Is your (potential) customer at risk for Fear of Missing Information (FOMI)?

By Sam Goos(braingineers) AND Lieven Swinnen (Energiedirect)

By Sam Goos (Research Lead at Braingineers) & Lieven Swinnen (Manager Online Channels at Energiedirect.nl)

Providing too much information on your website might lead to Fear of Missing Information (FOMI). FOMI about your product or service might lead to increased risk perception, which decreases the preferability of your product or service. How do you perform when it comes to this conversion killer? Energiedirect.nl showed us how they deal with FOMI and what you can learn from that as a (Digital) Marketer, CRO specialist or Product Owner.

Some of us like to see ourselves as risk takers. Adrenaline junkies. People who like to be living on the edge. Although there are quite some exemplary risk seekers – like this guy, who climbed Mount Everest in nothing more than his shorts – psychological research has shown that the average human doesn’t like risk. On the contrary: our brain is hardwired to hate risk, and prefers zero-risk choices compared to low-risk choices, even if the overall reduction of risk is greater in the latter.¹ 

Most Digital Marketers or Product Owners try to take perceived risk away by providing information to their customers, thinking that giving more info results in less risk perception. But might there also be something like too much information? Before we dive into what this can mean for you and your business, let’s find out more about our fragile relationship with risky choices.  

The evolution of your risk-hating brain
Evolutionary theories account for our risk-hating brain by something that is best understood as ‘better safe than sorry’. If an option is accompanied with risk, we better not take it: the danger almost always outdoes the potential win. Envision being one of your far ancestors from 100.000 years ago (looking pretty awesome, right?), and you’re searching for some food. Now imagine that you see some fresh-looking berries, ready to be taken and eaten. But next to the berries, there is something that could be an innocent branch that has fallen from a tree OR could be a big, scary, lethal snake. Would you still take the fruit?

Unless you’re one of those brave heroes (or you’re really, really hungry or just love a gamble), you probably won’t take the risk. Because the chance of being bitten by the snake is not worth taking, no matter how tasty the fruit may look. Better regret that you couldn’t eat the food, than being dead. And because the risk-taker is more likely to die than the risk-avoider, humans have evolved to be risk avoidant.

Risks on your website
Although the world wide web typically isn’t the place where you’d encounter dangerous snakes that could kill you, browsing a website and considering a buy something comes with quite some risk. ‘Is this the best product there is? Is this company to be trusted? Am I looking at the best price? What if I don’t like the product?’ These questions are probably not new to you, but maybe you are struggling with how to deal with risk perceiving customers – how do you comfort them?

Yes, you know you can be trusted, but you need to get that across to the person on the other side as well: your (potential) customer. The single most important thing you can do is provide information. Tell the customer about your product, how it is made, what features it has. Bring comfort with telling that it can be returned, free of charge. If your research provides you insights that there still is too much perceived risk, just provide more info– but wait!

Too much information leads to Fear Of Missing Information (FOMI)
There is something like too much information. We don’t have the time nor motivation to read for hours and hours about a product or service. If the amount of information exceeds the span one wants to spend in absorbing information.

‘There’s apparently a lot more information I need to see before I’m sure about buying this product, but I don’t feel like reading it all now. I’ll do it later.’ This is how FOMI can be a real conversion killer.

In this case the amount of information might even negatively impact the perceived risk to buy. One might think that s/he needs to read more about your product or service to eliminate all the risk, but simply doesn’t want to. Because there is more information available, the fear of missing crucial information arises and one might think s/he isn’t optimally informed to make a decision. 

How Energiedirect.nl deals with FOMI
Four times Website of the Year in the Netherlands in the category of energy suppliers and Braingineers client, Energiedirect.nl, tries to be aware of FOMI. Based on insights from different sources of research, including neuro-based-research from Braingineers, they learned that their customers like having information about the services Energiedirect.nl provides, but that FOMI can lead to increased risk perception. 

In order to reduce FOMI, Energiedirect.nl applies some strategies to optimally provide customers with required information without overloading them with too much.

Lieven Swinnen, Manager Online Channels at Energiedirect.nl, wants to share some key take-aways:

“We did targeted research with Braingineers to see what is the right way to inform our visitor and avoid FOMI for our visitor. We learned that people feel informed when they see the information is available and is not hidden in deeper layers of the website, and that this builds trust without creating higher levels of attention. We already stopped using ‘read more’-type of solutions and provide more inpage interactions. This also matches our brand promise, which is to keep things simple.

Our next hypothesis was that we should reduce content on the first landing and incorporate information during the buying journey to improve conversion. This would reduce the level of attention needed and improve engagement.

The FOMI insights suggest another approach: more well structured content on the first landing will reduce the FOMI effect and therefore enhance trust. Although we see this content isn’t really read carefully, it works on a subconscious level: people perceive enough (but not too much) information is available, which is enough to reduce FOMI. We are now formulating new CRO tests for next year to test these hypotheses and will keep looking for the absolute sweet spot of just enough information.”

Neuro usability research
So, we have learned that our risk-hating brains need information to make choices, but that providing too much information can lead to Fear of Missing Information (FOMI). Energiedirect.nl handles it by offering well structured content on the first landing and more inpage interactions. 

Aren’t you sure whether your online experience  provides too little, too much, or just enough information about your product or service? By measuring attention levels in the brain, we are able to determine the sweet spot – and that’s where the real berries can be found! 

Feel free to have a chat with us.

Sources:

Crosby, D. (2016). The Laws of Wealth: Psychology and the secret to investing success. Harriman House Limited.

Contact us

Johan Huizingalaan 763A
1066 VH Amsterdam
The Netherlands

Subscribe for updates & free resources