How Cognitive Biases Mislead Our Marketing
Marketing evangelists and advertising prophets are always telling us how they’ve figured out a way to market to today’s (and in some cases, tomorrow’s) consumers. Yet we know we’re already programmed to put things into neat little categories because it simplifies our audience and gives us a seemingly clear sense of direction. But what if these oversimplifications weren’t just a shortcoming in marketers and were actually the cognitive biases of human beings in general?
In the world of cognitive biases, the idea of “multi-tasking millennials” or “conservative baby boomers” are prime examples of what cognitive scientists call “prototype theory” rearing its ugly head in our daily lives. In fact, some of the fundamental principles of cognitive science have proven to be traps for brands when it comes to executing effective marketing tactics.
You may think: Millennial moms are mostly married (Fact: 61 percent were single when they gave birth)
You may assume: The wealthy spend the most on luxury goods (Fact: the upper and middle class actually spend more on luxury purchases)
In the early days of human evolution, our brain’s needed to be able to process tons of information as quickly and as efficiently as possible for survival. These prototypes were largely created/informed by our environment, and the shared experiences of the people around us, acting as “cheat sheets” for our brains.
For example; picture in your mind a bird—what’s the first kind that pops into your head?
According to prototype theory, that bird is your “ideal average member,” or ideal representative of the entire bird category. But note you probably didn’t think of a penguin, ostrich, or even a chicken. See the danger in classifying all birds into one “ideal average member”? Now as a marketer, when you hear words like “millennial,” or “college student,” or “mom,” what’s the first thing that comes to mind?
And then what if prototype theory was applied to yourself? What if you were grouped together with all the marketing executives in the industry? You’d claim you’re not the same as the next marketer, right? Fundamentally, our assumptions about what we think we know holds us back from seeing the big picture.
But what about data? The potential danger is if we use it to validate an audience segment that has been built off our cognitive bias or preconceived “ideal average member.” Taken a step further, your RFP now risks identifying the wrong audience segment based on your cognitive bias. Coupled with the social media echo chamber (i.e., groupthink), where algorithms are used to match similar content, and you can start to see this “like-for-like” environment adds to the increased risk of ruining the true intent of your campaign.
Deconstructing the Cognitive Bias
With a “Fans First” approach to data analyses (where we can act as detectives discovering clues about our audience), our team at Viacom has been able to combat this cognitive bias by unlocking invaluable information that marketers and advertisers can use to optimize for Smart Scale™.
Breaking these cognitive biases starts with a new way of understanding custom audience segmentation, one that incorporates not only a variety of powerful data sets, but also the psychology behind our belief systems as a whole.
The Viewprint Approach
Viewprint allows us to understand fan passion and affinity—consumers’ digital behavior across social, linear, and digital platforms. It then looks for predictive correlations that can uncover a combination of attributes that allow marketers to better understand who their audience is, and then effectively engage them with the right content and story to meet their campaign goals/KPIs. (Think of it like Waze for integrated marketing and branded content.) These insights are then used by Viacom’s internal creative team, Velocity, to develop custom campaigns for marketing partners. It also allows us to provide actionable direction on important content decisions like:
- Which celebrity to include in a specific brand partnership?
- The tone of the campaign (fun and comedic, or more educational and inspirational)?
- Which platforms should content be distributed on?
Effectively, Viewprint has helped us dispel the assumptions we hold about our audiences and translate a “Fans First” belief system into a functional operating system.
No Audience Theory of Everything
When it comes to targeting audiences, there is no theory of everything.
Our preconceived notions of our audience and “ideal average member types” are heavily influenced by our own personal contexts. So, we have to be careful to not fall back on this default way of thinking or it will undermine our creative work.
And with over 100 cognitive biases in existence, it’s clear there’s only one solution that works: it’s time to take the blinders off. Only then will we begin to benefit from the optimal outcome of engaged audiences. Only then will we begin to turn our real consumers into real fans.