There’s a list on Wikipedia with 192 items on it. That’s a very long list by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s very useful. It’s a list of cognitive biases: the shortcuts our brains use to make decisions. They’ve evolved over thousands of years to help us survive. They help us cut down on the amount of brainpower and time we take to make decisions. 

Out of sight, out of mind

They work under the radar of our conscious mind too, again, to save brain power and stop us being overwhelmed. Imagine if you had to consciously weigh up the pros and cons of literally every decision your brain had to make on a daily basis. You wouldn’t get out of bed.

Pro and con

They’re like any innate skill or feature of the human mind and body: they can work for us or against us. Whether they end up hindering or helping us in any particular situation depends on the context and whether or not we’re aware of them.

Think about this 

Typically, the fear of loss is twice as powerful as the desire for gain. This bias can play out in all sorts of ways. We might hold onto an investment that isn’t performing, or those boxes in the attic, full of things you haven’t looked at for years. 

Fear of loss can stop us making creative i.e. out of the ordinary, decisions because we might, falsely, but automatically think left-field decisions are more likely to fail or are inherently more risky. In other words, our fear of loss can skew our perception of the possibilities and probabilities.

On the other hand

Fearing loss can be a benefit. It can make us think long and hard about whether or not to sell something, or to go ahead with a cutting-edge advertising campaign. It can make us appreciate what we have, and not give things up on a whim.

Cognitive biases and marketing

When it comes to marketing, biases can have a similar effect: they can be the reason why no one saw your ad, or the reason why your customers are so loyal and keep buying from you. 

Here are four to whet your appetite:

1. Standing Out Gets Attention

If you fail to stand out, you won’t get attention. And if you don’t get attention you can’t communicate and persuade anyone of anything. So how can you make your ads, videos, animations and marketing stand out from your competitors?

2. Speak Easy

The easier the words are to read and say (including in your head), the quicker and easier people will understand the message. When we’re bombarded with thousands of messages each day, it makes sense to remove as many barriers to comprehension as you can. If people struggle to read or hear what you’re saying, because the wording is complex or waffle – you’re adding cognitive load to your message, making it harder and slower to comprehend.

Sometimes it’s necessary to use long words and complex concepts, but why say myocardial infarction when you can say heart attack?

Words matter for video

Video is one of the most powerful forms of media, but we don’t always watch with the sound on, especially if we’re in a public place or at work. A good test is to watch your video with the sound off and see if you still get the message. If you don’t, you’ll need to use subtitles, embedded text or captions.

The platform matters as well. On YouTube, the vast majority of people watch videos with the sound on. But on Facebook it’s the opposite. So you might need multiple versions of your video if you want it to be successful across all the platforms it’s deployed.

The length of the script – and the length of individual words and how they sound when rolling into each other – can bore people to death or overpower them too, especially if there are lots of long and complicated words crammed into a short space. It’s overwhelming. People will miss important details or the broad concept of your offering. Less is most definitely more.

3. We place greater value on products seen or visualised or imagined as a whole shape.

In other words, if your audience can perceive your product as a complete shape, they will place greater value on it. That’s why bringing services to life – giving them visual and audible form – is important, because services are by their nature intangible and abstract and therefore harder to perceive in a visual way.

If you say tiger, you can see a tiger in your mind: legs, body, tail and teeth. But if you say mortgage application – what do you see? Nothing. But you might feel confusion or compelled to leap out of a window in an attempt to avoid the boredom of filling one out.

Last but not least

4. Choice Paradox

Don’t give your audience too many choices all at once. People may say they want lots of choice, but the research says that it demotivates, disempowers and disables them. The more choice we are given, the less likely we are to make a choice. In video, we recommend giving your audience one proposition to consider, one core benefit, one core promise.

P.S.

A word about ethics

Just because you can use biases to persuade people, doesn’t mean you should. But the reverse can also be true. A lot depends on the situation and your audience’s culture, ethics and morals.

E.g. People are more likely to stick with the default choice on a form, rather than take the time and effort to change it. For instance, if the default choice on an organ donor form is “yes, I want to donate my organs”, more organs will be donated by default because the donor doesn’t have to take any action to create that positive outcome for someone else. Inertia is on everyone’s side.

As long as you are making people aware of their choices, and how they can change them, at the point they are being asked to make a choice, then designing the form with the bias as the default option presents less of an ethical conundrum.

P.P.S

No biases were used in this article. Or at least, none that I’m aware of.

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