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21 Cognitive Biases that Influence Your Marketing Tactics

21 Cognitive Biases that Influence Your Marketing Tactics

Marketing feels strategic, objective, customer-focused. That's the goal, right? But it's far more subjective than you think thanks to your own cognitive biases!

As a business professional, you know your onions when it comes to your business sector. And with the input of others, you are also knowledgeable about your customers. But how much do you really understand your own business brain?

Presumably, you have input into your company’s marketing activity and are part of the design, development and sign off process regarding your company’s marketing collateral. For example; packaging, web design, brochure, and a host of other forms of customer facing brand communications. 

As you are an expert in your professional field, surely, it’s just a case of communicating the correct messages and brand tone to your prospective customers, right?

Wrong! 

Although your brain is the most advanced supercomputer ever created, it is packed full of what are termed Cognitive Biases…

A cognitive bias is defined as a systematic error in thinking that occurs when people are processing and interpreting information in the world around them and affects the decisions and judgments that they make. 

Everyone exhibits cognitive bias. It might be easier to spot in others, but it is important to know that it is something that also affects your thinking, subconsciously. 

But why, when we are such an advanced species, do we have cognitive bias? Each was originally designed and has evolved to help us survive and prosper. Modern day civilisation is complicated, much more than our hunter/gatherer brains were optimised to manage.

If you had to think about every possible option when making any decision, it would take a lot of time and mental effort to make even the simplest choice. 

Because of the sheer complexity of the world around us and the amount of information in the environment, our brains rely on some mental shortcuts that allow us to act quickly. And when it comes to marketing, well, that’s no different.

What follows is what potentially happens between your ears when it comes to developing, signing off and deploying your next marketing activation.

Briefing the designers

As you brief the creatives regarding your marketing communication needs, your brain cannot help but incorporate a certain amount of Attentional Bias (1) and as they receive your brief, the designers suffer the same problem too; mistakenly believing that what you and they think of most often is the most important aspect of the design. Attentional bias is the way in which we don’t tend to take into consideration all available factors when making purchasing decisions.

creative process visual with a mind map

As part of your briefing, you naturally reference previous marketing initiatives, but your brain misleads you here. You suffer Choice Supportive Bias (2) (the tendency to ascribe positive attributes to the option you selected), Blind Spot Bias (3) (failing to acknowledge that we are effected by biases as well as others) and The Curse of Knowledge Bias (4) (when we communicate with others and unknowingly assume that they have the background to understand).

Being an expert in your professional field, but not necessarily an expert marketer, you also have to cope with the Dunning Kruger effect (5) (where people with low ability regarding a task tend to overestimate their ability or knowledge) and the Hot Hand Fallacy (6) (the theory that a person who experiences a successful outcome has a greater chance of success in further attempts).

You will also have to cope with the Law of the Instrument (7) (over-reliance on a familiar tool) and the Third Person effect (8) which is our tendency to believe that mass media messaging has more of an effect on others than it does on ourselves.

Selecting the final marketing asset to sign off

Looking at a choice of creative executions, you endeavour to sign off what will be the most effective for your marketing needs. 

Unfortunately, your brain will be drawing on its own series of aides-memoire, including the Bandwagon Effect (9) (following what the ‘crowd’ is doing), Confirmation Bias (10) (searching for information in a way that already supports our beliefs) and a healthy amount of Courtesy Bias (11) (understating our dissatisfaction in order to avoid offending others).

But, because you contributed to the design process by briefing the designers personally, you also suffer from the Endowment Effect (12) (valuing an owned object higher than its market value), The Ikea Effect (13) (placing disproportionately high value on objects they partially created) and likely an Illusion of Control (14) (overestimating our ability to control events).

So, before signing off on the creative, you and perhaps your team review evidence and give serious thought to your current marketing challenge. 

Unfortunately, this thought involves yet more Cognitive Biases including: Hyperbolic Discounting (15) (choosing smaller, more immediate rewards rather than larger, later rewards), an Illusion of Control (again), a dose of Conservatism (16) (the tendency to revise one's belief insufficiently when presented with new evidence) and a smattering of the Continued Influence Effect (17) (believing previously learned misinformation even after it has been corrected).

team meeting to decide on colour schemes graphic design

Decision made?

Finally, you make your decision: A choice based on intelligence, experience and expertise… 

…or so you’d like to think. 

In actual fact, post-decision, you overlook how much the Framing Effect (18) (drawing different conclusions from the same information) influenced your choice, how much your brain associated the cost of the design with it’s likely effectiveness: that’s Irrational Escalation Bias (19) (when we justify increased investment in a decision, despite new evidence suggesting that the decision was probably wrong), also known as the sunk cost fallacy. The Mere Exposure Effect (20) (expressing undue liking for things merely because of familiarity with them) and a degree of Post-Purchase Rationalisation (21) (persuading oneself through rational argument that a purchase was good value) are also at play!

Deploying your marketing campaign

Your next marketing initiative is ready to go, and you’re eager to see its effect on the market after your so-called careful, considered and intelligent planning.

Unfortunately, it has been influenced by more than 20 cognitive biases. And the icing on the cake is that you have just made an important business decision based in part on Naïve Realism (21) (the belief that we see reality as it really is – objectively and without bias), another cognitive bias we all possess.

Happy Marketing!

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About Phillip Adcock

My name is Phillip Adcock: I have more than 30 years of human behavioural research and analysis, and have developed a unique ability to identify what it is that makes people psychologically and physiologically 'tick'.

Would you like to know more about how shoppers and consumers think? Download my FREE guide now. Alternatively, check out www.adcocksolutions.com, where there are more FREE downloads available there. Or why not simply email me with what's on your mind?

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Phillip Adcock

Phillip Adcock CMRS
Psychology & Behaviour
Change Consultant

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