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3 Common Cognitive Biases That Can Affect Your Marketing

By Ashley Orndorff, aka Marketing Geek cognitive bias concept - placing last puzzle piece to complete lightbulb inside a mind

Our brains and bodies are built to help us survive, but it’s also easy to fall back on mental shortcuts. Sometimes these are helpful and sometimes they aren’t, and they can affect everything including marketing your business. Whether you are marketing to your audience or analyzing your own efforts, here are some cognitive biases that can affect your marketing:

What is a Cognitive Bias?

As our brains attempt to interpret the information around us, they also try to simplify and categorize it. A cognitive bias is an unconscious error we make as our brains try to simplify and process the complex world and information around us. This could occur through the use of mental shortcuts, also known as heuristics, emotions, other social factors, and more.

Although there are some standard cognitive biases all humans are prone to, the specific results of them do vary from person to person because they are filtered through our own experiences; past and present. They affect our actions, the way we make decisions, the way we interact with others, and more.

3 Common Cognitive Biases That Can Affect Your Marketing

Although cognitive biases are often simplified as “unconscious errors in thinking” and can have negative consequences, they aren’t always negative things. A bias simply means a tendency to favor or lean towards a specific idea, person, group, thing, etc. When used ethically in marketing, cognitive biases can help encourage engagement or even perhaps a sale.

When strategizing or analyzing your own marketing efforts, there are also some cognitive biases that can affect you in those situations. Regardless, it’s good to be aware of them. Here are some common cognitive biases that can affect your marketing:

1. Confirmation Bias

Confirmation bias is one of the most common and well-known cognitive biases. Confirmation bias refers to our tendency to seek out and remember information that confirms or conforms with preexisting beliefs and opinions while avoiding or forgetting information that challenges them. It also tends to cause us to interpret new information as confirmation that our existing beliefs and/or opinions are correct.

In marketing, this can skew your ideas and analyses. If you believe certain things about your audience or campaigns, you may end up ignoring important information that would challenge whatever you may be convinced is right. If you’re convinced certain messaging will resonate with your audience and it doesn’t, it may cause you to attribute the poor performance to something else. You should be running tests to see what is the most effective, but you could also waste a lot of time and money testing the wrong things if confirmation bias gets in the way.

In your marketing efforts, you can use the principles of confirmation bias to create content that resonates with your target audience and encourages them to interact with your brand. For customers who have already had a positive experience with your brand, customer retention strategies that resonate with them can help layer on that positivity and nudge them into loyal customers or brand ambassadors.

2. Hindsight Bias

As the cliche goes, “hindsight is 20/20.” We have the cliche because of hindsight bias, which is the tendency to remember or think about past events as more predictable than they actually were at the time. “I knew that would happen” is easy to say after it happened and you can connect past events with the context and knowledge you have now that you didn’t have in the past.

It’s important to remind yourself of this during strategy and brainstorming sessions. If you become overly confident about how well you are able to predict outcomes, you could end up making some major marketing mistakes. Depending on how big the mistake is, you could even end up with an online reputation management problem.

3. Anchoring Bias

The anchoring bias, or anchoring effect, is where the first information we encounter is often more salient and holds a greater influence over our choices than information we encounter or learn later.

In marketing, web design and print design, social media, and more, we see this in making sure things are “above the fold” or important information is presented early, simply, and clearly. The sooner you can get the important stuff across as a marketer, designer, etc. the better chance you have at engaging further with your target audience.

Depending on the medium and the context, further engagement could be something as simple as reading the rest of a blog post or maybe even sharing it on social media or it could be a transaction or another step towards becoming a customer.

These are just a few of the common cognitive biases that can affect your marketing. Whether you are planning new campaigns or strategies or evaluating your efforts, being aware of them can help you avoid potential missteps with your own thought processes and also make your marketing efforts more effective.

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