Cognitive biases every communicator should know

These mindsets affect consumer behaviors—and therefore should be on marketers’ radar screens.

Cognitive biases affect the way people process information and make decisions.

Understanding them helps us address four problems:

  • Too much information
  • Not enough meaning
  • Need to act fast
  • What we should remember and discard

Buster Benson of Slack breaks them down in his Cognitive Bias Cheat Sheet. It and Wikipedia’s List of Cognitive Bias are good resources for gauging how those tendencies affect communications.

Though it’s important to understand all cognitive biases, some will more profoundly affect your communications plan. Here are key factors to consider:

  • Ambiguity effect avoidance of options because of missing information about results or expectations. When you present your product or service to a customer, do you leave gaps in the knowledge you provide? Is there an FAQ section? Do you provide a clear understanding of results and expectations?
  • Anchoring – excessive reliance on a single bit of information, in which one “anchors” all decisions on that piece, giving it undue influence. Often that anchor is the first piece of information one receives. Think about the first impression your brand might make on a consumer. Think about preconceived perceptions and how those will affect or create that first anchor.
  • Availability cascade – the tendency to believe oft-repeated information. Certain “wives’ tales” or “alternative facts” over time become “common knowledge.” This applies to messaging, consistency and strategic repetition and aligns with the illusory truth effect—the tendency to accept something easy to process (versus more complex things, which require critical thinking).
  • Bandwagon effect – basic group think, the tendency to do things that others do, especially those in your “tribe.” Consider how the stock market works, with prices rising and falling along with shifting popularity. Think about this phenomenon when it comes to shared media tactics: community building, brand ambassadors and review sites.
  • Base rate fallacy – ignoring statically relevant information if it conflicts with your beliefs or opinions. We see this with climate change denial and other political issues. It blends into other biases and is what makes it so challenging to change someone’s beliefs, even with factual evidence.
  • Confirmation bias – proving oneself right by seeking only the information sources and people who reinforce our beliefs. Social media algorithms and the overabundance of online content exacerbates this bias. Supporter brands can use this to their advantage. The rest of us ought to be very aware of it as we plan content creation and distribution.
  • Continued influence effect – believing previously learned misinformation, even after it’s been corrected. This is important for crisis communication, brand monitoring, proper media training for all ambassadors and spokespeople, and the development and reinforcement of clear messages across the organization.
  • Curse of knowledge – understanding a topic so well that one doesn’t recognize that others lack a comparable level of understanding. You might know your product or service like the back of your hand—relevant lingo, acronyms, details of how and why. Others simply do not, and communication suffers as a result.
  • Expectation bias a self-fulling prophesy: You expect a result and get what you expect. When consumers anticipate a good experience with your brand, they are more likely to have one—even if that means forgiving any hiccups along the way. Think about how you can set that exception before a consumer ever interacts with you.
  • Framing affect – presentation of information for optimum reception and results.
  • Authority bias – heightened influence by those in a position of authority or high regard. This is why ambassador and influencer programs are effective.

A version of this post first appeared on Spin Sucks.

Topics: PR

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