Why confirm when you can learn...

Understanding the confirmation bias in marketing

Do you know why Religion is so comforting?

I know, asking this question is like opening a pandora’s box. But, honestly, have you ever thought about it? How does the same religious text comfort everyone and anyone who believes in it, regardless of class, gender, or economic background?

One of the most plausible explanations is that religion can be very subjective. Your interpretation of religion depends mainly on who you are and what you seek in life.

Similar to religion, in general, we tend to look for things that affirm our existing beliefs. Unfortunately, this tendency very easily turns into a bias known as The Confirmation Bias. It describes that we tend to focus on and give greater credence to evidence that fits our existing beliefs.

This bias explains how flat-earthers or anti-vaxxers can sustain their beliefs despite overwhelming evidence against them. Everyone with a socio-political opinion might also be guilty of indulging in this bias. For example, liberals or radicals (or anyone else) will only focus on evidence supporting their argument while either ignoring or dissing the proof that goes against their stand.

Conclusions drawn from such biased evidence can lead to some very problematic standpoints. Can you imagine what will happen when various individuals with such a standpoint come together? A group of people who are so engrossed in their own set of beliefs that they are not willing to listen to the other side. Sounds like trouble, right? Well, the good news is, if we want to, we can overcome this bias.

The first step of overcoming this bias is to look at why this happens. In some of my previous newsletters, I have mentioned that our brain uses shortcuts called heuristics. Although Confirmation Bias is not officially recognized as a heuristic, it helps our brain cut down on efforts. For example, forming new beliefs or explanations takes time, so our brain takes the path of least resistance and sticks to existing beliefs.

Another reason why this bias occurs is that it protects our self-esteem. Can you think of an instance when you were wrong about something? How did you feel then? Most people feel bad and unintelligent when their belief is questioned or worse when it is proved false. And, honestly, no one likes this feeling. This is why confirmation bias pries on groups as well. We tend to avoid people who challenge our beliefs and stick to the ones who validate them.

Just like always, there is a reason why I am telling you about yet another bias. The confirmation bias has the potential to shape an individual’s or a group’s worldview. Don’t you think various brands and marketers would use such a strong bias to promote their products/services?

Here is how you can use the confirmation bias for your brand’s advantage -

(a) Highlight your solutions - Before you introduce your product/service, educate the customers about the problem and then highlight your answer to the given problem. When you make the customers aware of the problem, you build up a belief system in your customer. And when you introduce your product, it will confirm with the belief that already exists in your customers.

(b) Reinforce your brand image - Once you have achieved a certain level of brand awareness, you can use the confirmation bias to reiterate what your brand stands for. For example, irrespective of how healthy or unhealthy coca-cola products are, we always associate the brand with the feeling of happiness and bubbliness. This association has everything to do with how the brand portrays itself.

Thanks to the confirmation bias, most loyal customers begin to associate their identity with a particular brand. If you have ever crossed paths with a heavy Apple user, you know what I am talking about.

There are many other ways you can use confirmation bias to your advantage; however, you should be cognizant. This bias can sometimes act as a double agent; here is how -

  • Imaginary audience - Frequently, marketers or developers, due to confirmation bias, assume many factors about their audience. Unfortunately, working with these assumptions will be like throwing darts in the dark. What you can do instead is use strategies grounded in reality and data collected from the actual customers.

  • Unnecessary inventions -  Confirmation bais is the voice in your head that tells you not to wait for test results because you know what the outcome will be. While testing a new product or making creative changes, always ( I can’t stress enough) wait for the test results to check what works best with the customers.

Confirmation bias is innate to humans, but we can learn to work around the bias, as I have mentioned before. The best way to do that is by learning about the bias in-depth. The more you know, the better your decisions will be. So learn away, my friend, learn away!

Some quick takeaways -

(a) Confirmation Bias is our tendency to focus on and give greater credence to evidence that fits our existing beliefs.

(b) Confirmation bias can hinder the ability of decision-making, both in individuals and in groups.

(c) Confirmation bias occurs because it is a shortcut used by our brain, and also it helps us protect our self-esteem.

(d) It is a powerful bias that can be used to enhance a brand’s image.