Personal Bias Makes You Bad at Marketing

June 30, 2010
By Ross Hudgens in Online Marketing

To market well, you have to know your audience. What do they want, even if they don’t think they want it? How many of those perceived people are there to buy your product? What will it take to convince them that they want that product?

To achieve true, accurate assessments of these variables, you have to have empathy. You must achieve true detachment from self to properly conceptualize if that 26-year-old Indian male is interested in purchasing your product – or if it’s really just your 44-year old female Canadian aboot-ness speaking.

Therefore, achieving this height of awareness requires a rather low level of personal bias, one that is not heavily obstructed by experience and personal circumstance. Measuring this as an individual is pretty much impossible (we have optimism bias, i.e. – 100% of couples at the altar say they will never get divorced, but 50% do), but given a sampling of enough non-standard peers, you could come to a pretty accurate conclusion of how insanely narrowsighted you actually are.

How Biased Are You?

Here are some warning signs Marketing might not be for you: Your political views are domineeringly one-sided. You have a strict, unwavering solution to questions for which there is no provable answer. You vehemently argue calls against your sports team even though they were blatantly right. Your kid is the greatest at everything. You were always better than that person who started over you in sports. You’re on the right side of every argument.

If you take a few steps back and think about who the greatest marketers on the planet are, you’ll notice that they all have low levels of personal bias. They can see the multiple angles of personal experience, and empathize with their Indian consumers as much as they do vegan ice cream eaters. They’re kind, because their kindness implies empathy. Their narcissism levels are low, and because of this, we often time have no clue who the faces are behind the campaigns.

Good Marketers Win Oscars

At this point, I’m sure you’re asking – why heck Ross, why are there so many rich people that seemed to make their campaigns go viral crazy but are narcissistic as heck and love their own reflection? Well, people, these folks happened to book the right role. They marketed well, but they only did so because their environment matched the annals of their personal experiences that informed their own bias. If they were ever asked to pitch Burmese people on Pepsi One, they’d be horrible at it.

In this way, marketing is much like acting. Average actors can make a career out of one role, but when they diversify and try to branch out, they tank. Great actors can jump to any sector of reason and pull it off. Great acting, like great marketing, requires empathy. Great actors must subvert themselves into somebody completely unlike them – quite a task.

Great marketers must do the same.

OK, I’m Biased. What Hope Do I Have?

If you’ve now come to the realization that you’re biased – it’s okay – you still have a fighting chance. Kaj Sotala, via Ben Casnocha, offers the following superb tips for “knowing how things are in reality”:

  • Study things from as many points of view as possible, and try to understand as many models of thought as you can.
  • Recognize your fallibility. Realize that in a quest for the truth, your own biases become your worst enemy. Check out the list of cognitive biases.
  • Discuss the same subjects repeatedly, even with the same people. If you are losing a debate but still cannot admit you’re wrong, ask for time to ponder upon it. Decide if your hesitation was you being too caught up in the defense of a topic, in which case you only need time to get over it and accept your opponent’s arguments, or because there was more relevant information in your mind that you couldn’t recall at the moment, in which case you need time for your subconsciousness to bring them to your mind.
  • Avoid certainty, and of all people, be the harshest on yourself. (80% of drivers think they are in the top 30% of drivers.)

After repeating the above four suggestions over and over again in the next month, come back to this post and ask yourself “Am I still biased?”. If the answer is no, you’re biased. If the answer is yes, you’re biased. So really, you have no hope.

Go Celtics.

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