Option Set Change

Changing the option set where you/your offering is included is a way to manipulate the context. It’s very similar to perceived contrast, but in this you’re not changing what you highlight of you or others – you’re literally changing the “others” you compare yourself to.

  • For example, I have a $50 book
    • If I compare it to just any book in the bookshop, which may average $10-20, it sure seems like the most expensive book;
    • But if I compare it to technical manuals ranging from $70-90, suddenly, it seems like the cheapest book;
    • Just by changing the option set, I changed how attractive it seems;

Underlying Psychology/Biases


  • The positioning mnemonic of first/best/only
    • You can easily become the first, best or only at something if you change the option set;
    • For example, I may be an excellent executive coach and mediocre personal coach;
      • I may not be the “best executive and personal coach”, but I may be the “best executive coach”;
      • Additionally, I may be the best in my country. So I may not the “best executive coach”, but I may be “the best executive coach in the country”;
    • Changing what you compare yourself to allows you to more easily be the first, best or only at something;
    • In some cases, you will never be able to be the first, best or only, but you may be one of them;
      • “One of the best executives in this company”;
      • “One of the first candidates to apply”;
      • “One of the highest-rated real estate agents”;
  • The middle option effect
    • When presented with a set of options, people have a tendency to choose the middle one;
    • For example, software plans:
      • Basic, $10;
      • Pro, $20;
      • Expert, $45;
    • But the key thing is that these options can be manipulated to drive the person to the middle one;
    • For example, you want the person to pick the $20 option above;
      • So you make the lowest option almost as expensive as the middle one, and with almost none of the same features;
      • And you make the highest one a lot more expensive, with almost no additional features;
    • For example:
      • Basic real estate agent contract: 5% commission;
        • Document preparation included;
        • (Home preparation and negotiation, both important, not included);
      • Standard real estate agent contract: 7% commission;
        • Home preparation included;
        • Negotiation with buyers included;
        • Document preparation included;
      • Premium real estate agent commission: 20% commission;
        • Home preparation included;
        • Negotiation with buyers included;
        • Document preparation included;
        • (Other minor services included);
      • When faced with these options, the person will tend to choose the middle one;
    • In many cases, the person will choose the middle option without even realizing it was fabricated;


  • Manipulated numbers
    • When you see shady sales tactics, this is one of the techniques they use;
    • “This medication is the best”. The best for whom? For which option set?
  • Jimmy Carr’s Peyton Manning line
    • An example from a Comedy Central roast (not for everyone);
    • There’s a specific line where comedian Jimmy Carr is roasting football player Peyton Manning and he says, “I’ve heard that Peyton Manning is one of the best football players… in his family”;
    • It’s a perfect example of an option set change. You think he’s talking about all players… and suddenly you realize it’s a much smaller option set;
  • Overfitting
    • Overfitting or curve fitting is an effect caused by training a computer algorithm with a very specific set of examples that are too similar;
    • In short, the option set for the algorithm is very specific, and it doesn’t work for a bigger option set;
    • It may be the goal… or a negative consequence;
  • Payment plans
    • As we stated, one of the most frequent examples;
    • When you have softwares with multiple paid plans, the options are manipulated so that you are driven to the middle option;
  • The mean value
    • A variation of the middle option effect;
    • People will have a tendency to lower something they do if it’s above the average;
    • For example, if someone consumes more electricity, or makes more waste, or spends more on something than the average, by being confronted with it, they have a tendency to lower their consumption;
    • It can also be inverted. If one of your clients pays less than the others, by telling them this, they can more easily come back to the average (but only up to the average);
      • Beware of the opposite (so if one of your clients pays you more than the other ones, don’t tell them that!);
  • “Put it in perspective”
    • When someone tells you to put your troubles in perspective, they are using this exact technique on you;
    • When your option set is just 1 – yourself – it’s easy to think in extremes. “Oh, my life sucks”;
    • When the option set is bigger, you put your own troubles in perspective;

Commercial/Known Uses

Key Takeaways

  • Changing what you compare yourself to makes you seem more or less valuable, so you can change it to your advantage;
  • People have a tendency to choose the middle option when given a range, so you can manipulate the options to guide them to it;
  • The interesting thing about changing the option set is that finding the right option set may take time. But once you have it, you can use it in your branding and positioning forever, in any situation. It’s well worth the wait;