January 9, 2019

Why Marketers Need To Make A Distinction Between Experts And Novices

For many scientists, cognitive differences between those with rich knowledge and experience in something (experts) and those without it (novices) are a bread and butter topic. Starting in the 1960s with studying chess players, neuroscientists have uncovered over the years that experts and novices differ in many areas of life, particularly in relation to their perception and decision making.

What is surprising from my experience, is that only a small number of marketers tap into the power of segmenting expert and novice audience groups. As you look at some of key differences between experts and novices, in relation to their likely customer journey, it becomes clear that this is a missed opportunity.

Media: Internet Novices Engage Less With Promotional Banners

Website ads with promotional offers often constitute the first point of contact a prospect has with a marketing campaign. However, they rarely work. According to Google data, only five in 10,000 people who are shown an ad click on it to visit the advertiser’s website. (Smart Insights)

While the marketing world is well-aware that only a minority of prospects react to website ads, the reasons for this low sensitivity are often puzzling to marketers. Crespo and Garcia have recently looked at this problem through an expert vs novice lens. When studying the reaction to Iberia (airline) ads, they found that more frequent internet users are more heavily influenced by sales banners. This makes sense as internet experts seem more confident to react to ads, while novices (who use the internet less frequently and for fewer hours) shy away from making a decision based on ads.

So, if your campaign is targeting people who use the internet less heavily, supporting sales for this type of novice target audience with anti-anxiety messages (e.g. cancel any time, money back guarantees) can be expected to help overcome sensitivity problems.

Engagement: Novices Often Struggle To Understand You

Once prospects come to the site, it is a marketer’s responsibility to show a cohesive story-line, to meet audience expectations. However, when customers reach a brand’s website, they have very different levels of knowledge of the product and its category. This can be easily forgotten because we, as marketers, are typically product experts. Therefore, whenever we communicate with novices there is a risk that messages won’t be understood correctly or are of less interest.

As an example, at House of Kaizen we recently tested the usability of cruise booking websites for two audience segments:

  1. Those who have been on many cruises (experts)
  2. Those who are interested in booking their first cruise (novices)

One of the key outcomes of this test was that novices struggle to understand terms which sound obvious to experts. For example, the concept of ‘excursions’ and ‘flight cruises’ were cryptic to one third of cruise novices. We found it was essential that website copy clarified that excursions are offered from harbours where the ship stops and that flights might be necessary to reach the departure/return from the arrival port.

It sounds simple and obvious doesn’t it? However, without this explanation novices were becoming confused and disengaged.

Conversion: Novices Need To See The Benefits Spelled Out

Through academic research and our own experience, we have also found that when processing information, novices in a product category place a much stronger emphasis on product benefits, rather than product features. Additionally, novices were found to struggle to connect product features (facts) to benefits.

For Marketers, this means that novices typically need value proposition story lines which are lower on product features and higher on benefits. Any features which are introduced to novices need to be linked clearly to benefits to enable quick and easy recognition – as to how the product improves their life or meets their requirements.

To give a practical example from our marketing experience, a ‘webadvisor tool’ product feature of antivirus software means nothing to novices. The feature needs to be linked to the benefits of avoiding dangerous websites.

Don’t Forget: Insight Differs By Vertical And Market

Our work within the area of experts vs novices has shown that there are additional considerations when thinking about how to cater for these audiences.

For example, we have identified there can be a keen interest of novices to become experts during their product research phase, before making a purchase decision. Depending on the product category and country, some novices want to feel they have all the information possible to make an informed decision.

When developing a European marketing strategy for a mattress brand, our survey research found that 82 per cent of novice German mattress buyers expect to learn a lot about mattresses before making a purchase. They use an extensive combination of store visits, retailer websites, product test reports and blogs/customer reviews to understand the basics of this product category – like firmness levels and the characteristics of mattress materials.

In contrast, only 22 per cent of novice UK mattress buyers have a similar interest in becoming experts. The vast majority of novices in the UK want a strong expert recommendation and thus an easier solution to the problem of finding the right mattress.

Overall, the insight from this study revealed that novices can demand content to be educational or suggestive. Marketers therefore need to identify which type of content their novice audience requires. It will depend on the customer perception and motivation – their own understanding of what will help them best make a purchase decision, in the way they want to make it.


Looking at the stages of the marketing funnel: experts and novices show significant differences in their perception and decision making. Throughout their customer journey they require different messages to encourage engagement and entice them to purchase.

To drive the best conversions and story-lines, marketers can benefit from investing in research to understand their audience, identify who their experts and novices are, and find the insights that will inform the right content for these two very different segments.

A key challenge for Marketers, who naturally become experts in a product category, is to particularly understand novices’ perception, needs and desires. Research, such as usability testing and surveying among novices, can be deployed to master this challenge.

House of Kaizen will be at our Digital Marketing Summit on Thursday 31 January. For more information regarding our events you can view the events calendar here.

Written by

Daniel Gold,
Head of Research at House of Kaizen