How to Exploit Buying Decisions with Cognitive Bias

How to Exploit Buying Decisions with Cognitive Bias

Have you ever heard stories about movies inserting subliminal ads back in the 1950s? Popcorn and Coca-Cola sales allegedly increased due to single frame messaging inserted into a film that was playing at multiple frames per second. It was too fast for the human eye to notice, but the subconscious could pick it up. Deploying this type of unconscious advertising brought marketing to a whole new level. Corporate pitchmen soon were barred from using subliminal ads in movies in later years, but that didn’t stop them from trying other ways to use persuasion techniques at the cognitive level.

Once advertisers discovered this new route to reach their audience on a deeper, more sensory level, it became a race to see how they could exploit it. They set out to connect to their target market on an emotional level, hoping to create measurable tendencies. Could they establish a cognitive bias in their messaging, and why would that be important to marketers?

What Is Cognitive Bias?

Cognitive bias is the propensity to think in certain ways, often deviating from rational, logical decision-making. Originating from behavioral psychology studies, it’s very much a part of everyday life. Cognitive biases impact communication with friends and strangers, and how businesses interact with customers. Many times people are unaware of their own cognitive biases and how they impact decision-making.

Cognitive bias is important to marketers because every customer is affected by its influence. It affects how your audience experiences your website, and how they feel about your company. These biases can even affect your site’s conversions and how likely your visitors are to share their experiences via word of mouth or social media.

This level of deeper understanding also affects individuals in circumstances that require an unbiased viewpoint. The ability to run rational tests, analyze results, and select a sampling can all be unintentionally swayed by a person’s cognitive bias.

Once you’re aware of the many different cognitive biases, you can start considering their influence on your audience’s thinking as well as your own. Below are some examples that marketers can start including in their planning.

Loss Aversion

One common example of cognitive bias that marketers have found is called loss aversion. This bias causes people to favor the avoidance of loss more strongly than pursuing gains. Provoking your audience to feel this loss will stoke a fear, making them react more strongly than if you provided a positive incentive.

A great example of this cognitive bias is the concept of paying for shipping. Online customers have a strong dislike for paying shipping costs and these facts support that theory.

  1. Online orders with free shipping average around 30 percent higher value.
  2. Unconditional free shipping is a number 1 criterion for making a purchase.
  3. Forty-seven percent of shoppers indicated they would abandon a purchase if they got to checkout and found that free shipping was not included.

Marketers and business owners should consider loss aversion and factor freight costs within the price of their products so that they can offer free shipping instead, taking advantage of this cognitive bias.


Another way for pitchmen to connect on a more profound level with their devotees is called the framing effect. To frame is to take away choices for how something is perceived until a compromise is reached, even though the option was chosen all along by its marketing creator.

This might be the most favored by marketers since using words creatively can shape how something is presented or defined. Framing the choice as part of a community, representing it as local or part of a niche group, can have a huge effect in loyalty. Check out these statistics that prove the framing effect:

  1. Ninety-three percent of online shoppers like to shop at small or local retailers.
  2. Sixty-one percent of online shoppers say they find unique products unavailable elsewhere by shopping at local online retailers.
  3. Forty percent of consumers shop at small and local retailers to support the local business community.

Most marketers engage in the framing effect everyday and might not even realize it. Understanding its importance can create new opportunities in which to expand its use.

Attentional Bias

The attentional bias is the propensity to pay more attention to emotional stimuli, and to neglect other relevant information when making decisions. So the more something touches people, the more attention they pay to it.

A great example of attentional bias is website design, as well as direct emotional appeals, such as testimonials, all of which have shown cognitive bias in a site’s layout. Below are some reasons that support how effective this bias can be.

  1. Forty-two percent of users base their overall opinion of a site on its design alone.
  2. Adding testimonials to a website increases conversions by 34 percent.
  3. Twenty-nine percent of consumers think testimonials are very important for building credibility.
  4. Placing testimonials on the lead generation page increases conversions by 50 percent.

Website designers should keep attentional bias in mind when designing their sites for a more powerful experience.

Final Thought

As long as there are human beings, cognitive bias will always have an effect. Being aware of your own tendencies can go a long way in helping you stay neutral when it matters. However, if you’re a marketer, take advantage of cognitive bias and exploit your audience’s buying decisions with how you craft your persuasive messaging. Just stop short of being subliminal, as it’s illegal.

Using Giveaways to Promote Your Business and Grow Your Email List

Using Giveaways to Promote Your Business and Grow Your Email List

Nothing works like a good prize, freebie or giveaway to motivate someone to click, subscribe or like your Facebook page. Setting up a contest online is fairly simple to do, and it gives you the opportunity to spread brand awareness, get people interested in your products and cultivate a high-quality email list.

To set up your own giveaway campaign, you’ll need to decide whether to give a cash prize, free product or service discount, then advertise it on your landing page. People can enter the contest by typing in their email addresses so that they can be added to your email subscriber list. A random winner gets the prize, and you can start marketing to your new leads. Win-win!

Motivating Contest Entrants to Share Online

Ideally, you want the people who enter your contest to share it with their friends and followers. This can create a viral factor that ultimately earns you more email addresses than you would generally receive from a posted pay-per-click advertisement or simple organic traffic.

The question is, how can you motivate people to share contest information when it is clearly in their best interests to keep the number of entries low? A common way around this problem is to offer your entrants extra “tickets” in exchange for sharing the contest link. The more interested the entrants are in winning your prize, the more they will share and ask others to enter.

The Downside of One-Size-Fits-All Prizes

Your first instinct may be to offer a prize that almost anyone would want—let’s say an iPad. If your business is to sell iPads or Apple accessories, that’s a pretty great idea. If you are in the business of selling accounting software, pet food, artisan candles or anything non-iPad related, however, it might not work.

Here’s why.

Pretty much everyone wants an iPad, so they will scramble to trade their email addresses for a chance to win one. They’ll tell their friends, and those people will do the same. It might be a very successful contest in terms of entries, but your leads would be of very poor quality.

When you start sending marketing messages to your new email list, a lot of them are going to unsubscribe or ignore the messages completely. Contest entrants are only about 25 percent as likely to actually buy something from you in the future than your normal leads, so you need to filter out those who are just looking for free stuff.

Email marketing has an enormous ROI, which could be as much as 4,300 percent. As an online medium, email is used by over half of the world’s population. Obviously, it’s in your best interest as a business owner to put together a high-quality email list! To ensure that your list has targeted leads, you’ve got to cater to your niche and select contest prizes that your specific audience will be excited about. Consider giving away one of your own products or an industry-related software membership.

Contest Software and Campaign Managers

It’s perfectly fine if you want to set up the contest on your own, but there are plenty of popular software options available. Rafflecopter,, Amazon and many others will take care of the details for you and fairly choose a winner at the end of the contest.

If you’re interested in posting ads for your contest, Twitter is a good place to start. The tailored audiences feature allows you to choose existing Twitter companies that are similar to yours and share your ad with the same type of audience members.

5 Important Tips to Create a Successful Giveaway

1. Be Specific about the Contest Time Frame

Contests can receive up to 40 percent more email subscribers when you name the month in the advertisement. Doing this lets people know the contest information is still valid.

2. Say “Giveaway” Instead of “Sweepstakes”

“Giveaway” has proven to be 27 percent more popular with contest entrants than the term “sweepstakes.” Avoid the latter term in your copy and people will be clearer about the terms of the contest.

3. Avoid the Facebook Widget

Eighty percent more people signed up for contests when simply asked for their email address than when asked to like a Facebook page. The reason for this is easy to understand, since every time Facebook is a part of the sign-up process, you need to open more pages, read more content and click more boxes. It’s time-consuming.

4. Watch Your Page Placement

A contest box placed on the bottom right of your lead page can increase email subscriptions by 125 percent.

5. Include an Image

Testing shows that even low-quality images will increase engagement, with up to 22 percent more conversions than text-only. Of course, the higher quality, the better the results, so choose a relevant photo that has good resolution.

It’s All about the Leads

Giveaways open a lot of opportunities for getting more subscribers and customers. A contest doesn’t have to be expensive, but it does need to be clever and valuable enough for your prospects to convert, either right away or down the line. Focus on attracting highly qualified leads to your contest instead of general audiences, and the additions to your email list will be worth the effort.

6 Smart Ways to Win Millennials Using Marketing Strategies

6 Smart Ways to Win Millennials Using Marketing Strategies

There is a reason every marketer today is putting Millennials on top of their lists. Wielding an annual buying power exceeding trillions of dollars, these 18- to 34-year-old consumers who make up 25% of the US population is one lucrative market. Pushy, annoying, disruptive and unsolicited—this is how they see traditional marketing, so if you’re still using this technique, it won’t work on them. Rather than using advertisements and listings that feature products and services, focus your efforts on inbound digital marketing strategies that pulls people to your brand.

What Is Inbound Marketing?

Inbound Marketing is a data-driven approach using blogs, videos, podcasts, e-books, white papers and other forms of content marketing to attract individuals and convert them into lasting customers. A Social Times infographic shows that Millennials spend around 5-10 hours a day (between 8 p.m. and midnight) consuming copious amount of online content. If you are a business wanting to capture the Millennial attention, you should create meaningful, engaging and targeted content to increase their chances of getting found, “liked” and shared.

Fortunately, many companies are already seeing the benefits of inbound strategies that include improved quality of leads, brand visibility and awareness, and increased customer trust and satisfaction. Regarding ROI, HubSpot’s 2015 State of Inbound report reveals that companies using inbound strategies are 3x more likely to see higher ROI than outbound. For these reasons, it’s no longer surprising that 69% of marketers are already allocating a significant portion of their digital marketing fund toward website content, development and performance optimization. Inbound marketers who prove higher ROI were 2x more likely to get higher budgets in the following years to those who couldn’t.

To reap the benefits of inbound marketing, here are some pointers to get you started on the right foot:

1. Invest in Your Web Platform

A website is a company’s profile on the Internet, and as online competition grows, users gain access to more choices, which makes them less tolerant to poor usability and design. Web design impacts lead generation and conversions so build one that is growth-driven, responsive and reliable. An aesthetically appealing website creates a lasting visual impression that improves credibility and trust rating, but an intuitive and seamless experience will make them stay, so have both. To prevent site visitors from bouncing away from your site, consider these tools.

2. Do Content Mapping

Content mapping is the process of aligning content with the customers’ buyer personas and lifecycle stages. Knowing this information is crucial to building the type of content that customers will love and crave. Start by gathering information about your target audience, their behavior, the channels they use online, their preferences, needs and wants, as well as their buying journey—basically, things that influence their “buying” attitude online.

Building customer or prospect data goes hand in hand with in-depth research. Have the best insider information by doing one-on-one interviews, focused group discussions and surveys. Knowing this will enable you to align your content, landing pages and call-to-actions accordingly.

This increases your chance of generating inbound organic traffic that eventually converts potential customers and makes long-term profits.

To help you brainstorm and easily map out content ideas, consider these free content mapping templates from Hubspot, American Marketing Association and Bright Inbound Marketing.

3. Fill Your Blog with Informative and Helpful Content

Millennials are known to have a voracious hunger for news and social or user-generated posts. Satisfy this need by publishing compelling, relatable and regular content that inspire, educate and provide a solution to an industry’s pressing problems.

Take cues from thought leadership sites and marketing gurus, such as Seth Godin, when you publish blogs, e-books, whitepapers and other how-to information. Millennials love video marketing, too—76% of consumers follow brands on Youtube and nearly 80% consider video content in their purchase decisions. Incorporate these into your content strategy and expect to generate valuable leads and traffic.

4. Design a Strategic Landing Page with Catchy Call-to-Actions

Landing pages are focused and customized sales pitches, designed to convince visitors to make an action. Since they are targeted, landing pages can increase ad conversion rates by at least 25%, according to Omniture—a reason 48% of marketers design one for every campaign. With the use of tools like Adsense, Google Analytics and other built-in WordPress plugins, you can easily gauge the effectiveness of your advertising efforts and know more about your demographics.

There are two common types of landing pages: Click-through and Lead Generation. A Click-through landing page is used to persuade a visitor to click through to another page to become a member, claim a reward or complete a purchase. A Lead Generation landing page, on the other hand, is used to capture user data, allowing you to market to the prospect at a subsequent time. By offering a free eBook or a whitepaper, marketers can get visitors to provide their name, email address and other important information about their company or requirements.  

To build your ideal landing page, Bootstrap, Leadpages and Instapage provide free templates that you can download, customize and publish according to your preference. If you want to magnify your campaign’s return on investment, check out Unbounce’s 101 Landing Optimization Tips.

5. Create Relevant and Enticing Materials

Prospects risk giving out their personal information for content that they think is important. Provide key statistics, infographics, case studies or white papers that stand out and can’t be found anywhere else. Like any great content, the material should have interesting takeaways that educate, inspire and initiate discussions or even motivate writers to write based on your material. Nurture your relationship with clients by having a consistent stream of content that they can look forward to.

6. Be Prepared to Engage Directly with Audience via Social Media

Done right, social media marketing generates quality leads and allows you to engage with prospects, current customers and influencers. According to eMarketer, 84% of companies believe that social marketing enhances relationships with existing customers while allowing them to engage with media influencers. And since around 93% of buying decisions are influenced by peers’ recommendations on social media, you need to be visible, accessible and committed to your social media audience. By feeding them with regular information, you stay in the customers’ subconscious. They may not buy now, but eventually, they will, and when that time comes, you’d want to be on top of their list.

Why Explore Inbound Marketing Now

Traditional marketing has worked wonders for big brands in the past, and it still does. However, as customers vary and their buying journey continues to evolve, marketers need to align themselves and their strategies with the needs of the market. Millennials spend an average of 25 hours a week surfing the Internet, which should prompt you to channel efforts into tactics that catch and sustain their undivided online attention.

Inbound marketing strategy is not rocket science and certainly doesn’t require voodoo. Simply give your current customers and prospects what they want and do what makes them happy. When customers are happy with their brand experience, they will come back for more. They will become loyal, and might even promote your product or service for free. Engage with your customers, create a relationship with them and sustain it to generate trust and loyalty. This inbound marketing strategy is the way to win not just the hearts of the Millennials, but also other buyer personas.

Read This before Your Website Gets Hacked

Read This before Your Website Gets Hacked

What comes to mind when you think about security protection for your business website? Judging from the rising statistics for website security breaches, the answer is probably “Nothing.”

Many business owners assume that their business is too small to be of interest to hackers. They don’t conceive the extent of damage that a breach could cause.

Not to cause alarm, but the cyber environment today is such that if you’re in business and have a website, security protection is a necessity for survival.

The Numbers

For cyber security professionals, 2014 is referred to as “The Year of the Breach,” because of the major jump in cyberattacks on business websites—including those belonging to eBay, Home Depot, Sony Pictures and JP Morgan Chase—as well as the total number of data records compromised.

2015 didn’t get a nickname despite it being an even worse year for security failures, with high-profile breaches at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, Anthem, Ashley Madison, Premera Blue Cross, Experian and the U.S. Internal Revenue Service.

While hacking by external parties is the source of the vast majority of these incidents, it’s not the only cause. Statistics show substantial numbers of incidents due to, among other things, insider disclosures and losses from servers or portable data devices.

An analysis by the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse (PRC) shows that security breaches in general more than doubled in recent years. But while hacking incidents have skyrocketed from 48,805,382 in 2013 to 121,199,741 in 2015, other sources of breaches have dramatically dropped. Insider disclosures, for instance, went from 3,308,885 in 2013 to only 100 in 2015.

According to IBM’s “Cost of Data Breach” study, most breaches involve 10,000 or fewer records. In terms of money, each compromised record was worth an average $154, according to IBM, though for certain industries, the value per record is significantly higher. Healthcare records, for instance, are worth $363 each.

A security breach can cost you in other ways as well, including:

  • Loss of reputation
  • Loss of traffic
  • Loss of customers
  • Loss of standing on Google

It’s easy to see then that even a breach which compromises only a couple hundred records can be quite costly to a small business.

Three Levels of Security

Whether your business is large or small, if you’re online, there are three distinct areas where website security protection can and should be applied:

  • Network: This level applies to your server. This is your gateway to the web and is the point in your system that is most vulnerable to attacks.
  • System: This level refers to your operating system (Microsoft, Apple, etc.) It’s responsible for the correct functioning of applications on your site.
  • Applications: This level is what allows customers to interact, receive service, etc.

Though the network level is considered the most vulnerable point for an outside attack, some sources report that seven of 10 website breaches occur at the application level.

How to Prevent an External Breach

In order to prevent external threats, your site needs something that will monitor and analyze incoming traffic and also alert you to weakness in your system.

That “something” is a web application firewall (WAF). A WAF will not only identify traffic patterns that indicate known cyber threats, but the better ones are designed to also detect patterns indicative of new types of threats.

A WAF will identify areas of your site that are vulnerable to attacks so that you can take further measures to secure those areas. It’s like 24/7 site security that prevents you from becoming a statistic in the kinds of reports we’ve cited.

How to Prevent an Internal Breach

Though internally-caused breaches have declined dramatically, they are still an issue. Granted, not all such breaches are malicious in nature, but may be due to carelessness.

A WAF is still very important in terms in protecting against internal breaches, but there are furthers actions an organization can take:

  • Limit access: Passwords and logins for areas of critical information should be limited to a few trusted employees who are fully trained on the importance of confidentiality.
  • Frequently change passwords: Institute a policy where employees are required to change their passwords and logins every couple of months.
  • Secure areas with locks: Limit the number keys to restricted areas such as server rooms and prohibit their duplication. Ensure that employees leaving the company surrender such keys. Change the locks to secure areas annually.

Final Thought

Writing for, entrepreneur Mike Templeman—whose business’ site was hacked, incurring great losses and requiring full replacement—astutely likened website security protection to a spare tire: “You’ll never understand how bad you need (it) until it’s too late.”

Never assume you’re too small to be a target to someone. Take steps now to secure your website and your business.

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