Tactic #318 - Simplify your customer's thinking process by doing any calculations for them

Tactic_Simplify your customer's thinking process by doing any calculations for them


People strongly prefer and feel more positive about things that are easy and quick for us to understand. If you want your customer to respond well to information you provide and to feel happy using your service or product then don't make them do calculations themselves. When you are letting your customers know how much of something they are consuming, make sure you also let them know how much they therefore have left rather than leaving them to work it out for themselves. For example, in the case of a subscription with a limit (number of items, amount of GB of data, amount of time, etc.), you can include a calculation so that you can tell your customers: "you have consumed X out of Y, meaning that you have Z left available." Thus the client has nothing to calculate, no mental power to use up, and they receive the information in a simple and clear manner.


  • Cognitive Ease (Khaneman, 2011)
  • Processing Efficacy (Jacoby & Dallas, 1981)

The Research

Cognitive Ease

Cognitive ease or fluency is the measure of how easy it is for our brains to process information. The Cognitive ease associated with something will alter how we feel about it and whether we are motivated to invest our time and effort in it. The Nobel prize-winning Economist Daniel Khahneman explains in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow (2011) that our brains have two modes of thinking: the first that operates automatically and quickly, with little or no effort and no sense of voluntary control, and a second system that pays more conscious attention to information presented, especially in the case of that which demands more cerebral effort such as complex calculations for example.

When cognitive ease diminishes, because the mental effort required is too much or too complex, we engage this second system of “effortful mental activity” and switch to a state of cognitive strain. The Cognitive ease principle reveals that when people have to switch to the second system of thinking, causing cognitive strain, they become more vigilant and suspicious. It results in a decrease in confidence, trust and pleasure involved in completing the mental action. In other words, people are happier and more receptive towards familiar and easily understandable situations in which they feel safer, more confident and at ease.

For example, when shopping during a sale, the way the prices are marked up will greatly affect people’s attitude and interaction with the products (and the likelihood of purchases being made). If the sale prices are easy to understand using percentages (simply “- 50%” for example) or with the new sale prices already calculated for you (“now 20 pounds only” for example), then shopper’s brains will react in an automatic and positive fashion. However, if it’s necessary to work out a complex mental calculation to understand what the offer is (for example, working out what 12% off £27.28 would be) then the brain will switch to the “second system of thought”. This means that we will pay more attention to the calculation and therefore the real benefits of the offer and start questioning whether it is actually a good deal or not, whether you really need another pair of shoes, etc. The more cerebral effort we demand from our customers, the more of a negative and suspicious reaction we will automatically evoke.

The Cognitive ease principle has many applications in marketing. For example, psychological studies have found that shares in companies with easier-to-pronounce names perform better than those with difficult-to-pronounce names. In online marketing, any possible elements that can simplify a website should be used: infographics, intuitive web design, easy-to-read font, and so on.

Processing Efficacy

Processing efficacy is based on the idea that objects differ in the fluency with which they can be processed. Our judgement of something can be dramatically altered by how fluent it seems to process it and we engage more positively with high fluency experiences. Fluent processing can be facilitated by several variables such as repeated exposure to a stimulus, aesthetic attractiveness of the object, expressions that rhyme, and so on. By contrast, low processing efficacy occurs when we find something difficult to interact with or understand and so it requires more cognitive effort and strain, which results in a negative feeling towards it.

For example, several experiments have revealed that people are more likely to react positively towards, and agree with, statements that are easier to read: the lack of cognitive strain involved with comprehending the statement results in an intrinsic positive feeling towards it and simplicity is also translated as beauty in the human mind and we often judge something we perceive to be more beautiful as more positive and truthful.

Processing efficacy has multiple applications in web-marketing, especially with regards to website design: the aesthetic attractiveness, the page speed load time or the ease of interaction of your website are all factors that will affect whether your visitors enjoy using your website and therefore engage and interact with it, complete actions, share it on social media, recommend it, etc.

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