No. 4 of 36 - Attribute Substitution

No. 4 of 36 - Attribute Substitution

Attribute substitution occurs when we must make a decision that is mentally complex - instead our brain substitutes a more easily calculated attribute.

Attribute substitution - No.4 of 36 cognitive bias insights. It is also known as Substitution Bias, a psychological process that is behind several cognitive biases.

If a shopper is intending to make some form of complicated purchase, they will often ignore the technical and mentally challenging details (think emissions and MPG for a car) and instead make the decision based on a much simpler aspect, such as “I like the colour”. Although many will not admit this in focus groups.

Why we need attribution substitution

Shoppers need simplicity in-store and the brand that is simplest to think about and mentally process, will be the most appealing. So, if you want shoppers to attend to your brand in-store, there are several aspects you should consider.

Keep it simple

Shoppers aren’t experts, so don’t let industry speak creep into your shopper facing communications. For example, most shoppers are more interested in how much washing will fit into a machine and how long it will take to wash. Much more than things like 1,600RPM spin speed.

Meet basic needs

If your brand is part of a complicated category, make sure to provide shoppers with simple reasons to select your marque. Dare I say even if these simple reasons are somewhat irrelevant to the overall product. For example, Ultralight envelopes (were they all that heavy anyway)

Introduce incomparability

If you can promote a really simple reason for shoppers to buy your brand that is something that they can’t compare with other brands then you have an instance USP (Unique Selling Point).To give an example, the free plastic toy on the top and Smarties in airport shops.


Attribute substitution gives you a great way of making your brand easier to think about and buy. But equally, focusing on the wrong features and product aspects can seriously damage brand performance. So, make sure to give shoppers a real ‘no brainer’ reason to select your brand.

Attribution Substitution is No.4 of 36 cognitive biases. Read No.5: Automation Bias

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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'.

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Phillip Adcock

Phillip Adcock CMRS
Psychology & Behaviour
Change Consultant

Phillips Signature

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