Cognitive Load Theory

🤔 Did you know…

In 2007, Dropbox launched with a simple idea: simplify data storage.

But as they grew they started adding more and more features–photo sharing and even emailing. Things got messy.

Eventually Dropbox did a *major* U-turn, streamlining their services. Today they’re worth $8.3 billion.

Why are we telling you this? Because more isn’t always better.

This post is sponsored by Senja and ❤️

Imagine this…

It’s time to renew your health insurance.


Determined to get a good deal, you book an online video meeting with your insurance provider to discuss options.

The conversation starts off as expected. The sales rep asks you a few questions about your medical history… yada yada yada.

“OK”, the sales rep says. “Based on your situation, there are 3 plans that would be a good fit for you. Each one is a bit different so let me walk you through them.”

They open a slide presentation. Suddenly it’s like they’re speaking a foreign language.

They’re using medical jargon you’ve never heard of and reading the fine print of each plan.

Each slide is covered in text and includes complex graphs or tables.

You try to follow along, but there’s just too much to process.

To make matters worse, there’s an animated logo at the bottom of each slide that keeps bouncing around and distracting you.

When it’s time to make a decision, you freeze.

A whole minute passes before you finally respond. “Ummm. I’m not sure. I guess the last one sounds good.”

Immediately after the call ends, it hits you—you might have chosen the wrong plan.

Why did you commit to a plan without feeling confident?

In today’s edition of Why We Buy 🧠 we’ll explore Cognitive Load—why we make subpar decisions when we’re overloaded with information.

Let’s get into it…

The Psychology of Cognitive Load Theory 🧠

“Information-overload” is a real thing.

(And it’s something you should care about if you’re a smart marketer.)

In the 1980s, John Sweller developed Cognitive Load Theory while studying problem-solving in learners.

Sweller discovered that when people are learning about a new topic and are overloaded with sensory information, they forget key information and make suboptimal choices.

Cognitive load is like your brain’s bandwidth. And it’s *serious* business–Forbes said cognitive load could be “the most important employee performance metric for the next 10 years”.

Why does this matter to marketers?

Because *any* the information you send your potential buyers is adding to their cognitive load. Add too much? You’ll lose them completely.

How To Apply This 🤑

Alright, so how can we apply this right now to sell more?

Website design

*Chunk* the choice architecture

We spoke about LEGO recently.

LEGO has a massive catalog of products. While choice can be a good thing—since it means there’s something for everyone—too much choice overwhelms buyers.

To combat that, LEGO organizes their products by ‘chunking’ similar sets together based on specific themes..

If you’re a Batman lover, you probably want Batman LEGO. Simple.

User experience specialists call this “information chunking” and it makes searching LEGO’s website much easier.

What’s a better buying experience?

A – Sifting through reams of LEGO collections to find the one you want.

B – Picking your theme and finding your faves in minutes.

The answer is B.


Make complex topics, simple

The diet industry has always been *weirdly* complex—calorie counting, fasting, tracking macros. It feels impossible to navigate.

In 1961, Jean Nidetch started a support group for women trying to lose weight. She named it WeightWatchers.

Nidetch knew information overload made weight loss daunting (so people didn’t commit). So they rewrote the rule book with their pioneering points system.

No calorie counting, no complicated systems, no elaborate recipes. Just stick to your daily points and lose weight.

Simplicity worked. WeightWatchers went on to become a $225 million brand backed by Oprah.

Use of icons

Reduce the mental effort by adding imagery

According to research, images are processed 60,000 times faster in the brain than text.

(We had to take a double-take on that stat too).

You can help buyers process more complex information, like specific product features, by accompanying technical specifications with simple images.

GoPro gets it.

Those little icons above each feature helps their potential buyers process information quicker–meaning they are less likely to suffer from cognitive overload.

Clever, huh?

The Short of It 💥

Overloading potential buyers with too much information is the fastest way to lose them. Smart marketers work hard to make their products easy to shop for and easy to understand.

Remember: simple sells.

Until next time, happy selling.

🐦 Your Brainy Tweetable

Buyers are suffering from information-overload.

Don’t forget that when writing your marketing message, people only have so much brain bandwidth.

When in doubt? Remember: Simple messages stick.

Tweet this now >



Wanna really get inside your buyer’s head?

When you’re ready, there are a few ways we can help:

Written By Katelyn

Katelyn Bourgoin is the CEO of Customer Camp, a 4X founder, and a cheese lover. She lives by a simple mantra: whoever gets closer to the customer wins.

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You're in!