Cognitive biases are unconscious patterns of thought that can lead individuals to make irrational decisions or judgments. These biases are based on mental shortcuts that our brains take to process information faster, and more efficiently, but the speed and efficiency come at a cost – They can also result in flawed reasoning and perceptions.
Cognitive Biases are Cross-culturally ApplicableThe importance and power of Cognitive Biases arises from the fact that they’re applicable across cultures, because they are rooted in our “hardware”. They’re hard-baked into how our brains process information, regardless of cultural background or upbringing. Cognitive biases are deeply ingrained in human psychology and can influence everything from how people perceive information to how they make purchasing decisions…
Cognitive Biases for Better MarketingMarketers who consider cognitive biases when planning campaigns and marketing materials have a better understanding for how people think and make decisions. This understanding helps create more effective and persuasive messaging. By understanding and leveraging these biases when planning campaigns and marketing materials marketers can create messaging that resonates with their target audience, makes their brand or product stand out, and ultimately drives action. Understanding Cognitive Biases also helps marketers avoid many of the common pitfalls that lead to ineffective or unappealing messaging. Here are three common cognitive biases and how they relate to engagement with marketing materials:
What is it?This is the tendency to seek out and interpret information in a way that confirms one’s preexisting beliefs or opinions. In marketing, this means that people are more likely to pay attention to and engage with messages that align with their existing views, and less likely to be convinced by messaging that contradicts those views. Marketers can use this bias to their advantage by tailoring their messaging to their target audience’s existing beliefs and values.
How to leverage it
- Research your target audience’s beliefs and values before creating messaging that aligns with those views.
- Use language and imagery that reinforces your target audience’s existing beliefs and values, rather than trying to convince them to adopt new ones.
- Use social proof (e.g. testimonials, endorsements) from people who are similar to your target audience to reinforce the idea that your brand shares their values.
Confirmation Bias In The WildIn 2018, Nike released a controversial ad featuring former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick as part of their “Believe in Something” campaign. The ad generated a lot of buzz and sparked debate on social media, with some people expressing support for the message and others calling for a boycott of the brand. However, Nike’s sales actually increased in the wake of the ad, suggesting that the campaign resonated with Nike’s target audience and reinforced their existing beliefs and values.
What is it?Anchoring Bias is the tendency to rely too heavily on the first piece of information encountered when making decisions. In marketing, this means that people may be swayed by the initial information presented to them, even if it’s not entirely accurate or relevant. Marketers can use this bias to their advantage by framing their messaging in a way that sets a positive tone or establishes a desirable context early on in their communications.
How to leverage it
- Frame your messaging around a positive or aspirational idea or feeling that your target audience wants to associate with your brand.
- Use eye-catching and memorable visuals or language early on in your messaging to grab your audience’s attention and establish a positive tone.
- Use pricing or discount strategies (e.g. highlighting a sale price, offering a free trial) to anchor your audience’s perception of the value of your product or service.
Anchoring Bias In The WildIn 2015, Coca-Cola launched their “Share a Coke” campaign, which involved replacing the Coca-Cola logo on bottles and cans with popular names and nicknames. By anchoring their messaging around the idea of sharing a personalized Coke with friends and loved ones, Coca-Cola created a positive association between their brand and social connection, which likely contributed to the campaign’s success.
What is it?Availability Bias is our tendency to rely on easily accessible information when making decisions, rather than taking the time to seek out all available information. In marketing, this means that people may be more likely to remember and act on information that is frequently repeated or presented in a memorable way, even if it’s not necessarily the most accurate or relevant information. Marketers can use this bias to their advantage by creating memorable messaging or using repetition to increase the salience of their message in consumers’ minds.
How to leverage it
- Use repetition to reinforce your messaging and increase the salience of your brand or product in your target audience’s mind.
- Create a sense of urgency or scarcity by highlighting limited-time offers or inventory, or by emphasizing that other people are already taking advantage of your product or service.
- Use visual or auditory cues to make your brand or product stand out in your target audience’s memory (e.g. a distinct logo or jingle).
Anchoring Bias In The WildIn 2020, McDonald’s launched their “Travis Scott Meal” in collaboration with the popular rapper. The meal consisted of a Quarter Pounder with cheese, bacon, and lettuce, as well as fries, BBQ sauce, and a Sprite. The campaign generated a lot of buzz on social media, with fans sharing photos of themselves ordering the meal and hyping up its limited availability. By creating a sense of urgency and scarcity around the Travis Scott Meal, McDonald’s capitalized on the availability bias and encouraged customers to act quickly to try the product.
ConclusionCognitive biases are a powerful tool for marketers to create more effective and persuasive messaging. By understanding how people think and make decisions, marketers can tailor their messaging to resonate with their target audience, make their brand or product stand out, and ultimately drive action. The three cognitive biases in this article, availability bias, confirmation bias, and anchoring bias, can be used in digital marketing campaigns to drive sales and increase engagement. Confirmation bias is used by researching a target audience’s beliefs and values and creating messaging that aligns with those views. Marketers can also use social proof to reinforce the idea that their brand shares the same values as their target audience. Anchoring bias is leveraged by framing messaging around a positive or aspirational idea, using eye-catching visuals or language, and using pricing or discount strategies to anchor the audience’s perception of the value of a product or service. Availability bias is triggered by creating memorable messaging or using repetition to increase the salience of a brand or product in consumers’ minds, creating a sense of urgency or scarcity, and using visual or auditory cues to make a brand or product stand out. By understanding and leveraging cognitive biases, marketers create more effective messaging that resonates with their target audience, increases engagement, and ultimately drives sales. However, it is important for marketers to use cognitive biases ethically and responsibly, as they can also lead to flawed reasoning and perceptions if not used carefully. Therefore, marketers must strike a balance between creating effective messaging and being transparent and truthful in their communications.
- Vosgerau, J., & Simonson, I. (2014). “The Smart Guide to Behavioral Economics & Decision Making in Marketing.” Journal of Marketing, 78(4), 30-37. doi: 10.1509/jm.14.0071 This article discusses the relevance of cognitive biases in marketing and provides insights on how marketers can use these biases to influence consumer behavior.
- Payne, J. W., Bettman, J. R., & Johnson, E. J. (1993). “The Adaptive Decision Maker.” Cambridge University Press. This book discusses the cognitive processes that people use to make decisions and the biases that can influence these processes. It provides insights into how marketers can leverage these biases to influence consumer behavior.
- Tversky, A., & Kahneman, D. (1974). “Judgment under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases.” Science, 185(4157), 1124-1131. doi: 10.1126/science.185.4157.1124 This article discusses the cognitive heuristics and biases that people use when making judgments and decisions. It provides a framework for understanding how cognitive biases can impact decision making and behavior, including consumer behavior.
- Photo by George Bakos on Unsplash