By Don Sturgill
HE WAS A BRIGHT young guy, fresh out of college and cram-packed with knowledge about Internet marketing and social media. He could have been the model on a Gen Y characteristics chart.
Soon after he began interning on our SEO team, he told me the company blog was in severe need of a redesign. “It’s way too old school,” he insisted, “it needs pizzazz, some flash, some excitement.”
I understood his mistake. He possessed plenty of business education, but little business experience. The thing that truly amazed me, though, is that even after I explained to him our customers were primarily from the boomer generation and typically quite conservative … he still held tightly to his viewpoint.
He not only failed to listen, but was so sure of his own knowledge he wasn’t even open to listening.
Are you making the same mistake?
I know. You’re not an intern, you run the company – or at least you’re responsible for part of it. You know your customers and you talk their language. You would never make such a simple mistake.
Here’s the kicker, though: My young co-worker did not make a mistake. Had it been a simple case of error, he would have seen the validity of my explanation and changed his mind. (Doesn’t it bug you to no end when you argue your point masterfully, but the listener goes away still unconvinced?)
You see, his actions told me that – in his mind – he was correct. We needed to jazz up our site, and he was going to hold onto that idea no matter how many marketing best practice arguments I threw at him.
Don’t miss this: He wasn’t wrong; he was biased.
Bias in the workplace, a primary source of error
In common usage, someone who is “biased” prefers one thing over another for some unrealistic reason. Bias isn’t always “bad” though. For instance, we teach our children to be wary of strangers. That is an example of Mere Exposure Effect, or “Familiarity Principle.” We tend to trust people we know and distrust strangers. It’s a form of bias. But children aren’t experienced enough to judge whether or not a person is worthy of their trust. Adults pay for gullibility by losing money. Children have much more at stake than that, so we teach bias as a safeguard.
Normally, though, we want to avoid bias because it skews vision and leads to wrong conclusions. Bias can cause a cancer researcher to waste millions of dollars going down a fruitless path. Bias can lead an airplane pilot to ignore instrument readings and fly straight into disaster. And bias can cause a PPC manager to set aside statistical data in favor of his own assumptions … and waste the client’s money.
Three common types of bias — and how to avoid them
Also known as “Saliency Bias,” this cognitive error tricks you into preferring fresh data over older data. Have you ever sought a book on a topic, and chose one title over another based solely on publication date? You may or may not have made the best purchase. Newer is not always better.
How Recency Bias can ring your bell in business:
Let’s say there’s an urgent meeting: a particular campaign is underperforming and the client is threatening to pull the company’s significant business and take it elsewhere. Ideas are thrown out like baseballs at a dunking machine, everyone trying to hit the target and make something happen fast. Almost an hour later, brains are getting tired and there is still no consensus on what needs to be addressed first. Odds are Recency Bias will cause the team to choose from among the end-of-session ideas only. Those may not, however, be the most effective choices.
How to fight back against Recency Bias:
Make sure someone takes thorough notes during a brainstorming session. Save time at the end to read back through all of them, gauging reaction as each is presented. Old ideas will now seem fresh and stand a much better chance of acceptance.
Other places to watch for Recency Bias:
Are you getting great traction from a certain Ad Group? Be careful you don’t ignore data saying there’s a storm coming. Just because your recent experience is favorable, that is not assurance tomorrow’s results will be the same. Another common entry point for Recency Bias is the tendency to hang on every new theory, running after whatever is getting the most buzz and ignoring the fundamentals. Many websites are suffering under search engine algorithm changes because their owners listened to gurus selling “secret information” about how to manipulate the SERP. Don’t laugh; it’s still happening.
This monster is as common as turkey on Thanksgiving Day and it’s tough to shake. Do you listen to what older people say, but discount the opinions of anyone younger than you? Did you recently choose one podiatrist over others because there was a contact form on the website? Anchoring is when you allow one characteristic of something to weigh heavier than others. Anchoring causes me to like or dislike others based on their height, hair length, apparent intelligence, or other attribute that outranks all other considerations.
How Anchoring Bias can cause you to fail in business:
Perhaps you believe click-through-rate (CTR) is the most important metric in a pay-per-click campaign. You want all your ad groups to show CTRs of 3% or higher – and any management team that can consistently produce that for you gets to keep the job. One day you calculate your PPC return on investment, though, and discover you are actually losing money on PPC. You’re getting plenty of click-throughs, but they aren’t converting into sales. Okay, that sounds a little far-fetched, but we all have a favorite metric (or cluster of metrics) we look to for guidance. The danger is that Anchoring can cause us to ignore other significant factors and either miss or sink the boat.
How to avoid Anchoring Bias:
Good luck. We are creatures of habit, and rightfully so. If we had to re-think every reason, for every action, every day … not much would get accomplished. Your favorite browser or email program may not be the best choice, but it’s your anchor. Your best ally in fighting against Anchoring Bias is observation. Watch yourself to determine your personal anchors. Then stretch yourself beyond them to new ways of seeing and thinking.
Another example of Anchoring Bias:
You tend to choose clients or vendors based primarily upon price. There have been times when that didn’t work out well – the value received couldn’t justify the low price; yet you’re looking for help with a marketing problem right now, and the first thing you ask everyone you’re speaking with is, “What is this going to cost?”
Mirror Imaging Bias
If Anchoring Bias is a monster, this one is the monster’s daddy. It’s the bias the intern exhibited by refusing to see boomers as they really are and what they want.
Why your ideas should be thrown out like stale bread:
Mirror Imaging causes me to believe everyone else must think the same way I think. It can lead me to believe a Japanese customer is operating with the same cultural values I bring to the table. It can cause me to reject what could have been high-performing ad copy, solely because “it doesn’t sound right to me,” and it can lead me to choose keywords based upon what I think “everyone is using” instead of by making proper use of tools that can show me which words are currently most popular and which are not.
How to break the mirror:
Step back from every situation. Take yourself out of it. Now, walk back in with fresh eyes and ears. Get re-born. Forget your history. Become acutely aware of what is happening right now, and know – above all – that you are watching the show, but you are not the show. Get interested in others. Read or re-read Learn How to Listen, and practice sharpening your ability to hear a thing before responding to it.
Other places to spot Mirror Imaging:
You don’t need to look further than your kitchen table to see Mirror Imaging at work. My daughter wants to take a guitar class at school, but I think she would be better off investing the time in trigonometry. Why can’t she see the impeccable logic in my stance? The landing page optimization guy says we need to cut back on copy and lead readers’ eyes to an opt-in form on a key landing page. I am confident our customers want to know certain things before they take the next step, and the shortened copy doesn’t provide enough detail. A favorite maxim says, “We don’t see the world as it is; we see it as we are.” Be careful with that – especially in business. You are not the customer. Don’t assume what people want. Find out.
50 ways to fool oneself
I don’t know how many types of bias have so far been identified and recognized academically. I’ll wager there’s fifty or more though. They are all different in some way, but identical in another: Bias cuts me off from a path or draws me to a path, based on incomplete data.
Can you see any areas where you may be projecting your own biases and getting in the way of success?
Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not saying you are never right – but in a big way it’s not what you think that matters; it’s what the person who sees your PPC ad or landing page thinks … that’s what really makes a difference to the bottom line.
What you think as a PPC manager does matter.
Just not very much …
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