90% of Content Marketers Suffer From 'The Curse' & How to Remedy It

  |  September 20, 2013   |  Comments

The 'curse of knowledge' hinders the ability to communicate. Bryan Eisenberg teaches content marketers how to remedy the curse and take advantage of not being inside the bottle.

When it comes to stuff in which you have a huge personal investment (your kids, your homes, your businesses), you risk losing your objectivity. Hey, it's a human thing. Too much knowledge about your company and what you offer leads you to answer questions nobody is asking. When you're inside the bottle, it's hard to read the label. But that's also when you risk pushing your own interests at the expense of your customers' interests. This will often lead you to answer questions in your content marketing and advertising that no one is actually asking.

You are uniquely unqualified to write about your business. Seriously! You know way TOO much about your business compared to your customers. You are suffering from the curse of knowledge. We see this in every business we have ever consulted with. There are things you assume other people know because already know it.


Curse of Knowledge was a central theme of Chip and Dan Heath’s must-read book Made to Stick.

"Lots of research in economics and psychology shows that when we know something, it becomes hard for us to imagine not knowing it. As a result, we become lousy communicators. Think of a lawyer who can’t give you a straight, comprehensible answer to a legal question. His vast knowledge and experience renders him unable to fathom how little you know. So when he talks to you, he talks in abstractions that you can’t follow. And we’re all like the lawyer in our own domain of expertise.

Here’s the great cruelty of the Curse of Knowledge: The better we get at generating great ideas—new insights and novel solutions—in our field of expertise, the more unnatural it becomes for us to communicate those ideas clearly. That’s why knowledge is a curse."

I know you are saying; OK, Bryan I am cursed, so what do I do? It’s actually sort of simple if you have followed my last couple of columns on how complex sales helps drive the persona creation process and you have started to use complexograms. The next step in the process is to leverage a model of self disclosure developed in the 1960s by Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham called the Johari Window.

The Johari Window describes the relationships of known and unknown information in human interaction. A four-paned "window" divides personal awareness into four types: open, unknown, blind, and hidden. The lines dividing the four panes move as an interaction progresses to reflect the changes in the relationship.

When we apply the Johari Window to uncovery, think of the business as "self" (the top of the window) and the customers as "others” (the left hand side of the window). Let's describe the relationships:


The open quadrant represents information mutually known between two people or sets of people. For example, you know one another's names. And if you explored some of the other person's Web site, you know some of what she expresses about herself. The knowledge this window represents can include not only factual information but also feelings, motives, behaviors, wants, needs, and desires... any information describing who the person is.

When you first meet a new person, the size of this quadrant is not large, as there's been little time to exchange information. As the process of getting to know one another continues, the dividing line moves down or to the right, placing more information into the open window.

The unknown quadrant represents information that's mutually unknown. The other person may disclose a dream he had. As you both attempt to understand its significance, a new awareness, unknown to both of you before the conversation took place, might emerge.

In this realm, true discovery is possible. I won't say it's impossible to discover something neither the business nor its customers know about the exchange, but I do suggest it's unlikely. Pursuing this area is not the most effective use of anyone's time.

The blind quadrant represents information you do not know about yourself, but the other person does know. Suppose the two of you are eating at a restaurant and you unknowingly have a crumb on your face. This is in your blind quadrant. The other person can see it, but you can't. If she tells you that you have something on your face, the dividing line moves to the right, enlarging the open quadrant and decreasing the blind quadrant.


This is the phase in uncovery in which you take advantage of not being "inside the bottle" (where it's hard to read the label). You identify what is known to the customer that must be revealed to the business. This is when you want to take advantage of social media listening, reviews and speaking to existing customers as well as prospects who decided not to convert.

It helps to bring in an objective outsider to give the business some perspective. Remain impartial about internal politics or who suggested past ideas. The business needs an unbiased verdict, without the emotional attachment it has invested in its own efforts.

The hidden quadrant represents information you know about yourself but the other person does not know. Let's say the other person doesn't know your favorite movie is "A Bronx Tale." You've never told him, not is it mentioned in any information about you. This hidden information might be the key to a great uncovery.

When we express and elaborate on the findings from the blind quadrant, it should trigger some flow of information that initially was in the hidden quadrant. This isn’t about dumbing down your content, but putting it in the right context.

The goal of uncovery is to identify the value of the business and articulate it in a way that matters to the customer. Uncovering the hidden information -- what a business knows but does not articulate -- is the heart of a good business uncovery process. Revealing this hidden value can take many forms.

Think of it this way: You're a brilliant, highly ethical tax accountant who has an exceptional way of looking at taxes that regularly saves your clients lots of money. You know a lot about yourself and a ton about your business. If I knew what you knew about you and your business, why wouldn't I hire you?

Active listening skills, detailed note-taking, and objectivity are critical in this endeavor. If we can uncover the key factors that influence a persuasive architecture, we can then bring this information into our content marketing plan.

Do you allow the information your customers need to remain hidden, or will you uncover it so that it persuades them to buy?

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Bryan Eisenberg

Bryan Eisenberg is coauthor of the Wall Street Journal, Amazon, BusinessWeek, and New York Times bestselling books "Call to Action," "Waiting For Your Cat to Bark?," and "Always Be Testing." Bryan is a professional marketing speaker and has keynoted conferences globally such as SES, Shop.org, Direct Marketing Association, MarketingSherpa, Econsultancy, Webcom, SEM Konferansen Norway, the Canadian Marketing Association, and others. In 2010, Bryan was named a winner of the Direct Marketing Educational Foundation's Rising Stars Awards, which recognizes the most talented professionals 40 years of age or younger in the field of direct/interactive marketing. He is also cofounder and chairman emeritus of the Web Analytics Association. Bryan serves as an advisory board member of SES Conference & Expo, the eMetrics Marketing Optimization Summit, and several venture capital backed companies. He works with his coauthor and brother Jeffrey Eisenberg. You can find them at BryanEisenberg.com.

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