Making use of heuristic biases in advertising & brand building

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Have you heard about heuristic biases? These are essentially biases or traps that we often fall in to while making decisions. I believe Kahneman and Tversky coined these terms to represent the thumb rules we use. Read their 1974 article here. For today, let's understand one of them, representativeness heuristic and two practical applications; one in decision-making and other on how they can be utilized in marketing communications.

Before we start, keep in mind a  general questionnaire survey  showcasing some of the general scenarios in the day-to-day life of a Marketing Manager. Representativeness Heuristic is the fallacy wherein we determine the probability of an occurrence based on our learning from past experiences. It is based on the school of thought that we as normal human beings tend to categorize our lives. A simple example may be that we may think - if a person wears kurtha and white color attire, he must be a politician. Representativeness Heuristic finds many applications in marketing and advertising. A typical example used in marketing is the use of similar packaging by unknown brands or counterfeit products to mimic bestselling products. Few examples are provided in this Yahoo article (The 10 Most Counterfeited Products in America).

Let's now turn our discussion to a scenario we recently tested out. Often a content marketer need to decide between two vendors or channels of promotion for activities and resources she create. For B2C marketers  whose products are slightly techno-gadget oriented, the choices become complex since the audience rely on various channels when it comes to buying a gadget. For example, while buying a product like a premium android smartphone, a lady in the rich segment may rely on a magazine like Linux for You to keep abreast of changing technology whereas when it comes to the final decisionon buying the gadget; she may also rely on Fashion Indie. The protagonist in the scenario is a Marketing Manager trying to understand a promotion analysis report to decide the marketing channel. The scenario and questions are provided here. Though the scenario was given in an incomplete format, the theory behind represntativeness heuristic was clearly evident in  the responses we received. As per the scenario provided, 90% of the potential customers read IEEE journal and 10% read Fashion-Mag. Seven sample descriptions of various potential customers were given. Respondents were asked to identify which magazine each of the seven would be reading in their opinion. If we have to go by the population data, most of them should ideally identify them as reading IEEE magazine since the scenario states 90% of the potential customers read IEEE journal. However the survey results show that 56.7% of the respondents choose Fashion-Mag and 42.3% chose IEEE Journal.

You may ask what does this have to do in marketing & communications? As you may have thought, representativeness heuristic is an underlying concept in consumer behavior and how one make purchases. Packaging, and advertising themes having positive associations in a consumer's mind has a better chance of conversion. One of the success factors of Apple products is the association of Apple with high quality and brand. Similarly a product which had a high impact advertising theme will be more successful than a rival whose advertising theme was mediocre. In other words, a company having a positive brand association stand a better chance in being successful.

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