By: Annalee Peters

Cognitive Biases

July 21, 2016

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In the world of digital marketing, we talk about Google on a daily basis. We talk new techniques and tools that help us understand how to optimize for search engines. Something of equal importance is keeping our strategies for optimizing with our human audience up to date. Just as Google has preferences in how content is presented, humans do as well through their cognitive biases.

What is a cognitive bias?

How many fear flying in an airplane but go for leisurely drives in a car, even though an accident in a car is much more probable than an airplane crash? This is an example of a cognitive bias. A cognitive bias is essentially an error in the way we process information, shaping our view of the world. Awareness about cognitive biases help us to broaden our perspective of the world.

Based on different cognitive biases, I believe we can pull four basic principles to follow in our online marketing strategies.These principles are basic, and can easily be applied to any campaign being run. They are:

  1. Be Likable
  2. Build Kindness on Kindness
  3. Prove Your Request is Desirable
  4. Get Small Commitments First

Be Likable

This principle is based on the Confirmation Bias. The Confirmation Bias is when we look for views that support our own. No one really likes being wrong, so this bias happens pretty frequently. Personally I see this confirmation bias when it comes to my new hobby of running. It’s common for me to look up articles and information that supports the health benefits of  running, while avoiding articles that talk about the negative effects it can have on one’s knees. I look to sources and people that support my desire to continue running.

In connection with that, people are more likely to say yes to people we like and agree with. So how do we become more likable? There are two key contributing factors to making that connection, having positive interaction and having similarities. A tactical way to use this principle can happen in any meeting you are in. Before jumping right into all business and decision making, take time to look for areas of similarity with the other people there. Have a conversation and build that foundation of  similar interests, something where you agree with each other. Finding that commonality gives you something where you agree with each other and have opinions that support each other. That makes you more likable, which will increase likelihood of people saying yes to you.

Build Kindness on Kindness

Reciprocity is a cognitive bias where we respond to others in a similar way to how we are treated. This is a powerful concept because we can shape our interactions to build from one positive action to be returned with another positive action. But it’s not just about what is given, it’s how it’s given. They key here is to make things personalized and unexpected.

A study in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology was performed on waiters, the tip they received and a mint. There were three different focus groups for this experiment:

  • Group 1- waiters simply gave mints to the people they were serving with the check. Tips increased by 3%.
  • Group 2- waiters held the mints and asked the people at the table if any of them would like a mint. This was even more successful as tips increased by 14%.
  • Group 3- was the most successful group. Waiters in this group left a mint with the check, similar to those in group 1. The difference here is that a short time later they came back with another set of mints and asked if anyone would like another. Tips here increased by 21%.

We see here that in group 3 the second mint was a personalized gift to them that came unexpected. That kindness was built on with a kind, more generous tip. As we think of applying this principle, we see this easily applied in the social scene. People are more likely to like and share your posts when you like and share theirs.

Prove Your Request is Desirable

With digital marketing, or any marketing, we are trying to convince people that what we have to offer is what they are looking for. Rather than trying to tell people that it’s desirable, prove to them that it is. Instead of relying on our ability to persuade others, we can point to what other people, especially similar others, are already doing. This utilizes the cognitive bias known as the Bandwagon effect. This occurs regularly when people jump on board with what they are seeing everyone around them doing. It’s even more common when people are unsure, so they will be even more likely to model their behaviors after others. This is why testimonial videos and case studies are such an effective tool.

Get Small Commitments First

Another cognitive bias we can utilize is the choice supportive bias. This is that people like consistency, so they’ll favor choices in line with ones they’ve already made. The Freedman and Fraser study was a few experiments done around getting your foot in the door. In one experiment people were asked to place a small sign in the window. Later they were approached again with a second request of putting a larger, less appealing sign in their yard. People who said yes the first time were far more likely to say yes again. What we learn from this is try to get a small initial commitment that will lead to a larger commitment.

Cognitive biases are something that influence us all. Understanding the the human mind will improve our ability to make our digital marketing strategies optimized for the end users we are trying to attract. Optimizing for both Google and the human audience will result in top marketing strategies.

Written by Annalee Peters on July 21, 2016

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