The following is adapted from Marketing to Mindstates by Will Leach.
The average person is tasked with making 35,000 decisions every day. 35,000!!!
To keep us sane, our brains make most of these decisions on a nonconscious level using mental shortcuts, or triggers, that require less thinking, thereby making decisions easier.
These triggers are known as cognitive heuristics.
When marketers know the “triggers” their target consumers use to make decisions in their category, they can design advertising creative that triggers consideration and choice for their brand. This allows them to get better results from their marketing without wasting time and money on content strategies that don’t provide an ROI.
To activate on these triggers, you’ll need to know the most common triggers used today. Here are 21 of the most common ones we see in our research, and the ones we use to trigger behaviors in our consulting work.
1. Ambiguity Effect
The ambiguity effect makes us avoid unclear options and unknown outcomes. We will often avoid products and services that seem hard to use or have unclear benefits or details, so avoid making your product or service feel this way.
Similarly, you want to make your marketing creative as clear and simple as possible. Sometimes that means you need to not waste the consumer’s time with all the product elements, specifications, and benefits that seem important (but aren’t).
Anchoring occurs when we use one option (normally the first option) as the measuring stick for all the options that come after it. Without anchoring, people would look at every element as its own unique, independent reason for choosing a product.
But with this heuristic, a decision is anchored by one option.
Grocery “end caps” are a common example of this. Shoppers often see the discounted price of a product on an end cap in a grocery store and then use that price to evaluate the pricing (and perceived value) of all the items in an aisle.
As a marketer, you want to become the anchor.
3. Availability Bias
Availability bias is overestimating the likelihood of an event that has recently happened because it is more available in our memory, regardless of the facts.
After a major airplane crash, people tend to believe airplane crashes are more likely. They’ll switch to driving instead of flying, even though traveling by car is statistically far more dangerous than traveling by plane.
4. Confirmation Bias
Confirmation bias means searching for, interpreting, and remembering information that confirms our previous opinions or beliefs. This is referred to as a bias because it’s commonly used to describe mistakes made when using this heuristic.
Using this heuristic, people gravitate to information, products, and services that reconfirm their opinions and beliefs (and therefore their self-identity).
5. Conformity Effect
The conformity effect means we match attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors to “people like us” because it feels like a safer, easier, or more ideal option. The conformity effect keeps people from having to figure out how to behave. It’s a copycat effect.
People often match their views and behaviors to what they perceive others expect of them. This is why we dress up for weddings—it’s what we think is expected.
6. Decoy Effect
The decoy effect is our predisposition to modify the preference between two options by introducing a third one that leans toward one of the original two.
Let’s say you’re preparing two monthly TV subscription plans. You can get forty channels for $40. Or you can get eighty channels for $80. In this scenario, many people would choose the lower-cost option.
But you can sway value perceptions toward the higher-cost option by offering a third option, such as ninety channels at the higher-still price of $150.00.
When people compare all three, suddenly the middle option looks more appealing and the lowest-cost option looks like a lackluster choice.
7. Egocentric Bias
The egocentric bias pushes us to believe that positive results come from our individual actions, not from chance or another outside influence.
People like to feel they’re due all the credit for reaching their goals. They want to feel as if they’re in control of their destiny and their choices are why they’re successful.
To market effectively into this heuristic, focus less on your brand’s benefits and more on giving credit to your consumer. Most brands would be better off saying, “Hey, the actions you’re taking are the reason you’re successful.”
8. Halo Effect
The halo effect is evident when we let the positive or negative feelings about one entity spill over into another nearby entity. When people like one element of a product or brand, they generally like all the elements of that product or brand.
If your brand’s direct mail piece is explaining all the advantages of an insurance policy, you should put your logo next to those benefits. Perhaps it says, “You can save $400 a year. You will get the best access to doctors. It’s simple and easy to sign up.”
By placing the logo by each benefit, the positive associations will halo to the brand.
9. Immediacy Bias
Immediacy bias makes us value an immediate payoff over a later one, even if the later one is much bigger. This bias helps to explain why people use coupons they find on packages more than they use those of even greater value sent to their home.
They buy a box of cookies only for the instant reward of peeling the fifty-cent discount coupon off the package. It’s more compelling than the $1 discount coupon at home.
10. IKEA Effect
The IKEA effect is our predisposition to place a disproportionately high value on objects we feel part of creating. When consumers buy furniture from IKEA, they generally need to assemble it themselves and value it more as a result.
This effect happens regardless of the quality of the result. Even if it’s a piece of furniture that looks terrible, the consumer will value it more highly because they put it together.
Betty Crocker launched as a cake mix that just required water to make cake batter. Sales were abysmal until they removed the eggs from the mix and made the customer add the eggs themselves. Turns out, customers wanted the feeling of cooking.
11. In-Group Bias
The in-group bias is our predisposition to give other people preferential treatment when those people are perceived to be similar to ourselves.
When people buy weight-loss products, they look for testimonials from people with an age that is close to their own, or a weight that is (or was) close to their own weight.
That similarity makes the consumers feel more comfortable making the purchase, because they perceive it to mean they can achieve the same results.
12. Attentional Bias
Attentional bias sees our perceptions affected by recurring thoughts. The idea is that people see and pay attention to things that are more top of mind.
This is why after you buy a new car, you tend to see it everywhere, much more often than you had before. Attentional bias is what breaks through the clutter (all the other cars on the road) and makes you notice one particular type of car.
13. Loss Aversion
Loss aversion happens when we overemphasize the value of things that are personally owned or perceived to be owned and the desire to avoid losing those things.
What’s an example of using loss aversion in marketing?
A credit card offer that reads, “You are prequalified for this exclusive offer.” That signals to consumers that they already own it, and they’ll lose it if they don’t sign up.
14. Mental Accounting
Mental accounting is our predisposition to categorize options into mental buckets and find balance among those buckets to make our choices easier.
If a consumer has filled her cart or basket with healthy foods at the grocery store, it makes it easier for them to add less healthy foods. I’ve got so much good stuff here that it’s OK for me to indulge a little, they might think. Let me just go down the cookie aisle.
I often tell brands, “Don’t try to be a ‘better-for-you’ cookie. You’re competing against all the healthful things in the grocery and in the consumer’s shopping cart. Talk about how indulgent your cookie is because that’s what cookie shoppers are looking for.”
15. Peak-End Rule
The peak-end rule sees us evaluate an entire experience by its most positive or negative peak and also how it ended. This happens with vacations. We often describe the entire trip based on its best or worst moments, or our feeling on the final day.
That approach is easier than evaluating the vacation’s merits hour by hour.
As a marketer, then, you make one or two things incredibly cool and exciting because a consistent experience is less memorable than one with one or two peaks.
16. Primacy Effect
The primacy effect means we remember the endpoints of a list versus items in the middle. For example, car shoppers who look at multiple options most often go with the first and last cars they looked at when they’re making comparisons or choices.
Every option in the middle kind of blends in together.
To influence the decision, then, try to be the first or last product customers see.
Reciprocity shows up when somebody does something nice for us. When this happens, there’s often a desire to do something for that person in return. That’s why when you’re at a bar and somebody buys a round of beers, you feel a desire to buy the next round.
In marketing, this is most often used in sampling products at the retailer.
After you’ve been given some free food at the grocery store, this heuristic might drive you to feel like you should buy something in return to reciprocate.
18. Scarcity Effect
With the scarcity effect, we place greater value on things perceived to be limited or scarce. That extra perceived value causes us to act in the moment.
That’s why we’re more likely to buy right away when we see the words “Only ten seats left!” on an airline’s website. This heuristic is one of the most popular among Americans because most of us are hardwired to avoid missing out on something valuable.
19. Bandwagon Effect
The bandwagon effect is our predisposition to do or believe things that we perceive are popular among others. Consumers are more likely to buy services marked as the most popular option because they perceive safety in buying universally appealing things.
McDonald’s boasts “over a billion served” as a way to leverage the bandwagon effect.
20. Status Quo Bias
The status quo bias is the reason we like things to remain the same.
People are often creatures of habit who don’t tend to like change. It’s why so many people stick with the same brands. It’s not about an emotional connection. It’s the desire to avoid change and save the time it would take to consider new options.
Many brands mistakenly believe they need to make constant improvement or changes to maintain consumers’ loyalty. Although the changes might benefit the consumer, it can backfire because changes force consumers to change a habit.
People know how to find their tried-and-true brands by their design cues.
A design change to the packaging could cause them to reconsider your brand and, in doing so, consider your competitors for the first time in years.
21. Sunk Cost Fallacy
The sunk cost fallacy forces us to continue an action despite evidence that the action is a bad or inferior choice. The classic example is a person’s reluctance to leave a movie theater early, even though they really dislike the movie. People often keep watching because they’ve already “sunk” the time and money into the movie.
In marketing, you can use this heuristic by helping people feel committed to an action or process. Salespeople call this the “foot-in-the-door” bias. They want to get you to commit to something small first, such as coming over to the car dealership.
When people commit to anything and take more actions toward it, they’re more likely to accept future commitments because they don’t want to give up the sunk costs.
Apply These 21 Triggers to Grow Your ROI & Your Confidence
Marketing doesn’t have to feel like a game of Russian roulette. By implementing these cognitive heuristics to your content strategy, you’ll greatly improve your chances of catching your consumers’ attention, keeping them engaged, and driving them to take action.
If you want to learn more about applying behavioral science and psychology to your marketing creative, purchase the Mindstate Marketing Starter Package. For just $39.99, your bundle will include:
- An autographed hard copy and digital copy of Marketing to Mindstates
- A hard and digital copy of the Mindstate Marketing Workbook
- The Mindstate Marketing Charter
With this package, you’ll learn how to implement Mindstate Marketing (including these triggers) to your advertising creative. Plus, you’ll get the resources you need to start executing a custom content strategy based on science for your business.