The (cognitive) shortcuts to making more money

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The (cognitive) shortcuts to making more money


Hi everyone. My name’s Jack Chape and I’m a paid media campaign manager here at Rocketmill, and today I want to talk to you about how applying simple behavioural science to your campaigns can make you more money. Now it’s Friday afternoon here at Rocketmill HQ. I know everyone’s dying to slope off and watch Morocco-Iran. I know I am. So, I want to wake everyone up with a quick question.

How many decisions do you think your brain has made today already at this point?

So it’s probably close to about 20,000 at this point because the average number of daily decisions your brain will have to make is close to 35,000.

35,000. Will you just take a moment to think about that? Well, why am I asking this? Well, we know your brain is not going to weigh up each of those 35,000 decisions. I mean, imagine having to do that. It’s gonna rely on shortcuts and these shortcuts are cognitive biases, and they might explain why you spent more on your card at lunch today or why you got 3 for 2 on packs of cookies. Now, where am I going with this? Well, I believe that if we can begin to tailor our campaigns around these cognitive biases we can enjoy a long-term return on investment.

Decision making

Now, the first point I want you to take away is that you absolutely do not have to be a behavioural scientist to understand how you can apply these finding in marketing. I’m certainly not a behavioural scientist, which may become clear throughout the course of this presentation, but I do have a desire to generally better understand human decision-making, and I can sometimes see it as a blind spot in our industry. Now, I felt compelled to do this talk after picking up this one here; Richard Shotton’s The Choice Factory, which details 25 behavioural biases that influence what we buy. And not only that, but his behavioural biases can also be applied to any marketing communication challenge we might face. So, to influence what we buy, we can apply any bias to marketing communication challenges. Sounds like we should dig a little bit deeper, right?

Understanding Bias

Now, I’m not the first person here to talk about biases. It’s a little bit of a hot topic here at Rocketmill. Bert did a great take on the influence of biases at the point of website conversion and, more recently, Neil did a great talk on how we can reduce bias in our data analysis. But today, I want to to take a step back and consider the role of behavioural science in advertising and, principally, how we can begin to tailor our digital campaigns around these biases.

So, let’s have a recap on these biases. As the brain does not have the mental capacity to consider each of these 35,000 decisions it turns to these cognitive shortcuts. Now I’m not expecting you to be able to read all of these. This is just to demonstrate or illustrate the different biases that enable us to make quicker decisions, determine what’s important and remember key information. Now, naturally, these biases can have a huge impact on our decision-making ability and buying behaviour as well. Successful brands have always applied findings from behavioural science to their campaigns, and I believe that tapping into biases is one of the easiest ways to do this. I just want to touch through one example.

Pratfall effect

There’s a well-known bias called the pratfall effect. First discovered by this handsome chap, Elliot Aronson, a Harvard University psychologist in 1966, a good year by all accounts. This study found that when a person presents a weakness, they immediately become more attractive and likeable. If you’re lucky, you may just fall victim to this-this afternoon. And the study found this is one of the many pieces of evidence-based research, evidence-based studies, that have led to the discovery of these biases. And it’s important that we have more of a grounding in this evidence-based research rather than just relying on industry myths because too often trends can be treated as truth. Now this bias, the pratfall effect, can be applied to brands and products as well. Guinness made this, actually, their primary point of leverage with their ‘Good things come to those who wait for campaigns’, admitting a weakness the time it takes for a Guinness to pour. And it’s this admission of weakness that makes the other claims seem a lot more believable. And I don’t need to tell you how successful they were over the years with that campaign. Let’s just take a moment here to look at that.

Now, adapting the pratfall effect, you’d need to have a good product or service, to begin with, and it would need to be a small weakness. I don’t think they could’ve said: “Good things come to those who want to put on weight.” But it’s this technique actually, funny enough, admitting a small weakness has also proven to be very effective in dating bias as well. So there you go. Free scientific match-making advice for you on a Friday. You’re welcome.

Behavioural science

So let’s consider the role of behavioural science in marketing. Now, whilst the likes of Richard Shotton and Rory Sutherland at Ogilvy change have really been championing behavioural science in marketing in recent years, they do seem to be in a minority. A conversation shouldn’t just be happening at this TED Talk level. We really all should be more invested in it as it really is so successful tapping into these biases. We know that consumers are targeted with thousands of marketing messages a day. We know that brain relies on biases to determine which are important and which are relevant to us. So, if we can tap into these cognitive patterns in our campaigns, surely that’s gonna lead to better creative and a better response because we’re going with a natural cognitive flow. We’re not going against the grain.

So why aren’t we taking this approach more? Well, I believe the growth of digital may have something to answer for. Quite scary that isn’t it? This growing obsession with the tech and the tactics means our own energy can be consumed with the platforms, the algorithms, the shiny new things if you like and whilst digital metrics are imperative for us to be making data-driven decisions, just because it’s digital doesn’t mean that the strategy and the creativity should take a backseat or a general understanding of human decision-making.

Integrating bias into your campaign

So, I’ve spoken about why we need to have more of a grounding in evidence-based research in a digital age and why we should be paying these biases more attention than we currently are. Now, I want to talk to you about how you can begin to harness these biases and integrate them into your campaigns. First, I just want to touch on a quote from John Hegarty, founder of BBH, which I actually just saw this week. He said, “Data is great at giving you information, giving you knowledge, but it doesn’t give you understanding.” Now, whilst I don’t wholeheartedly agree with that statement, I do believe that simple behavioural insights alongside the data that we’ve got can start to give us more of this understanding.

We can already make data-driven decisions against people in real time and this data gives us certain understanding, but could we make even better decisions with our planning, with our buying, with our creative and our analysis if we had more of an understanding of our audience’s decisions making? So, if we know that the timing and the framing of the information can have such an impact on decision-making, we should absolutely be tailoring our campaigns where possible. So, I wanted to test this with a paid media campaign that I manage and Facebook seemed like a great place to start. We know we have to be doing more on the platform to attract and retain information. Notwithstanding all the privacy concerns, we’re now up against six million other advertisers and algorithm updates are favouring organic content.

So, how do I do this? Well, I picked up the book with the intention of identifying 10 to 15 biases that could be influencing our audience’s decision-making that I could easily start to think of ideas for. So using a bias which is the solution to fit the challenge driving high-quality traffic which a chance to convert, I was able to conjure up specific ideas for writing copy and creative within about 15 minutes. And this might be reframing the message or presenting price points with the different order based on the importance that people place on the first number they’ve seen. Now I know this is completely illegible. I don’t want to give away all my creative ideas, but this is just to demonstrate how easy it was to do this. To pick up a book, scan some biases and start to think, put yourself in your audience’s shoes, are these applying to them.

So how can you do this yourself? Bring your data to life and consider relevant biasses that might be affecting your audience’s decision-making. And then start to think about you can tailor your creative and your copy and your landing pages around these. In the digital age, it’s so easy to start doing this. And finally, go and test this. Now I’ve spoken about testing and tactics and sure, these are tactics, but it’s more of a strategic approach to evidence-based thinking at the heart of it.

Cognitive shortcuts

Now, if I haven’t managed to sell you already, I’ve chosen three biases, three cognitive shortcuts that influence consumers’ buying behaviour and I’ve put together a little playbook on how you can start to hack these shortcuts for your own success.

Loss aversion

The first one, loss aversion. So, we are more motivated to avoid losses than we are to pursue gains. So effectively better not to lose five pounds than it is to find five pounds. So thinking about this, think about how you can increase the chance of conversions on your website and really ramp up your conversion rate. So, if you’re an eCommerce retailer, think about using messaging such as, ‘Don’t miss out. Hurry, only three/four days left. 10 people have bought already.” You can use dynamic countdown parameters to countdown to the final second of your sale. And for existing customers, think about exclusive launches and member benefits they’re not gonna want to miss out on.

Cocktail party effect

The next one, the cocktail party effect. So, this bias proved that we place more importance and information if there is some personal relevance. So that’s the ability to shut out loads of other stimuli and just focus on one thing. So, if we’re in a busy office here, I’m sitting down talking to someone and I hear Jack across the room, immediately I can shut out everything else and my head will just crane in and be able to focus on that. So in a digital age when consumers are getting hounded by thousands of messages a day, think about how you can start to achieve cut through and personalization and localization are key here. So think about dynamic display creative. The changes that the creative’s based on, the type of audience or the actions they may have already taken on your website. Think about localized creative as well. That can be programmatic or it can even be digital out of the home if you want to drive actual footfall to your brick and mortar stores and personalize the landing page experience and emails as well for your users.

Empathy effect

So I’ve spoken about how you can increase conversion rate on site and how you can achieve cut through to get more people to the website. This is more about building a long-term relationship and not pissing off consumers, basically. So, we acknowledge that mood and context effects decision-making, but we persistently underestimate the influence it has on our own decision-making. So, we’re aware of it, we don’t think we’re doing it ourselves. So, have a bit more empathy for your customers. Put yourself in their shoes. Look at the data. Look at the data you’ve got from search. When are they likely to engage and when are they likely to convert? Think about frequency slopes as well. Don’t keep hitting them over the head with the same creative over and over again and expecting them to convert. Consider turning off sometimes as well. It’s not bad to do that.


So, behavioural science can inspire or support great creative, it adds to your intuition. Don’t go against the grain; go with the cognitive flow and the biases can be the solution that fits the problem or challenge you’ve got. We know the brain is not going to weigh up every decision it has to make and we’re competing for attention so have more empathy with consumers, and harnessing biases in the right way will lead to better creative, a better response, and ultimately more cash. Thank you.