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5 Cognitive Biases And How To Use Them To Your Marketing Advantage

May 21, 2020

“Know your biases” – marketers, especially advertising creatives, often hear these words when it comes to ideation.

To some, it means playing to your strengths. To others, it’s a matter of being self-aware that there are areas one may focus on too much to the detriment of others. Knowing your biases is a reminder to keep all your bases covered.

However, when we talk of cognitive biases, we speak of partiality at a more cerebral, psychological level. Cognitive biases are defined as “systematic errors in thinking that affects the decisions and judgments that people make.”

Simply put, it’s when our brains work against us because of the shortcuts they've developed – shortcuts that are supposedly there to help us process our environment quicker.

Then again, awareness is the first step. Marketing can also be designed to make the most out of our cognitive biases. (Remember how in Mad Men they have psychologists working for ad agencies? How about “subliminal messaging” and neuromarketing?)

If this is the first you’ve heard of cognitive biases, we’ve got you covered. Here are examples of cognitive biases and how you can take advantage of them:

Loss aversion

Simply put, the fear of loss is greater than the joy of gain.

People, in general, when faced with two options—even though virtually equivalent to one another—would pick the option that feels safer. Example, if you were given a choice to get $90, or gamble to earn $100 with a 90% chance of winning, you would most likely pick the one with a guarantee.

This speaks to man’s nature of putting a high value on things one already owns. We’d rather not lose than gain.

Marketers can make the most out of this by using language that resonates with people’s need to avoid loss or the want to not miss out on opportunities. Also, marketing messaging can be crafted to appeal to consumers’ high regard for their current possessions.

Think of time-bound promos or other limited time offers. These kinds of marketing target people’s aversion to loss.

Also read: How Short-Lived Content Can Help Your Influencer Marketing Strategy


Salience is related to branding. Think of a brand you admire, chances are the first thing that pops into your mind is the characteristic the brand it is most known for.

That’s how our cognitive bias works. We have the tendency of focusing on the most unique or compelling aspect of an object. So when it comes to branding, you have to create signatures—points of memorability—that give your brand better recall and make it more prominent.

This comes into play when you’re creating your own brand identity. Identify your brand’s “thing”—may it be a notable tone with your copy, a certain mood your materials evoke, or recurring elements of design that call the attention of your market.

Warning though, salience is also a double-edged sword. Internally, many organizations also tend to focus too much on the more showy aspects of their brand. This leads them to planning errors.

So remember, now that you’re aware of salience, don’t fall into your own trap. Create big moments, signatures people will remember you by, but don’t forget the little stuff too.

The decoy effect

The folly of the third option.

To understand the decoy effect, we have to illustrate it. Let’s say you are given two options.

Option A: 64GB flash drive for $ 12

Option B: 16GB flash drive for $ 4

Initially, you will gravitate towards the smaller option. It looks like a good deal, right? You don’t need to splurge on the higher offer. But add a third choice that fits between the two options and make it overtly unreasonable….

Option A: 64GB flash drive for $ 12

Option B: 16GB flash drive for $ 4

Option C: 32GB flash drive for $15 (decoy)

The first option suddenly looks better now, doesn’t it?

The decoy effect can be used in marketing to nudge consumers towards the option your brand prefers. Think of it as a silent tap on the shoulder of your consumers. By strategically adding a third option, you can make a more premium option look like a great deal.

The decoy effect takes some practice though. You can read more about it here.

The curse of knowledge

I don’t get why our campaigns don’t appeal to our audience.”

If you’ve found yourself saying this, the simple answer may be, you just know too much about your brand.

As a marketer, it’s expected that you are well-versed in your product or service. You know its complexities and intricacies. However, this cognitive bias may be creating a gap between you and your audience. Your marketing may be anchored on information your audience is not aware of.

To address this, it is not enough that you put yourself in the perspective of the audience. You must exert an active effort to understand the information that your audience both wants and needs. Review your materials and explore how you can optimize them for better conversion.

The bandwagon effect

Have you heard of the brand experiment where people start lining up/looking at the sky (the cases alternate) and bystanders soon follow suit?

This is the bandwagon effect, and we see it every day.

We as humans look for tribes, we want to belong. So inherently, the popular choice can further be made more famous by virtue of its own popularity.

Also read: Marketing Your Brand With Social Proof

As a marketer, take control of this cognitive bias by showing off your social influence. Get testimonials from loyal followers. You can even tap into influencer marketing. Use influencers’ own popularity and clout to amplify your messaging.

There are a lot more cognitive biases out there, you can learn about them more (there are actually certificate courses devoted to neuromarketing) or you can hire experts to guide you in making the most out of them.

Click here to work with the best influencers in Southeast Asia

What biases are you most guilty to? Share them in the comment section below!

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