Our human brain uses a lot of energy to keep us alive. While it represents only 2% of our body weight, it consumes 20% of our body's energy (Source: BrainFacts.org, Time). It wants to conserve energy as much as possible, which is smart. This leads to the use of various mental shortcuts when making decisions make the decision making process as efficient as possible. This is where cognitive biases come from.
Here is a definition of cognitive biases, also known as heuristics: "A heuristic is a mental shortcut that allows people to solve problems and make judgments quickly and efficiently. These rule-of-thumb strategies shorten decision-making time and allow people to function without constantly stopping to think about their next course of action." (Source: verywellmind)
What does cognitive bias/heuristic have to do with marketing? Quite a lot. Marketing plays a major role throughout all four stages of the buying journey: education, evaluation, purchase, and loyalty. Having a solid understanding of how human brain functions and how big of impact mental shortcuts have in the decision making process helps make your marketing effort more successful. The more you understand how human brain works, the more it makes sense to invest in marketing.
Among many other cognitive biases, let's look at four of them and what they mean to your marketing investment.
4 Cognitive Biases: The Reasons to Invest in Marketing
Availability Heuristic & Marketing
Availability heuristic is one of our mental shortcuts that involves our tendency to rely on information that is most readily available.
Here is an example. When you are thinking about hiring a cleaning company, the company that comes to your mind first is the cleaning company that your neighbours have been using. You have seen their name and logo on the cleaners' cars parked in your neighbourhood multiple times and the last time you saw it is just yesterday.
What does the availability heuristic mean in marketing?
Make your website available and easily discoverable by investing in content marketing and SEO
People google when they are looking for information, products, or services they need. The more investment it is (i.e. big price tags, multi-year contracts, etc.), the more research people do. Invest in content marketing so that your webpages and blog posts are the ones your target audience continues to stumble upon while they are researching. Invest in Search Engine Optimization (SEO) so that your website is the one that they see most often on the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) - i.e. the pages of results that show up after you google something. Think for a moment: Which website(s) do you visit when you google something? Probably the first few websites on the first SERP. You are not likely to go to fifth page, probably not even second page. Investing in SEO gives your website a higher chance to appear on the first SERP.
Share your content via email newsletters
Another way to make your business readily available to your target audience is to craft premium-quality email newsletters and send them out regularly to subscribers. When your target audience is happy with the content on your website over and over again, they will want to subscribe to your email newsletters so that it’s even easier to consume your content going forward. Your satisfied customers will want the same as you are the "go-to" source of trustworthy information. Your email newsletters arriving in their inbox on a regular basis and your content being available right in front of them increase the likelihood of your business popping up in their mind before any of your competitors.
Anchoring Bias & Marketing
Have you experienced how much you remembered and favoured the very first website you saw when you were researching something? That is what the anchoring bias is: the tendency to be overly influenced by the first piece of information.
Considering the power of anchoring effect on humans' decision making, it makes sense to invest in content marketing and SEO so that your website is the first website your target audience visits and your business is the first company they talk to.
Image source: https://thedecisionlab.com/biases/anchoring-bias/
Representativeness Heuristic & Marketing
The representativeness heuristic means we rely on existing prototypes in our mind when making decisions.
Here is an example. You just moved to a new neighbourhood and are looking for a new massage and spa place. You are drawn to a place that is similar to the one you loved in your previous neighbourhood. If you liked the old spa place because of how soothing and relaxing it was, you would look for and be attracted to a place that portraits the same vibe.
Establishing the desired perception about your business is what branding is all about. If you were a high-end massage and spa shop, it would be in your best interest to create a brand that speaks “high-end massage and spa” so that when your target audience visits your website, for example, they can match your brand to the existing prototype in their mind. The subconscious mind’s thinking would go something like this: ‘spa places with a nice website like this with ton of nice photos and these price tags were all good so this place should be good too.'
You will be able to create the brand image that matches the existing prototype in your target audience's mind when you clearly identify who your target audience is, understand what they look for in your business/industry niche, and establish the visual identity that successfully communicate it.
Confirmation Bias & Marketing
Here is a scenario. You are a consulting company. Your target audience is key business decision makers such as CEOs and founders. Given the nature of the service you offer, the sales cycle is long. Your target audience does all the necessary due diligence before choosing a company to work with. Your investment in content marketing, SEO, and branding has worked out in your favour. This CEO you really want to work with has been evaluating multiple consulting companies but definitely prefers your business over your competitors. She can't pinpoint exactly why she is drawn to your consulting business way more than the others. In this scenario, she will start subconsciouly searching for and inventing reasons to confirm her preference. This is a confirmation bias in action.
Content marketing plays a role here again. You want to create content not only for the education but also evaluation stages of your target audience's buying journey. When the CEO is actively searching for reasons to confirm her preference, make her search easier by providing her hot-off-the-press case study in her specific industry, for example.
Image source: https://thedecisionlab.com/biases/confirmation-bias/