Humans are odd.
We represent an eclectic mix of dichotomies; lazy yet inquisitive, stupid then smart, nasty followed by nice and all of the places in between. Rationality is another one of these dichotomies. We all like to think of ourselves as rational, yet we are often driven by irrational thought. Take the idea of going on a flight, many of us hyperventilate at the prospect, even though statistically it’s far and away the safest form of transport. Yet, the vast majority of us will happily get in a car even though we are around 72 times more likely to die because of it.
Yet, whilst we’re not entirely rational beings, there is some sort of logic behind a lot of our decisions. Dan Ariely pretty much hits the nail on the head when he describes humans as “Predicatably irrational”. The idea behind it is that whilst humans make irrational choices, we can predict what they will be and react accordingly.
One of the best ways for Marketers to use this is through a Psychological principle called Heuristics.
What are Heurisitics?
Heuristic (/hjʉˈrɪstɨk/; Greek: “Εὑρίσκω”, “find” or “discover”) refers to experience-based techniques for problem solving, learning, and discovery that give a solution which is not guaranteed to be optimal. Where the exhaustive search is impractical, heuristic methods are used to speed up the process of finding a satisfactory solution via mental shortcuts to ease the cognitive load of making a decision.
Think of a Heuristic as a shortcut or a cheat sheet for your brain. The brain looks for short cuts and techniques that make life easier. If you have spent time before learning about a situation, it will create a short cut to speed up the process in the future, thus saving you time and energy.
Why are they important?
Heuristics are important as they allow us to save valuable mental processing for finer things such as long division, theoretical physics and day dreaming. Creating short cuts enables us to be more efficient with our mental processing, thus saving time and effort in situations we have already encountered.
Let’s take a quick example. When looking at a website you normally know within about 3-4 seconds whether or not you can trust it. Over time, we learn what a bad site looks like, things like huge blocks of poorly-written text, irritating gifs and banner adverts, all of which claim to either make you lose weight, earn thousands over night or increase the size of your genitalia.
Our brain stores this information and uses it later on. This bias can be incredibly useful as it saves us a lot of time. However, it can also make us over look perfectly good sites that just happen to exhibit similar signs.
How can marketers use them?
As seen above, we can take advantage of heuristics to make ourselves more persuasive. Heuristics can be used by mimicking the situation or trigger point they are associated with, thus helping to persuade people to take your choice of action.
Here are a few to get you started:
Post Purchase Rationalisation/Cognitive Dissonance
We like to think of ourselves as rational creatures, as if we make choices based on a logical response to the things around us.
So to reassure ourselves that we do, we look for signs that support our decisions. For example, think about when you buy wine in a restaurant. Originally we might only have picked up the wine list because we were prompted to by a pushy waiter, and now we’re stuck with wine we didn’t really want. So we try and think up other ways to support our decision that don’t feel as though we’ve been exploited. Drinking wine looks more sophisticated than drinking beer; we’re watching our figure, or it may be a good match with our meal.
Post-Rationalisation, we can still sometimes worry about what we have purchased, which causes us to regret. As humans, we generally dislike negative feelings and so look for ways to not experience that feeling again, either by sending the item back or not purchasing it again.
Good For – CRO – The important thing here is to reinforce the customer’s choice, show support for their decision, then tell how good they will feel because of it. We crave positive feelings and so would seek them out again if possible. You can do this by providing customer reviews and even things like “thank you emails” can help to reinforce the customer’s decision.
Strange as it sounds, if what you say rhymes, then people are more likely to believe it. The heuristics principle says that this is because fluency aids cognitive processing, making what you’re saying more reliable. Remember the trial of O.J. Simpson, and his lawyer Johnny Cochran’s famous line about the glove, which carried such weight with the jury? “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.” Essentially, jingles make you trust worthy.
Good For – Outreach/Pitching – Slip some rhymes into your outreach emails and see if they are more effective. Better yet, try it on twitter and see if your account gets fitter…
ZERO Risk Bias
As a species, humans are risk-averse. We hate the thought of losing something even if the potential gains are high. This bias is so prevalent that we would rather lower a tiny risk to zero, opposed to lower a larger risk to something small.
Good For – Client Management/Pitching – To take advantage of this heuristic, try and make anything you pitch risk free. I know that sounds near on impossible, but the fact is that no risk is more palatable to humans than some risk. Use risk to your advantage when working against competitors. So something like “Whilst their techniques may increase your rankings faster than ours, our techniques will get you ranking without the risk of being penalised by Google.”
Essentially, this is the practice of drawing different conclusions from the same information, depending on how or by whom that information is presented. So for example, when a colleague offers you a snack and suggests you grab some of her nuts, this would (hopefully!) get a different reaction than if a drunk guy made the same gesture in a bar. It’s not about what we say or do, but how and who. Rory Sutherland did a superb talk called “Perspective is everything” which takes a closer look at framing across a range of situations. He states:
Ever since they banned smoking in public places, I have never enjoyed a drinks party. And the reason, I only worked out the other day. When you go to a drinks party, you stand up, you have a glass of wine and talk endlessly to people. You don’t actually want to spend all the time talking, it’s really, really tiring. Sometimes you want stand there silently alone with your thoughts. Sometimes you just want to stand in the corner and stare out of the window. The problem is, when you can’t smoke, if you stand stare out of the window on your own, you are an anti-social friendless idiot. If you stand and stare out of the window with a cigarette you’re a (expletive) philosopher…
Good For – Outreach/Client Management/CRO – Easiest way of dealing with this is to frame your questions in a way that best suits your audience. Think about how they think and feel and respond to it effectively. For instance, if you email a blogger with an outreach request, sending it from a gmail account can sound more personal than if it came from a corporate address.
Looking at CRO, the language you use is very important depending on what client you are working for – slang terms would not be appropriate coming from a bank.
This, sadly, is a trait that inbound marketers can often be guilty of (myself included!). Attribution Bias is a bias we have in regards to something that is successful. In simple terms:
It had X + It was successful ∴ Therefore X makes it successful
We really want things to make sense and so will look for anything we can take away from a piece and use for the next time. This can be a big problem for anyone working in an analytical profession (Inbound Marketing) and so it is important to make sure that we don’t get sucked in to data that shows correlation rather than causation. A good example found in Nathalie Nahai’s brilliant “Webs of Influence”:
It went Viral + It got lots of traffic and sales ∴ Virality means traffic and sales
A large proportion of the campaigns that have ever gone viral actually haven’t produced the returns that you would hope for. We only hear about the viral campaigns that made money, not the ones that got 100,000 hits on Youtube but no traffic to the site. The reason is that good viral videos do not aim to sell products, instead they seek educate, entertain or amaze. They want to build on brand awareness rather than drive traffic.
Good For – Technical/CRO – Whenever you are doing analysis it is important to explore every possible factor that could have had an effect on results, rather than just going with the one you want it to be. An analysis is the nearest any of us will come to scientific endeavour so treat it with as much reverence and try to recognise and remove attribution bias wherever possible.
These are just a few of the potential Heuristics that marketers can take advantage of in their inbound marketing campaigns. Others such as Anchoring; Status Quo Bias (Not the one that states every single thing the band produces is rubbish); Base Rate Fallacy; Decoy Effect; Confirmation Bias offer many more opportunities for those that care to look into them.