The curse of knowledge not only impacts how we communicate daily, but also effects how digital marketers deliver their work and approach their clients. It is a concept that is rarely spoken about, but is it something we should be more aware of? In this article, we will delve into the origins of the idea, real-life situations it impacts, and how we can adapt our communication skills for the better.
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 concept that we all have insider information or
knowledge about things that others do not, but we tend to assume they do.
Essentially, when we are delivering information on any given
topic, either in written text or verbally, we instinctively believe the person
receiving the information already has knowledge of this topic. Often, they do
not have any knowledge at all. This creates confusion for both parties and the
critical information we are 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 have 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 are tapping, we have the song playing in our
head but, of course, the person in front of us does not. The same thing happens
when we are communicating our skills to someone without our skill set. If we
assume they are on the same wavelength from the off, we’ll be met with blank
looks every time.
HOW THE CURSE AFFECTS COMMUNICATING WITH CUSTOMERS
BLOG CONTENT FOR CUSTOMERS
If you work in an agency, it is more than likely that in the
initial stages you have very little knowledge of your clients’ target
audiences. So, if you are producing content for them, you may well be the ideal
person for the job as you have no previous knowledge. All your views are impartial,
and 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. However, as a content
writer this was great for content marketing
campaigns for their products and services. I 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 – keyword
research. But what happens if you have previous knowledge of the industry, you
are finding keywords for? If you are a furniture expert, it may be harder to
put yourselves in the shoes of a first-time sofa buyer and understand the
informational search terms they would use. For example: ‘How do I clean my
sofa’, ‘why buy a leather sofa’, ‘how do I choose a sofa style’.
These keywords are as important as the returning customers
who seek buyer-intent keywords like ‘three-seater leather sofa’ or ‘navy
upholstered sofa’. These commercially focused are very important for one set of
returning customers, but the informational queries will ensure your business is
gaining new customers.
You have a drilled list of contacts to outreach your content
to. You are 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 is imperative those emails are not too jargony. If you have a glow in
the dark mug for camping, do not talk about its new technology, instead explain
how this will significantly benefit the user.
You may go for: ‘Gone are the days of trying to find your
mug of cocoa or soup in the dark, this product takes away all the hassle.’ The
email recipient then quickly understands the value to potential customers
instead of being lost in jargon and technology specs.
HOW THE CURSE AFFECTS COMMUNICATION WITH CLIENTS AND PEERS
SPEAKING TO A POTENTIAL LEAD
If we are 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 and KPIs; 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 are 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?
Most digital marketers will have had calls where their
knowledge has got the better of them. I remember speaking through a keyword
research with a new client a client and realising I was going into a lot more
granular detail than required. Now, before a call with a new client, I work out
what they are likely to know and adapt my explaining and questioning during the
SPEAKING WITH YOUR PEERS
Whether you are in-house or agency, the team you work with
is not likely to know as much as you in your specialist area. If you are 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 may even be an argument that as humans we naturally
like to show off our skill sets, particularly at work. It could be the case
that instead of simplifying how we speak to our peers when explaining a
detailed topic, we may think it is actually an opportunity to parade our skill
set. Of course, this is not beneficial or efficient. We need to understand our peer’s
knowledge of our specialist subject and adapt our communications off the back
I have only tried my hand at teaching a few years ago now,
but it is 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 the classes’ 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 jargon to blank faces.
THE IMPORTANCE OF USER INTENT AND KNOWING YOUR AUDIENCE
UNDERSTANDING USER INTENT
Everything I have 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 is verbal or written communication, if you have
never met your audience before then it is important you use all the tools you
can access to create a persona around them. Potentially ask all the questions
Who am I communicating with (is the key target
audience experienced in the industry?)?
What is their previous experience of what I am
offering (whether someone reading your blog post or a peer asking for digital
What information do I have that is unnecessary
and hard to understand for my target audience? (Is it worth mentioning the
technical specifications of a new product to prospective journalists? Probably
These are just a snapshot of the 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 is one of the greatest clichés but
put yourself in their shoes.
For example, you are 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
beyond the norm. However, your end goal is to make people aware of this
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 and money will be lost.
It’s not rocket science, but if you are a rocket scientist
then make sure you simplify what you say when explaining your work to the