We see this all the time in the store, and I’m noticing it’s a bigger concept than most people give any credence to. Here’s the short of it.
I’ve got three times the paint I need to paint my house, and three times the amount of time needed to do it in.
So what do I do? Generally speaking, there are only so many coats of paint you can put on something before it actually starts to look worse than when you started. That’s diminishing return in a nutshell – the idea that continuing to work on something without allowing for a finished product eventually damages what you’re doing.
One good example of this is promotion, ad saturation. If you see a clever ad on TV, you pay attention. But then you see it again – the message sinks in, true, but if it’s the sad kind of instance where the same commercial plays over and over again every second minute throughout the day, the brand driving this ad is actually damaging itself by making you annoyed with the ad. You never want to see it again. If you ver hear of the company again it’ll be too soon. Internet memes suffer the same fate, but for less benefit. Repeat something obnoxious once or twice and it’s funny, but eventually, reviewing the same tired joke on purpose will get you less benefit every time.
That’s the Law of Diminishing Returns right there – when the task is over, when the joke has run its course, give up the ghost or lose a portion of your investment to the dropping effect.
It’s visible when it happens, sadly outsiders see it more often than those involved, and it’s terrible. A task that should have taken one unit of effort is given two, and almost all of the second unit is wasted because of the dimming effect. And simple changes often mean better returns! If you’re painting the house, set a rule for how many coats to use, and keep the spare paint for later projects. If you’re running the ads, either do a very short, intense run and write the extra time off to keeping public opinion high – or, cut the amount of runs in a 24 hour period in thirds and run the ad for twice as long – it still means less ads viewed, but it also means less people annoyed, and that’s a benefit too, one that marketers seem to be missing.
More is not always better!
It’s like the big dip before success, only worse, because if you don’t recognize that the success has been had, there’s no bounce back. Sometimes it can be hard to recognize when this diminished return happens. I hope companies catch onto this sometime soon – it’s a struggle for individual people as well, so I’ve little hope for this – but there’s a lot of waste going on in terms of energy (energy as time, capital and other forms) that could be avoided if more time was spent learning how to judge where the cliff comes in and how to recognize it when it happens.