more how rocket scientists should communicate with us lesser individuals.