One of the most common mistakes made by marketers is trying to cram too much information into their communications materials. It’s often the result of saying “well, we probably need to mention this … and this … and this,” along with a bit of “well, there’s some empty space. How can we fill it?”


Back in high school, I took a job as a dishwasher for a chain steakhouse restaurant. While washing dishes is the grimiest job in most restaurants, I didn’t mind it too much. There were clear objectives, the work was steady, my co-workers left me alone most of the time, and I didn’t have to think all that much (beyond knowing not to lift cast-iron cookware with bare hands right after it came out of the 180-degree rinse).


On my first day, the manager shoved a three-inch three-ring binder at me and told me to read it. It was the employee operations manual for the chain. Dishwashing took about four pages. The rest was excruciating detail about every other facet of running the restaurant; from how to properly prepare each potato to how to stack foods in the walk-in freezer. So after a few minutes, I went to return the manual to the manager, who responded, “You read all of that already?” When I noted that it was mostly about things like preparing cherry tomatoes for the salad bar, he glared at me. “You might need to prep cherry tomatoes for the salad bar someday! Now go back and read the whole thing.” So that’s how I spent my first shift.


I don’t disagree that proper preparation of cherry tomatoes was important to the restaurant’s reputation, but given the fact that my job responsibilities consumed only about one percent of what appeared in that manual, why insist that I try to digest the whole shebang in one sitting? Given the fact that what we learn tends to erode over time if we don’t receive a booster shot of knowledge, wouldn’t it have made more sense to ask me to read the relevant portions now … and then, if I happened to be in the restaurant when a dire need for properly prepared tomatoes arose, ask me to take two minutes to read that section of the manual?


Okay, the manager was a poorly trained 23-year-old. But his approach mirrored that of far too many marketers. “We’ll tell them everything they need to know now, so they’ll remember it when it becomes important to them.” Really bad idea. It’s far more effective to break information into small chunks, and feed your audience what they need to know right now. Then make the additional information accessible, so they can get to it when the need arises.


(Oh, and in the months I spent there, and the decades since, not once have been I asked to prep cherry tomatoes.)