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No.34 Salience Bias

Salience Bias is the cognitive bias that predisposes shoppers to focus on items that are more prominent or emotionally striking.

Salience Bias is the cognitive bias that determines that shoppers ignore items that are unremarkable, in favour of more emotionally striking items, even though the objective difference is often irrelevant.

For example, someone who goes to the supermarket sees several displays of the same brand. Although their preference for and liking of the brand has not changed the memory of the brand is very salient in their mind and makes them feel more that they should perhaps buy.

In retail, the objective is of course that your product/brand is salient and therefore stands out from your competitors in order to ensure that it catches the attention of the shopper and the impact will stay with them for longer.

Using contrast is one way of helping the Salience Bias to happen; for example, shoppers are so desensitised to most in-store environments now so it’s important to focus on making yours so atypical and different that it won’t fail to catch shopper’s attention.

It is important to be able to recognise which moments will create salient elements for shoppers in order to maximise communication potential for your brand:

  1. Contrast – if every brand looks similar, then nothing stands out. Take cereals boxes, all rectangular with very bright colours, etc. A white circle or dark box would really stand out in that aisle.
  2. Emotion – the more emotional your brand, the more shoppers will engage with it. One sure-fire way to generate emotion and exploit the Salience Bias is to add imagery of other people to your brand display.
  3. Adjacencies – sometimes brands can appear a surprise just because of where they are located in-store. A crisps FSDU performed better in the sweet confectionery aisle than it did in the savoury snacks aisle, just because shoppers weren’t expecting it to be there.

In summary, shoppers often prefer items that stand out more and/or that emotionally engage. If you can emotionally stand out more, then you are on to a winner.

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, 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
Psychology & Behaviour
Change Consultant

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