BrainThere are certain shortcuts in our brain that can determine our behavior without us even knowing about it!

A cognitive bias is a pattern of deviation in judgment that occurs in particular situations.

Cognitive bias is a general term that is used to describe many observer effects in the human mind, some of which can lead to perceptual distortion, inaccurate judgment, or illogical interpretation. It is a phenomenon studied in cognitive science and social psychology.

Loss aversion

We hate losing! And we will go really far to avoid a loss. In fact, we hate losing so much, that when we’re faced with a threat of losing something we never wanted, we will put extra energy into having it. In other words, loss aversion is so strong that it can make you crave things with all your heart, and chase them with all your strength, even if before you had no interest for them. Possibility of losing them forever causes this change. It changes our preferences. It can change our priorities, too.

TIP: Position your offer so that it feel to your audience like a loss if they don’t get it. Make them believe that turning down your offer will be a loss for them.

Status Quo Bias

We prefer things the way they are

We prefer the default option. We tend to fight for the status quo and refuse changes. Even if the change is a better option, people will rather stick to what they already have (or know), because change requires energy. Politics is a great example. Even though people might be dissatisfied with the current ruling party, they will not vote to change the government, because with the change comes the unknown. So when weighting pros and cons, they come to the conclusion that they would rather stick to what they’re already familiar with.

TIP: Don’t force any change or option on your audience. Make it as painful and natural as possible. Underline how easy your solution is (that is does not require energy). Also, don’t overload your audience with decisions. That will make them feel overwhelmed, tired and confused and they will end up refusing to make any decision. That means, they will not decide to leave a comment on your post. They will not decide to like your page. they will not decide to subscribe to your newsletter. And they will not decide to buy from you.


The way perceive things depends on their framing

Our perception of the same thing will change based on the context in which it’s perceived. The frame of reference changes the way they we think about our choices and decisions. Here is a study that shows how framing works. Participants were divided in two groups. Both of them were given a story of John, a man who quits his job and then goes on an adventure in Africa, where he spends a few months. However, before reading that story each group got a list of a few words. One group read words such as: positive, winner, success. The other group read: failure, disaster, hopeless. As it was shown in the study, both groups perceived John in a different way. The group that read the positive words (positive framing), thought of him as courageous. The other group, however, being in the negative frame, thought of him reckless. But let’s remember – they read the exact same story. The only thing that changed, is what they were exposed to before (the frame).

TIP: Before you present your offer, craft the frame in which you want your prospect to receive it. If you’re selling life insurance, you might want to tell your potential customer a story of your friend who got into a serious accident, but because he didn’t have life insurance, he had to sell his house to cover the costs of medical care. This way you make your prospect more alert. You then frame your offer as a solution to never having have to fear such a situation.

If you’re a copywriter writing sales copy, you can also start with a story, in which you create the wanted frame. You can create a positive or negative starting point, which will impact how they read the rest of your copy. You can play with framing your message as a loss or as a benefit (depending on your message, one of them usually works best).

You can create frame with your website design. If you go for soft, warm colors, you create a frame of a safe, friendly and feminine environment. In this context it will be easier to sell products and services for women and families. But this frame will not work if you’re selling motorbikes.

Ingroup bias

We show preference for our group

We showing strong preferences for our group while being negative towards others. This is where our tribal nature comes out. When in groups, we produce oxytocin (the love hormone) that helps us form strong bonds with other members of the group. That makes us show preferences for them. For the same reason we tend to be suspicious and negative towards other groups. We often assume that the others are wrong, boring, dangerous, etc., only because they are not a part of our group

TIP: Craft your marketing so that it points out you are in the same group as your prospect. If your target is a 20-40 year old single man, that speak to him like a 20-40 year old single man. Show him that you’re similar, that you understand him. Use testimonials of people similar to your target group. Use images and overall design that will reflect that.

There is also a very successful technique in copywriting called Us vs. Them that’s based on the ingroup bias. It’s about positioning yourself with the prospect (Us) and in opposition to others (Them). For example, if you’re selling a dieting product, you can use this technique to position yourself with your prospect against the dieting industry, by pointing things like: dieting industry only wants to make more money, but they don’t think of us; diets are unhealthy; diets don’t work (after you finish a diet, your weight bounces back).

Hyperbolic Discounting

The next cognitive bias on our list, hyperbolic discounting, concerns itself with how we deal with time and incentives and how that decision it’s always entirely rational.

In general humans prefer to get the pleasure right now, and leave the pain for later. Economists call this hyperbolic discounting.

In a study by Read and van Leeuwen (1998), when making food choices for next week, 74% of participants chose fruit. But when deciding for today, 70% chose chocolate. That’s humans for you: chocolate today, fruit next week.

The same is true of money. Marketers know we are suckers for getting discounts right now, so they hide the pain for later on (think mobile phone deals). Unfortunately buy now, pay later offers are often very bad deals.

We should realize that the sooner the incentive is delivered the smaller (relatively) it needs to be. I actually think it’s this understanding that’s driven a small number of banks to start incentivising people to switch with relatively small monthly ‘gift’ payments. These are low compared to the annual interest that could be achieved elsewhere, but that reward is more instant and constant, which appeals to our tendency towards hyperbolic discounts.

More on Cognitive Biases

Wikipedia has a list of over 100 different cognitive biases.

I can’t recommend this book by Dan Ariely more highly. It covers most of the important cognitive biases and a lot more.