What is cognitive marketing - and why does it matter to you?

It’s almost possible to hear the sigh from marketers around the country… as if there isn’t enough to fit into every day, they’re now expected to become a psychology expert too?!

Well, not exactly. But if marketers want to ensure their communications strategies thrive in 2017, they need to know a few things about cognitive biases. These mental tendencies have the potential to pose some of the biggest obstacles to ROI in the next 12 months, and the worse thing is, they can’t even be seen!

An article on Psychology for Marketers coins cognitive biases as: ‘…shortcuts in our brain that determine our behaviour without us even knowing about it.” They allow individuals’ minds to play tricks on them, whilst they remain blissfully unaware.

It therefore doesn’t matter how savvy a marketer’s efforts are – cognitive biases could pose a difficult block to cut through, in a landscape that is already noisy and complex.

As is the case with many modern marketing techniques, much of the answer lies in personalisation. And marketing tech can help too. As the following examples go on to illustrate, marketers need to build journeys that deliver the most fulfilling message for the individual concerned. These journeys should be able to intuitively ‘identify’ the potential problem, trigger the most relevant piece of next-step communication according to the cognitive bias encountered, and seamlessly navigate around them to reach the ultimate marketing goal.

Example of cognitive biases - and how to swerve them

  • Status quo bias: No matter how much people want to change, it’s often easier to stay put. So, when encouraging someone to do something new, such as make a switch to a new energy provider, it needs to be as simple as possible. The timing is crucial, and the process needs to be completely hassle-free, or people simply won’t budge.

  • Loss aversion: Nobody likes losing, even when it comes to sacrificing things they didn’t previously even want or need. So, if a level of customer disengagement is sensed, marketers should politely ask if they should stop making contact. Often the fear that the communication will be taken away from the individual, is actually what reignites the dialogue.

  • Anchoring: People use anchors to draw comparisons, so – for a message to stand out – customers and prospects need to be educated as to what is the ‘new normal’. If a marketer’s deal is truly the best around, for example, direct attempts should be made to illustrate what the savings and benefits are, and why this is better than a competitor’s offering.

  • Bandwagon effect: Whilst this doesn’t apply to everyone, not all people want to be the first to have tried something – customers often seek comfort that a product or service has reaped proven success for someone else. That’s why case study scenarios and statistics are helpful. By emphasising how popular something is becoming, perhaps people won’t be able to resist finding out more and getting involved.

  • In-group bias: It may be a little extreme to call it tribal instinct, but people naturally protect and are drawn towards others in the same group. That’s why, if executed correctly, refer a friend schemes can work so well. On a much simpler level, use of words such as ‘us’ can make dialogue much more personal and inclusive.

  • Framing: Whether a marketer has a penchant for story telling or design aesthetics, it is important to consider how the message is portrayed as this can influence the behaviour and action evoked. From the careful choice of words to the utilisation of specific colours, this can all add context that subtly sways decision-making, based on the subliminal way the recipient begins to feel. Personalisation is crucial here because what works for one person won’t necessarily apply to the next.

Of course the examples could go on and on. But marketers are creative folk – it just needs a little thought to ensure cognitive biases don’t block conversion success as the year unfolds.

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