Familiarity Bias in B2B Marketing – As Used by a Digital Agency
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Familiarity Bias – What is it?
The psychological concept of Familiarity Bias refers to our inclination to favor whatever is familiar or easily recognizable, over unfamiliar or novel options. It’s a cognitive bias that leads us to rely heavily on familiar events, objects, or people while making decisions or judgments. The concept is extensively studied in the field of behavioral economics, psychology, and cognitive neuroscience, and it has broad implications for areas such as marketing, decision-making, investing, and more.
In B2B Marketing, the familiarity bias can be instrumental. When your brand, product, or service is easily recognized or frequently encountered by your potential customers, they are more likely to opt for your offering over less familiar alternatives. The bias influences the perceived risk associated with a decision, with familiar choices appearing less risky to the decision-maker.
Together with Availability Bias, this is one of the prime reasons companies spend billions via their internal marketing department, or in payments to digital agency vendors, to ensure they maintain consistent branding, regular customer engagement, and ongoing visibility in relevant platforms. The more familiar our prospects become with ourselves, our company and our offerings, the more they are likely to choose us when purchasing.
Familiarity Bias – a Brief History
The idea that “birds of a feather flock together” isn’t new, but the term “familiarity bias” itself is relatively recent. ere is a brief overview of how familiarity bias has been studied and understood over the years:
Even as early as the late 19th century, psychologists recognized familiarity plays a key role in human behavior. William James, considered the “Father of American psychology” dedicated an entire chapter of his book “Principles of Psychology” to explain the idea of habit: “when we look at living creatures from an outward point of view, one of the first things that strike us is that they are bundles of habits. In wild animals, the usual round of daily behavior seems a necessity implanted at birth; in animals domesticated, and especially in man, it seems, to a great extent, to be the result of education.”
In the 1970s and 1980s cognitive psychologists Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman developed familiarity bias as an outcome of their work on the availability bias, and devised a series of experiments to establish its impact. Their work on these heuristics and their effect on human decision-making earned them a Nobel prize in economics in 2002.
Since the turn of the century familiarity bias has been well studied in behavioral finance, a field that combines psychological theory with conventional economics to explain why people make irrational financial decisions. Researchers have found that investors often prefer familiar investments — such as stocks of companies from their own country — even when diversifying their portfolio would be more beneficial.
Some of the most recent studies into familiarity are leveraging the advancement of neuroimaging techniques to try and identify the neurological basis for this bias. Researchers have already discovered that familiar stimuli activate specific areas of the brain and the broad consensus today is that familiarity bias is a deeply ingrained aspect of human behavior, likely rooted in our evolutionary past. In other words – Familiarity bias is literally built into our brains at an anatomical / biological level, and as such isn’t subject to gender, culture, education, etc.
Applying Familiarity Bias to B2B Marketing
How can we leverage familiarity bias in our own marketing strategies? Each of the following tactics is an example for a pragmatic application to consider, or brief your digital agency to implement for you:
1. Highlight Brand Legacy
Many industrial manufacturers have established a long-standing familiarity with their brand. By reminding customers of their history, values, and consistent presence over time they cultivate trust and underscores their reliability and experience. More on that later when we look at how General Electric regularly leverage familiarity in their marketing.
2. Present Relatable Narratives
Companies often leverage relatable stories incorporating their products or services into their marketing materials. This strengthens the association between the customer’s daily life or work and the brand, enhancing the sense of familiarity and relevance. Caterpillar’s “Let’s Do The Work” campaign, which we expand on later, is a prominent example.
3. Showcase Solutions’ Impact
Many industrial manufacturers are, what we call here at Vimi, Invisible Giants – Companies whose solutions are used daily, but are in effect hidden in plain sight. Think about the company that makes the screws holding together the chair you’re sitting on – They’re an invisible giant. For companies like this, stepping into the limelight and reminding customers of their ubiquitous presence and value, is a prime tactic for leveraging familiarity. The Siemens’ “Ingenuity for life” campaign we discuss below is a great example of this strategy.
4. Maintaining Brand Consistency
As marketers it’s vital we maintain our brand’s image consistently across all touchpoints. A clearly defined brand guideline that clarifies the correct use of the company logo, color scheme, language style, and messaging, should be diligently followed both internally, and by any external vendors employed to do marketing projects on the company’s behalf. Consistent and regular communication with our stakeholders via email marketing, social media, etc. helps keep our brand front-and-center in their mind, and can even serve as a platform for creating a sense of community and familiarity around our brand.
5. Use Familiar User Interfaces
As a UX/UI studio we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the importance of using familiar and intuitive user interfaces across our websites, software, and machinery controls. Not only do these help customers feel more comfortable and confident when using our solutions, they also reduce the learning curve and shorten adoption times, thus creating clear savings on training and support efforts.
By focusing on these strategies as applicable, we can harness familiarity bias to reinforce our brand, drive sales, enhance client satisfaction, and foster customer loyalty.
Familiarity Bias – The Cultural Context
While familiarity biasing is, as we mentioned above, an aspect of how the human mind works, to maximize its potential we must consider the cultural backdrop and context for our application and manifest it differently depending on whether our target culture leans more towards collectivism or individualism.
In either case, maintaining a consistent brand image, providing a familiar and seamless customer experience, and building communities for customers to share experiences can further reinforce familiarity and loyalty towards the brand. However, the messaging and strategies need to be culturally sensitive and tailored to reflect the values of the target culture.
Leveraging Familiarity Bias in Collectivistic Cultures
In collectivistic cultures, where group harmony and interdependence are foundational values, as is the case in Thailand, Japan, Korea, China, etc. familiarity bias can be best leveraged by focusing on how solutions support the collective good. Emphasizing the societal benefits, alignment with group values, or contribution to national growth can resonate deeply with these audiences. Additionally, using endorsements from trusted and familiar group leaders or institutions can further enhance this effect.
Leveraging Familiarity Bias in Individualistic Cultures
On the other hand, in individualistic cultures that value self-reliance and personal achievement, as is the case in the US and most European societies, companies can apply familiarity bias by highlighting how their solutions help individuals achieve their personal goals or stand out from the crowd. Emphasizing the uniqueness, personal benefits, or competitive advantages their solutions offer can be particularly effective. Using familiar figures that embody individual success and aspiration can further bolster the familiarity bias.
Familiarity Bias Case Studies
As mentioned above, familiarity bias has a long and illustrious history, and therefore it should come as no surprise that it has already been leveraged many times by corporations seeking to gain a competitive advantage. Here are few leading examples from prominent industrial / manufacturing companies:
Caterpillar has long relied on its reputation and brand familiarity to maintain market leadership. Its recent “Let’s Do The Work” global campaign is an example. Leveraging the familiarity of the CAT brand, the campaign features real stories of people doing practical, challenging work using Caterpillar machinery. By presenting relatable narratives, Caterpillar reinforces familiarity with its brand, its values, and its machines, reminding customers why they trust and choose CAT products.
General Electric (GE)
GE has been a familiar name in industries ranging from aviation to healthcare. In their recent marketing campaigns, they’ve emphasized their long history and the familiar presence of their products in everyday life. For instance, their campaign “Imagination at Work” showcases the diverse sectors they serve, reminding consumers of their ubiquitous presence and reinforcing the familiarity and trust associated with the GE brand.
In 2016, to celebrate the 200th birthday of its founder Werner von Siemens, the company launched a new brand appearance, whose central component is the claim “Ingenuity for life“. Siemens’ goal is to emphasize the company’s role in shaping the world’s infrastructure, technology, and industry by drawing attention to familiar everyday experiences and linking them back to Siemens’ technology. In doing so the company is reinforcing their brand’s familiarity and its connection to positive societal advancement.
Familiarity Bias FAQs
Why does familiarity contribute to maintaining the status quo in business decisions?
In B2B transactions, decision-makers often gravitate towards solutions or providers they’ve previously engaged with, or which are most well-known in the market, since this reduces perceived risk and makes the decision-making process more comfortable and efficient. We’ve likely all heard the phrase “You can’t get fired for choosing brand [x]…”
On the downside this makes it more challenging for new entrants to break into established markets.
What risks are associated with familiarity bias?
While familiarity bias can be a useful tool in our B2B marketing toolkit, it’s crucial to be mindful of its downsides to avoid potential pitfalls.
Over-reliance on familiar solutions may stifle creativity and discourage exploration of innovative new ideas, products, or services. While sticking to what’s familiar can help maintain consistency How can we mitigate the potential negative effects of familiarity bias?
The psychological concept of familiarity bias holds significant potential for B2B marketing. The power of familiarity can sway decision-makers towards brands and solutions that resonate with their experiences and perceptions, making it a potent tool in a marketer’s arsenal. Companies leverage this bias by employing strategies like emphasizing their legacy, using relatable narratives, showcasing the breadth and impact of their products, maintaining brand consistency, and designing familiar user interfaces.
Nevertheless, the application of familiarity bias should be mindful of the cultural context. Understanding whether the target audience leans towards collectivism or individualism can fine-tune how the bias is leveraged, ensuring that it resonates with the audience’s cultural values and norms.
Moreover, while familiarity bias can create strong customer loyalty and brand recognition, it’s important to remember that this shouldn’t discourage innovation or the exploration of novel ideas. Encouraging diversity and novelty while maintaining a firm grip on the familiarity bias can help strike the right balance in creating a winning marketing strategy.
The key is to understand and respect the influence of familiarity bias in shaping customer choices and use it in a way that enhances and enriches the customer experience, builds strong relationships, and ultimately drives business growth. As a digital agency, leveraging this heuristic, and others like it, is our bread and butter. Talk to us today to learn more.
- Kahneman, D., & Tversky, A. (1973). On the psychology of prediction. Psychological review, 80(4), 237. This is a foundational paper that helped establish the concept of availability and familiarity bias – https://psycnet.apa.org/record/1974-02325-001
- Huber, J., Payne, J. W., & Puto, C. (1982). Adding Asymmetrically Dominated Alternatives: Violations of Regularity and the Similarity Hypothesis. Journal of Consumer Research, 9(1), 90–98. This paper provides valuable insights into the role of familiarity in the decision-making process – https://www.jstor.org/stable/2488940
- Alter, A. L., & Oppenheimer, D. M. (2008). Effects of Fluency on Psychological Distance and Mental Construal (or Why New York Is a Large City, but New York Is a Civilized Jungle). Psychological Science, 19(2), 161–167. This more recent paper looks at how familiarity can affect perception and decision-making, with implications for how businesses can use this to their advantage. Link
- Ledgerwood, A., Trope, Y., & Chaiken, S. (2010). Flexibility now, consistency later: Psychological distance and construal shape evaluative responding. Journal of personality and social psychology, 99(1), 32–51. This paper examines how familiarity can influence the consistency of responses and attitudes, which is relevant to building a consistent brand image – https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2010-12776-003
- Whittlesea, B. W. A., & Williams, L. D. (2001). The Discrepancy-Attribution Hypothesis: I. The Heuristic Basis of Feelings and Familiarity. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 27(1), 3–13. This paper discusses how familiarity can influence feelings towards something, with implications for branding and marketing – —– https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11204105