Persuasion Techniques in Marketing – Cognitive Bias D-H

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. Some of us are more prone to certain biases than others, and some of us are more prone at different times. But none of us, use perfect rationality.


Here is a list of cognitive biases and how they can be used in marketing.

To view the A-C list, please click here. 


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.


Distinction Bias. 


The tendency to view two options as more dissimilar when evaluating them simultaneously than when evaluating them separately.


Want to make two very similar things look very different? Put them next to each other. 

I’ve been looking for laptops. Now, if you had handed me a Lenovo Yoga 530, I would have been extremely happy with that. But instead of just buying a laptop I decided to go down the dark route of YouTube reviews and tech comparison sites. I began thinking that a Microsoft Surface Pro would have been more suitable, even though there is not a great deal of difference (honestly there’s not) between the Lenovo and Microsoft technology, I decided the pen was better for the small reason that it has a rubber tip and Microsoft have actually worked with Adobe to create the hardware. 

Then I got into looking at whether the Intel Core i5 or i7 is better, is the i7 really worth an extra few hundred for a few seconds faster performance? It’s not a question I would have even asked if it weren’t for having to choose from laptops which are exactly the same except for their Intel Core. 

Through my own cognitive bias loving brain, I have been PARALYSED by distinction bias. I’ve been trying to decide which laptop to buy, for an entire month. There are SO many details to consider. Even though, I have been happy enough with my 7-year-old Asus notebook. 

When we look at one product, it looks great. Hand us a brand new Samsung and we’re pretty wowed. But put it next to a new iPhone and then we start comparing details. We could have gone without certain features before but now they feel very important. What am I getting for this price? Which is better – Bixby or Siri? 

If you’re lining out the details of a product, and you want to make one look superior, highlight the difference to another product, even if it is very small.

If the two products are very similar, putting information about the two products side by side can fool our brains into thinking they’re very different. If you want someone to be wowed by a tiny detail, compare it to one other option.

Microsoft have the functionality to select any of their computers to compare side by side. That extra screen inch starts to look much more of a big deal.



Exaggerated expectation. 


Based on the estimates, real-world evidence turns out to be less extreme than our expectations.


According to the research behind this bias, we expect that something will happen more frequently than it actually does.

Or if we have low expectations and think something will happen less frequently than it really does. Our expectations are exaggerated, a lot of the time. 

So if you assume for example, that your neighbourhood is safe, you may be shocked when presented with actual numbers of crime in your area. They will probably be much higher than your expectations. 

How many people do you think have been killed in South Yorkshire in the last year? 50? A hundred? Thousands? How big of a problem do you think knife crime is around here? How about drug dealers and gang crimes? 

In South Yorkshire in the past year, there were 19 murder and manslaughter investigations. The year before it was 13. This year, there were 9 fatal stabbings.

For an area of 1.3 million people, to be honest, I expected it to be a bit higher. Maybe I read too much Agatha Christie. 

So how can this bias be used? Well, it’s used in politics a lot. Politicians and their newspapers don’t like to give actual numbers when they’re talking about knife crime or drunk driving. If they want to get a reaction out of us, they just tell us it’s “on the rise”. They rely on us to exaggerate our expectations because then the policies they work on seem much more important. 

When you’re doing your marketing, you can be sure that people will have exaggerated expectations. This may involve anything from how often they’ll use a product – to how many of their zits are going to disappear.

When I first got my Samsung tablet, I imagined myself using it daily. In reality, I don’t even use it weekly! If I had not had this exaggerated expectation I’d probably be a tiny bit richer.

Have you used your gym membership as often as you expected?

You also need to manage expectations when you are selling. Not only is it ethical, but it also saves you from having to explain why your client hasn’t achieved 20 new bookings in a week after hiring you to make a video for them. Assume people will expect unrealistic figures.


Forer effect. 


The observation that individuals will give high accuracy ratings to descriptions of their personality that supposedly are tailored specifically for them, but are in fact vague and general enough to apply to a wide range of people.


People end up believing in star signs and personality tests such as the Myers Briggs type indicator because of the Forer effect. And I’m not one to judge – I am a typical Libran after all. 

When we’re marketing, we are aiming at tailoring content specifically for our customer and it should feel like it’s tailored for each individual person. 

Construct your buyer profiles, interview your ideal customers, create a persona of who you want to market to. Then develop your message.

If you make a message sound very specific, you have leeway here. A lot of people will accept it as speaking to them and their personality, even though you’re aiming content at a relatively wide range of people. 

For example, you get your demographic information and your target audience is women 25-40, who are mothers. 

Using the Forer effect you can make your message seem very personal and targeted. (Before I begin this copy, forgive me for the cheesiness.) “Are you a busy mother who wants the best for her family but doesn’t have time to cook every day?” 

  1. No one has “time” to cook every day. 
  2. All mothers are busy. 
  3. All mothers want the best for their family. 

But even though these things would apply for most mums with kids, it sounds like you’re talking directly to that mum.

Just like we ignore the details of our zodiac that don’t apply to us, you can add in more details like “struggling to find a good work/home bias, but chores keep getting in the way?” Women who don’t work will gloss over that detail, and the message will have the same effect. 


Hostile attribution bias. 


The “hostile attribution bias” is the tendency to interpret others’ behaviour as having hostile intent, even when the behaviour is ambiguous or benign.


We all have differing degrees of hostile attribution bias, some of us assume everyone has a good nature and will be kind to us, and some of us see two people laughing in the street and assume they’re laughing at us.

It all depends on how people have treated us in the past. If we’ve experienced high amounts of rejection in life, such as we were neglected at home and bullied at school, then our hostile attribution bias may be stronger. 

And you know what, a lot of us haven’t had great starts in life, a lot of us have been rejected and bullied. People deal with the effects of childhood abuse and bullying for the rest of their lives, even your customers. And so we need to be making our content accommodating and welcoming to everyone, not just those that can “take a joke”. 

There is a book I love that goes into hostile attribution bias in detail. It’s called Popular – Why Being Liked is The Secret to Greater Success. If we’re unpopular in school this has a deep effect on us and can make us perceive ambiguous interactions as hostile. Always worth bearing in mind in every business interaction we have, no matter how confident someone comes across. 

You can buy this awesome book here.


And aside from childhood bullying. You know it, I know it. People take things the wrong way. ESPECIALLY on the internet. 

Online, we’re saying most things by text, which makes reading sarcasm etc difficult. On top of that, we’re dealing with a global audience here, whether that’s our target audience or not. There are nuances between cultures that get lost in translation online. 

And our brains may sometimes have a bias to interpret information as hostile. No wonder we’re all arguing out here. 

I’m gonna show you this “one cool trick” where you can make your interactions with customers not be perceived as hostile. 


Yup, emojis. 

I am a huge emoji user. Not necessarily when I’m writing content but when I’m responding to customer comments on social media. (As well as business emails.)

“Great point Brad! 👍”

“What are you like? 😉”

“That’s really interesting Susan, 🤔 thanks for your input.”

“Wow good idea! 💡”

“Thanks for sharing 🙂 “

“We’re sorry your coupon wasn’t accepted in-store Jenny. 😞 If you send me your email I can give you a discount code for your next visit!”

Emojis make your tone of voice a LOT friendlier when you’re interacting with customers. It may not be “on brand” for you to use a lot of emojis on your content, but using them in your mentions really won’t hurt and makes communication a lot more straight forward. If you’re saying something which could at all be taken the wrong way – use an emoji.

If you enjoyed this article I will be working on cognitive biases – I-L soon! So please make sure to follow me to keep up to date with my articles.


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