Friday Forecast: Is Bias Infecting Your Marketing Efforts?

by Colleen Ferrier and Rick Petry on Jul 21, 2017 11:01:25 AM Brand Marketing, Social Media


Amid our hazy summer of discontent, accusations of bias are everywhere. From charges of prejudicial news reporting, to the suppression of free speech on campuses, to one-sided social media screeds, the human tendency to lean into the views we agree with has become increasingly commonplace. In a world that is awash with a glut of information, the instinct to sort through and locate data that aligns with our preconceived notions acts as a kind of shortcut that allows one to separate the proverbial wheat from the chafe. It is perhaps a more frontal lobe version of what Malcolm Gladwell refers to as “thin slicing” in his book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking; that is “the ability for our unconscious to find patterns in situations and behavior based on narrow slices of experience.” Meanwhile, as the world of marketing and advertising continues to grow in manifold complexity, as professionals it’s critical that we ask ourselves this question: when it comes to architecting our own campaigns, are we submitting to bias?

“In psychology and cognitive science, confirmation bias (or confirmatory bias) is a tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions, leading to statistical errors,” according to ScienceDaily. How does this tendency manifest itself in today’s social media-saturated world? According to a Pew Research Center report, 31% of social media users have changed their settings to block political posts that offended them, while 27% have blocked or unfriended an individual for the same reason. By curating their social media feed, users are essentially filtering out information that offends them or that they don’t wish to be exposed to.

When it comes to such bias and the shopping experience, consider whether you’ve ever engaged in behavior similar to this: you see something that intrigues you and then, depending upon how keen your interest is and how that interest positions you in the sales funnel – say mild consideration versus a strong desire to acquire the item you’ve seen – you look for social proof online, perhaps on the likes of Amazon in the form of ratings and reviews. You gravitate towards those posts that affirm your interest and are dismissive of the ones that don’t align with your percolating desire. The process pushes you further down the sales funnel from prospect to purchaser.

This is exactly what your Friday Forecaster’s did with Dunkirk, the Christopher Nolan film which had its soft opening last night and that debuts nationwide this weekend. Based on the trailer and the auteur’s previous oeuvre, we suspected we’d want to see it. Looking to affirm our hunch, we discovered it received 92% “fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes – check; 94% approval rating on Metacritic – double check. Digging a little deeper, our eyes scan the Rotten Tomatoes site and see plump shiny red orb after orb – oh, but then there’s the New York Observer’s Rex Reed giving it the green splat icon – but we never particularly agreed with his opinions anyway, and wasn’t he in that monster bomb Myra Breckinridge? and, well, you get the point.

Dunkirk.jpgPoster from Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

The flipside of this type of thinking is that is narrows one’s thought process and, with it, our capacity for what is possible. While our instincts on Dunkirk were accurate – it is a visceral and gripping chronicle of the pitilessness of war that is well worth seeing – confirmation bias can also prove to be a limiting factor that undermines our best (or worst) intentions. Nowhere in our professional experience has this tendency manifested itself more than in terms of attitudes towards social media marketing. The use of social media as a marketing tool is a quagmire to many; a confusing, rabbit-hole of a money drain with indeterminate impact. The trouble is, often this belief is based on personal bias along these lines: the individual who is down on social media is not a user of social media themselves, often based on the belief that it is an invasion of privacy or trivial waste of time, and then they use their own beliefs and behavior as rationale for its dismissal. This sort of enmity towards an entire category of marketing ignores the fact that social media has fundamentally changed the way members of society assimilate news and opinion and, increasingly, make decisions in their daily lives. These sorts of attitudes can be particularly vociferous, stubborn, and, well, personal – like the loved one offended by your smartphone addiction who would prefer that you be present with them, as opposed to being engaged with someone reflected on your screen who is far afield.

Put simply, we think this sort of thinking is more emotionally driven as opposed to being based on rational thinking. It’s also a form of intellectual laziness. Mind you, the world of marketing has become a rather Byzantine mess, and it can be wearying. But just like those contrary opinions that make us wince, but that, sometimes, leak through to reshape our thinking, your Friday Forecasters are merely suggesting that you set aside any such bias. Our point here is to encourage you to consider the full suite of options available to today’s marketer – whether that be DRTV, print, or some other advertising vehicle you may have less experience with. After all, to do otherwise is a form of “mother-in-law” research; that is the tendency to rely on one opinion (your own) and ascribing it to the world. And nobody wants to be their mother-in-law, now do they? Talk about bias.

 About the Authors

Colleen & Rick.jpgColleen Ferrier is a seasoned direct marketing expert who specializes in guiding integrated direct-to-consumer campaigns with an acute focus on ROI. Her broad experience has included management oversight of marketing, operations, media, and international distribution. The campaigns she has been instrumental in helping lead to success across her 15+ year career include Pillow Pets, Little Giant Ladder, Dream Lites, and Stompeez. Ferrier has a Bachelor of Arts in Communications from Augusta University, Georgia.

Rick Petry is a direct marketing veteran of over 25 years who has been involved with campaigns that have generated over $1 billion in sales. He provides creative services to both B2C and B2B marketing campaigns and recent projects have included Actegy/Revitive, Education Connection, GOLO, Joybird, and OYO/DoubleFlex. The author of over 200 articles on direct marketing best practices, Petry has a Bachelor of Arts in Cinema/Television from the University of Southern California and an MBA with a Concentration in Marketing and Sales from Marylhurst University.

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