5 Behavioural Biases That Influence Consumers (…and marketers)

Town News

5 Behavioural Biases That Influence Consumers (…and marketers)


Every marketer faces different challenges, despite typically sharing similar goals. As an industry, we tend to overcomplicate the basics. All marketing is just segmentation, targeting and positioning. Figure out who you’re talking to, determine where they’re spending their time and decide on which compelling story you’re going to tell them. It’s no more complicated than that. So, if things are so simple, why do we make it so difficult? Put the kettle on, take a 5-minute break and prepare to analyse your own behaviour.

Cognitive biases have a lot to do with why things can become overly complicated. They certainly contribute to us not recognising gaps in our own perception while also providing an opportunity for marketers to open up our minds to patterns of consumer behaviour.

Everybody has biases. On a daily basis, we make judgments about people, decisions and, of course, marketing. When we analyse our world without knowing about these biases, we challenge our own views based on our past experience and what we understand of the world from our own viewpoint. Typically, as marketers, we relate advertising creative to our own perceptions even if we’re not in the desired demographic. It’s simply human nature.

We’ve highlighted some cognitive biases that affect marketers and consumers on a daily basis with the guidance of a highly recommended book: The Choice Factory by Richard Shotton.

The Choice Factory outlines 25 cognitive biases we experience on a daily basis. It’s essentially a guide to the psychological tricks our brains play on us that influence our opinions, behaviour and spending, with specific advice on how to take advantage of these biases when creating advertising. Although this is starting to sound like an ad itself, the book is full of information to make you stop in your tracks and reconsider everything. To simplify things further, we’ve identified our top 5 biases that should be considered by every marketer. For the rest, we recommend you tell Alexa (or Google depending on your preference) to purchase a copy or make a trip to your local bookstore (how old school?).

1. The Cocktail Party Effect

The “cocktail party effect” refers to the ability of people to focus on a single talker or conversation in a noisy environment. For example, if you are talking to a friend at a noisy party, you are able to listen and understand what they are talking about – and ignore what other people nearby are saying. However, if your own name is mentioned at a loud party, you’d immediately switch off from your friend and look for the source of your name – that’s the power of personalisation, and the media landscape is like a packed pub.

In the digital age, personalisation is becoming easier to implement at scale. The opportunity exists for marketers to stretch their capabilities and build out their customer database to allow for personalisation. The more we know about the consumer, the greater the opportunity to segment the audience and provide personalised brand communications. People love hearing their own name, who would have guessed? Why not create different versions of your content shown to Facebook users, depending on their demographics, location, likes, and interests? For instance, a user interested in music would see a regular pair of headphones, followed by a pair of high-end designer headphones.

2. The Fundamental Attribution Error

This is the concept that people tend to emphasise internal characteristics in explaining other people’s behaviour, rather than external factors. This effect has been described as “the tendency to believe that what people do reflects who they are.” So if someone cuts us off in traffic, we might be less than pleased without understanding their circumstances, but on the flip side, when we cut someone off in traffic, we tend to convince ourselves that we had to do so.  We focus on situational factors, like being late to a meeting, and ignore what our behaviour might say about our own character.

So, the fundamental attribution error explains why we often judge others harshly whilst at the same time letting ourselves off the hook by rationalising our own behaviour. As marketers, it’s crucial that we rely on data and the analysis of experts to dictate strategy rather than following our own instincts. Easier said than done we say.

3. The Primacy Effect

This is the tendency for the first items presented to be remembered more easily, or for them to be more influential than those presented later. If you hear a long list of words, it is more likely that you will remember the words you heard first than words that occurred in the middle. First impressions shape subsequent experiences, so make yours as strong as possible.

This may seem like common sense, but so often as marketers we overload creative with buzzwords that don’t resonate with the target audience. Put simply, less messaging will generate more recall and ensure that key messages are delivered effectively. The old adage “less is more” rings true in our world of ever increasing information overload.

4. Expectancy Theory

The expectancy theory proposes that people are motivated by their expectations of what will happen if they do certain things, and are more productive when they believe their expectations will be realised. Essentially: what’s in it for me? Expectations of a product greatly impact the performance. Good copywriting is essential for marketers to highlight the key benefits to entice the audience. Always a challenge.

To motivate customers, brands must ensure that the connections between effort and performance and performance and outcomes are both clear and easy to understand. They must also make sure that the outcomes are rewards that actually matter to their customers. When a brand connects the dots for the right audience, the results will increase tenfold. Clearly state what will happen when the product is used and make it the key message.

5. Confirmation Bias

Confirmation bias is our tendency to cherry-pick information that confirms our existing beliefs or ideas. Confirmation bias explains why two people with opposing views on a topic can see the same evidence and come away feeling validated by it. This cognitive bias is most pronounced in the case of ingrained, ideological, or emotionally charged views.

Don’t target those likely or unlikely to buy regardless of communications. Go for those for whom it might make a difference. Failing to interpret information in an unbiased way can lead to serious misjudgments. By understanding this, we can learn to identify it in ourselves and others. We can be cautious of data that seems to immediately support our views. As marketers, we need to take a step back and critically analyse our activity and make sure we’re seeing the bigger picture.

So that wraps up the 5 biases we think marketers should be aware of – but this is only the starting point. The key message for marketers is to take a step back and continually reflect on marketing initiatives to ensure that everything is coordinated for the right reasons. Here at The Township, we’re always on hand to challenge our client’s marketing activity for the greater good. Ultimately, we all benefit from challenging our viewpoints.