An Embarrassment of Options

One of the nice things about really embarrassing situations, is that they don’t happen all that often. They do, however, tend to stick with you long after the incident has passed.

I clearly remember, for example, the time I accidentally wore my pajama top to school in fifth grade (don’t ask, I don’t know either). Or, the first (and last) date I had with a beautiful woman named Valerie in college, during which I slipped and landed flat on my back in the mud, as we were walking down a hill.

Well, you’ll be pleased to know that just yesterday, I added another episode to the “Michael Katz Collection.”

I had just finished eating my bagel at the coffee shop, and I went next door to make a deposit at the bank. Suddenly, I realized that my brand new cell phone was missing. I had used it just 10 minutes earlier, so I raced back to the coffee shop and began looking everywhere: on the sidewalk, in the men’s room, behind the chair I had sat in… nothing.

Within minutes, everyone in the place knew I had lost my cell phone, and before long, several people had even begun helping me look. Finally, someone suggested that I call the phone, and that maybe we would all hear it ringing.

A hush fell over the crowd as I dialed my number from a borrowed phone, and seconds later, thirty pairs of ears eagerly awaited the lost phone’s cry for help.

Unfortunately – this is the embarrassing part – the phone started ringing loudly from my jacket pocket. Apparently, I had “misfiled” it in the wrong place.

Now in my defense, my coat has about 85 pockets… inside, outside, on the sleeves, etc. I’ve even got waterproof pockets inside of other pockets (presumably, in case the coat’s owner has a need for safely transporting goldfish home from the pet store).

But here’s my point (and I do have one): Too many options – whether in a coat or in an E-Newsletter – can be a problem.

Here’s what I mean. Many E-Newsletters (and web sites, for that matter), are laid out as a jumble of information, with all kinds of sections scattered seemingly at random across the page. It’s as if the newsletter’s creator threw up his hands and said, “Here, you figure it out.”

The result is that the reader is left to “search through the rubble,” never quite sure where to go next. Yes, there are plenty of options, but like a jacket with too many pockets (Did you have to mention that again?) it’s easy to get disoriented.

In my view, on the other hand, an E-Newsletter should be deliberately laid out so that there’s one primary path for moving from the beginning to the end. We don’t want to risk having readers miss the important (i.e. useful) content, and we certainly don’t want them to have to work to figure out where to go next.

Sure, we’ve got sidebars and tidbits tucked here and there, and yes, there’s typically a clickable table of contents for those who like to jump around, but the simplest, most obvious (and, I would bet, most frequently taken) path is straight down the middle, from top to bottom.

Bottom Line: Options are nice, but at some point, too many of them can be overwhelming. Think of your newsletter layout as a path through which readers can walk – simply, easily and effortlessly – so that they can spend less time “navigating,” and more time reading your words of wisdom.

Now if you’ll excuse me, my cell phone is ringing; if I hurry, I just may be able to find it before it goes to voicemail.

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