The Power of an Irrelevant Option

What if you could have significantly more control of the choices other people make?

Think about your life, your work, your business, your relationships. People make choices all the time that affect you, and for the most part, you have absolutely no control over those choices.

However, you often have the power to control the choices that people consider. Maybe you’re suggesting a few movies to your friends for Friday night. Or you’re creating a pricing scheme for your small business (this idea works best with choices that you give your customers).

Dan Ariely of the brilliant Predictably Irrational book and blog created a study where he offered a group of people some choices regarding a magazine subscription. In the first study, he gave them two choices: buy the online version or buy the paper version plus the online version.

Obviously if you’re selling the magazine, you want people to buy the online + print version. But given those two choices, people overwhelming choose the cheaper option.

Now let’s look at what happened when Ariely gave people a third option…the irrelevant choice of just the print version for the same price as the online + print option.

Now everybody wants the version that you want them to want. What’s the difference?

The difference is that irrelevant option. Given the fact that you could get online + print for $125, why would you buy the print-only version for the same price? That question creates a psychological paradox that convinces people to go with the more expensive option. Because once you add that print only version, it’s clear to the consumer that they’re getting a great deal. Online ($59) plus print ($125) should cost them $184. But it doesn’t. You’re offering it to them for $125, effectively saving them $59. Who in their right mind would ignore such a great deal?

This weekend, I’d love for some of you to try out this method of adding an irrelevant option to the choices you give people. So instead of giving someone two similar options–dinner at an Italian restaurant or a Greek restaurant, say–throw in a third option that will make one of those choices irrelevant. Say if you really want to eat Greek food:

  1. Italian restaurant
  2. Greek restaurant
  3. Greek restaurant plus you’ll drive there

By enhancing the Greek option, the person should look less favorably on both the plain Greek option and the Italian option. Thus you’ll get that deluxe gyro you’ve been craving.

Let me know if you give this a try. Have a great weekend!