Top Ten Effect

We break down ordered lists into smaller ones ending in 0 or 5

We're much more likely to think that something has improved in a ranked list if it goes from 11 to 10, than from 10 to 9, which doesn't actually make sense, given that 9 is a better position to be in than 10.

Isaac & Schindler (2014) The Top-Ten Effect: Consumers’ Subjective Categorization of Ranked Lists

otherwise chaotic amount of choice. Naturally, a product or service’s position in such lists is powerful in determining consumer choice (Sorensen, 2007), and also how our choices are affected when a product’s rank also changes (Pope, 2009).

But even so, given our limited capacity to juggle more than six items at any one time (Kaufman, 1949), we tend to chunk such lists into smaller, more manageable sub-groups (Miller, 1956).

Fascinatingly, by creating these smaller sub-groups, we tend to embrace the similarities of any items within the group, and accentuate the differences with any items sitting outside, even though these items clearly haven’t changed at all! A good example is an experiment done on the perception of 12 cities, six of which had a state border, and six which didn’t. Those cities separated by a border were perceived to be further away from one another than those without a border (Maki, 1982).

The Top-Ten Effect is incredible because it suggests that we place heavy emphasis on very specific sub-grouping of lists, ending in a 5 or 0. It’s thought this is because such numbers are both easy to work with and also very common in our everyday lives. This natural need to categorise is something we crave, and we can’t stop it.

Takeaways for Decision-Makers

  1. Given that we know that consumers will exaggerate any perceived differences between products that sit inside and outside a top 10 or 25, there’s a likelihood that consumers will see outsider products as second-rate.
  2. ‍So if your product sits just outside the top 5 or top 10, for instance, it makes to invest in the extra marketing budget needed to push it within the group and therefore within consumers’ quality boundaries.
  3. ‍However, the opposite is true if your product already sits within the sub-group; unless you can significantly increase your ranking, it makes little sense to increase spending. It will have little effect on consumer choice.
  4. Any retailers looking to reduce inside-outside quality comparisons could embrace a ‘Top 12’ approach where, instead of round numbers (0 & 5), ‘sharp numbers’ are actively used. This will encourage consumers to think beyond the top-10 bias and perceive each product more on its merits.

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  • Aspirational membership schemes and belonging The category size bias provides a credible explanation for why we human beings tend to associate with large groups that are viewed favourably by society. Being part of a large and “desirable” social group can make others believe that we also possess the many qualities of its members. For small businesses, it suggests that forming or being a part of a consortium or large and high quality networking group can dramatically elevate your brand image.
  • Communicating category sizes to nudge effectively Highlighting the differences between the large and small categories is highly likely to enhance the effect of the Category Size Bias. For instance, for software companies, stating that there are 10 features in the premium version versus 4 in the free version will help nudge a decision towards the premium version

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  1. The findings from this braingem can nudge better healthcare choices, encourage consumption of a given product, and lead to more confident consumer decisions.
  2. We mistakenly believe that items in larger categories have a higher probability of being picked than ones in smaller categories, despite all items having an equal chance of being picked.
  3. We’ll spend or gamble more money on items put in larger categories.
  4. We’re more likely to take action from tasks when they’re in a bigger list, over a smaller list.
  5. We once we put something into a group, we perceive it to adopt all the characteristics of that group. This suggests that small companies should foster alliances with similarly-principled, more established companies.
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