How to Successfully Leverage Cognitive Bias in Consumer Behavior

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Marketing Insights for ProfessionalsThe latest thought leadership for Marketing pros

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Cognitive bias influences buying decisions in a number of ways and can benefit marketers who have an understanding of how it impacts customers.

Article 6 Minutes

Every consumer has biases that can impact decisions they make, such as purchases. These can often be seen as illogical, going against what research tells us they should do, and sudden, snap decisions that are made quickly and, seemingly, with little thought.

Consumer bias can affect what products someone places in their basket, which brand they choose and even how they shop. This means that understanding how best to use consumer bias can help marketers develop campaigns that will see the best possible responses.

Essentially, consumer bias is caused by shortcuts in our thinking that we may not even be aware of. This means they can get in the way of marketers' carefully laid paths that they want customers to follow in order to entice them to convert.

While personalization through cognitive marketing can help, in part, to overcome some of these biases, understanding how you can use them in a strategy can be incredibly beneficial. In fact, successfully making bias work for you could be the way to really see results from a campaign.

What is cognitive bias?

Verywell Mind defines cognitive bias as:

A type of error in thinking that occurs when people are processing and interpreting information in the world around them.

 

Cognitive bias can have a significant impact on the decisions and judgments people make, often resulting in deviations from rational thinking and decision making.

It's a broad area that’s linked to other psychological and neurological faculties, such as memory and attention. For example, if a person has a distorted or biased memory of a past event, it could influence their thoughts and decisions in the future.

Similarly, limited attention span or selectiveness in what people choose to focus on is likely to have an impact on how they view the world, the things they prioritize and how they spend their time.

There are many different types of cognitive bias, and most people will experience some version of it at some point in their lives. Examples include:

  • Attentional bias - Allowing decisions to be influenced by current, recurring thoughts, while ignoring other factors.
  • Bandwagon effect - Doing or believing things simply because others have done or believed the same.
  • Confirmation bias - Looking for and interpreting information in a way that confirms one's pre-existing ideas.
  • Optimism bias - Irrationally expecting favorable or positive outcomes.

Some of the terms and definitions associated with cognitive bias might suggest it's more of a scientific concern than a commercial one, but many businesses could have a lot to gain from improving their understanding of this subject. After all, it could have a big impact on your customers' buying decisions.

How does cognitive bias influence consumer behavior?

There are many types of cognitive bias that could dictate consumer behavior and decisions.

One example is the mere exposure effect, which describes the common tendency of people to like something simply because they’re repeatedly exposed to it. It's easy to see the link to marketing and why consumers might buy from a particular brand because they’ve seen it advertised so many times.

A related concept is authority bias: where people give more credence to the opinions or advice of an authority figure. This is the thinking behind marketing tactics such as toothpaste brands telling consumers their product is recommended by dentists.

There is also a connection between authority bias and influencer marketing. Working with an influencer who commands the respect and admiration of your audience can have a big effect on the perception of your brand and customer buying intentions.

You can also improve your understanding of consumer opinions and behavior by being aware of anchoring bias: where people attach more importance to the first piece of information they receive than anything that comes after it.

Applied to product pricing, this principle suggests the first price customers see for a particular item dictate their future expectations. Similarly, the first review a potential buyer reads of one of your products could prove critical in shaping their perceptions of your brand and what it can offer.

Do your consumer research

One type of bias that consumers experience regularly is the desire to make decisions that are seen as socially acceptable. Forbes explains that this means that people will usually pick the option that they think will be seen as better by others, especially if doing so in a public place. While the effect of this can lessen if a consumer is making a decision on their own, it can still be used successfully by marketers.

Although a product or service should stand out and be different from competitors', you should still take into account current social trends when marketing it. If it is seen as more acceptable to buy a product that fits with a trend, you don't want to advertise something that is completely separate from it.

Being aware of trends in your industry and making use of them within marketing strategies can help you use social desirability bias to your advantage.

Create an authentic balance

We all know that being too negative about a product is going to have an impact on the way customers view it. However, the same goes for positivity, as being too optimistic about it can also put customers off unconsciously as they will see it as being "too good to be true", explains Social Media Today.

You cannot showcase too much positivity without a little bit of negativity to add balance and vice-versa. While marketing should, on the whole, be positive, it also needs to be realistic as this can be more persuasive.

This doesn't mean pointing out any bad points in an obvious manner, instead, of only listing positive attributes, balance them out with carefully placed negative ones. For example, rather than stating that an item isn't covered under free delivery, end a description with a note about low delivery costs. So long as the positive descriptions are the main focus, this will not impact a consumer in a negative way.

Focus on the first and last

One of the most important consumer biases is the fact that our brains focus on the first and last piece of information we are presented with. This happens, as Mumbrella explains, because our brains want to hold on to important information while using as little energy as possible.

What this means is that the first and last thing you show a consumer need to be the most important aspects of a product in order to influence their buying behavior. Putting vital information that will trigger the right response in the middle of an advert or a page will mean there is a good chance it will be lost. Understanding this principle can change consumer habits in a huge way, altering how they walk around a supermarket to what items they are more likely to place in their online cart.

It doesn't just work with visual elements either, as our brains are more likely to remember the first and last words of phrases heard. In terms of video advertising, this offers an effective way to ensure consumers remember a product name and a brand tagline, which can affect their behavior and ensure they remember your message.

While these are some of the more common biases, it is important to note that consumer bias based on personal experience is a lot more difficult to predict, even with the right data. This means that you cannot use all consumer biases effectively, but understanding the key ones could have a big impact.

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