Researchers at University of Michigan used something called “Gricean Norms” to explore this. Let’s say you contract with me for a big project and I tell you the project will be completed in one year. Then the researchers swoop in and ask you two questions: “What’s the soonest date you think Bruce will complete the project” and “What’s the latest date you think Bruce will get it done?”
In the actual study, the average span between soonest and latest was 140 days.
Now, instead of giving you an estimate of one year, I say “fifty-two weeks.” In this case, the average span was 84 days. My using weeks as the unit of measurement increased your trust in my estimate. The researchers say that if I’d told you “366 days,” the trust would have been even greater.
The implication for retailers is to use finely-grained units. But the researchers also say this works best when the entire conversation doesn’t lead the consumer to believe the retailer is violating Gricean Norms.
These norms were stated by Herbert Paul Grice, a philosopher of language who, in his later years, taught at University of California-Berkeley. Here’s my version of the norms for retailers:
- Relevance. The retailer gives information helpful to the consumer in making purchase decisions.
- Parsimony. The retailer limits the amount and pace of information to fit the needs of the consumer.
- Truthfulness. The retailer has good evidence for claims that are made.
- Clarity. The retailer uses unambiguous words and sequences the presentation for understanding.
Again, this refers to the entire retailer-consumer conversation, and ads are a part of that conversation. This is where snags often occur. Some distrust comes from genuine misunderstanding. Researchers at University of Texas at Austin concluded that the average shopper has only about 65% accuracy when recalling what a printed ad actually says.
So that your information is trusted, give the shopper evidence you’re adhering to Gricean Norms.
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