Persuasion Techniques in Marketing – Cognitive Biases A-C

While we all like to think we are unique, rational beings who have no biases when mulling something over. It’s unfortunately, untrue. Most of us are prone to certain biases when making a decision. Here is a list of cognitive biases and how they can be used in marketing.


Before we begin, a word about ethics. While the whole point of marketing is to be as persuasive as possible, the truth should not be neglected and services or products should never be oversold. It’s important to bear in mind advertising standards, and not to attempt to trick the customer.




We tend to rely heavily on one trait or piece of information when making decisions. This is usually, the first piece of information we received.


As a marketer, anchoring can either work for you or against you. The first fact a person learns about you sticks in their mind, so it’s clear that decent branding has a huge role to play in the sales process.


How anchoring can be used.

Anchoring is very commonly used in pricing.


Take, for example, a business insurance provider. They may advertise their business insurance for as little as £10 a month. That seems cheaper, and more reasonable compared to many quotes you’ve seen, and so you view the company as being good value. Even if the actual quote you end up with is much higher.


The most popular format for pricing tables on websites seems to be as follows:



The eye is drawn to the “standard” package, and so this is the package that sticks in our mind. When looking at the other packages, we are likely to compare them to the “standard” package.


Availability Heuristic.


The tendency to overestimate how likely events are, based on how easily they are to recall in our memory. Which can be influenced by how unusual or emotionally charged the memory may be.


If you’d ask most women what they’re more likely to die from, heart disease or breast cancer, they’d probably say breast cancer. This could be because the marketing surrounding breast cancer has been so excellent.


The Pink Ribbon is one of the most widely recognised symbols in America. Each year for breast cancer awareness month, brands do the “pink” version of their product. We’re shown what signs and symptoms to look for and we hear all about the terrible stories of women lost to this disease. Because information about breast cancer is easier to recall than information about heart disease, we can be forgiven for thinking that it’s more important that we have this information, and assume that heart disease is less of a risk. When in fact, about 1 in 30 women in America will die from breast cancer, but the risk of dying from heart disease or stroke is around 1 in 3 for women.


How the availability heuristic can be used.

The availability heuristic is why marketers regularly drip feed content to their prospects and attach storytelling and emotion to it as well as bizarre scenarios (As in “you’re so money supermarket, you don’t even know it.”) Advertisements are shown on TV repeatedly, sometimes twice within the same program. Because it is important that we can easily recall the information about the problem they are presenting to us. Which could be anything from a smelly house to yellow teeth.

It’s not enough for us to be marketed to once. The information needs to become a prominent memory.

Remember the you’ve been Tango’d, “Dr Pepper, what’s the worst that could happen?” and “belly’s gonna get ya” ads from the ’90s? Of course you do. You know when you’ve been Tango’d.



The bandwagon effect.


The tendency to do or believe things because many other people do or think the same.

We know that just because something is public opinion, doesn’t mean it is true and in fact, many atrocities have been committed that were generally applauded by the populace. But there is a certain appeal to try something that everyone else is doing.

Veganism, for example, wasn’t something most people were willing to consider 5 years ago. Within a few short years, we’re seeing supermarkets race each other to launch vegan products to keep up with the bandwagon effect of veganism. If the majority of people become vegan, one might face real social pressure if they chose to continue eating meat. The same social pressure that vegans felt 5 years ago.

The bandwagon effect can be a good or bad thing for marketers. Quorn and Linda McCartney had very little competition on the vegetarian market for years, and now sales may be increasing for these brands but so is competition. The more popular microbreweries get – the more microbreweries appear!


How the bandwagon effect can be used.

Marketers create an illusion of the bandwagon effect by highlighting their own numbers. They may have figures on their website such as “over 5,000 websites built” or “10,000 happy clients”. As well as showing case studies and celebrity or influencer endorsements. If it seems like everyone else is using this product, it feels safer for us to buy and even like something we should be buying. 10,000 people can’t be wrong right?

The bandwagon effect is always well used by Amazon. Shamelessly, Amazon informs us that other people are buying these accessories with their new phone. If other people are frequently buying these together, there is a small amount of pressure that we should also be considering it.



Belief bias.


An effect where someone’s decision is influenced by how believable the conclusion is.


If I told you that I could definitely up your sales by 1000% within one year, you’d probably think I was lying. I mean, I am lying, but what if it was true? What if I had found a way to achieve this? You probably still wouldn’t believe me.


How belief bias can be used.

The beauty industry uses belief bias OFTEN. People are slightly suspicious about anti ageing products, and they should be, as there isn’t much evidence that they actually work. Anti-ageing products may basically be like rubbing magic beans onto your face. How do anti-ageing marketers get around this? By using believable claims.

They may say that 90% of women found that their skin was firmer after using the product. Why would someone advertise that 10% of their research participants thought the cream did nothing? Because it’s more believable than saying “this product firms your skin!” 


The Ben Franklin effect.


People are more likely to perform a favour for someone else if they have already performed a favour for that person.


It’s so counterintuitive, but we’re more likely to warm to people when we’ve done a favour FOR THEM. Ben Franklin stated: “He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another than he whom you yourself have obliged.” 

And it was later studied and confirmed by scientists Jecker & Landy 1969; Limperos et al. 2014.


How the Ben Franklin effect can be used.

So how can you get potential customers to do something for you and commit to buying? Ask them to share your content, ask them to review you, ask them to fill in short surveys and you may find that they’re more likely to make a large purchase from you further down the line. Crazy huh?


Choice-supportive bias.


The tendency to remember one’s choices as better than they really were.


When I got my first job in marketing, I was young and anxious for no reason that my boss may be unhappy with my performance and thinking about firing me. A more experienced mentor said to me “it’s a huge step for people to hire someone and then want to fire them simply for the reason that he will first have to admit that he made a bad choice by hiring you.”

And he was right. When we buy something, we look for information to support our choice. This is great news for marketers. We want people to be happy with our service or product after buying, so how can we help to support choice-supportive bias?


How choice-supportive bias can be used.

Marketing doesn’t end once someone becomes a customer. There are many, many ways to support someone’s choice once they have purchased a product or service. I’ll leave this one up to you, how can you reinforce to your customer that they have made a great decision by choosing you after a sale has been made?


Curse of knowledge.


When well-informed people find it difficult to think about things from the perspective of lesser informed people.


For this bias, I’m going to talk about business owners and not customers. Many business owners suffer from a curse of knowledge. This is why it can work out so well to hire a content writer who has less information about your industry than you do. Again, sounds counterintuitive, surely the content should be written by the experts?

Well perhaps, if your customers are also experts about your service or product. For example, if you were selling a complex dermatology product to a dermatologist. But more often than not the customer is not an expert in your industry. Your customer probably has very little information about your industry and big words, buzzwords and technical terms are probably going to go over their head. You may be someone with a PhD in your industry, trying to sell to someone who does not have any university education and doesn’t even know why they need you.

In these situations, it can be difficult to put yourself in the shoes of someone who knows nothing about what you do. Be aware of your curse of knowledge, and let someone without that knowledge give you a fresh eye over the marketing content you’re producing.


If you enjoyed this article take a look at the next blog in the series – Cognitive Bias D-H

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