Personal Bias Makes You Bad at 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.

Your Comments

  • Dawn Wentzell

    Except we don’t say “aboot”! *shakes fist*

    • Ross Hudgens

      I see that only part of Canada does it according to Urban Dictionary? Or is that just some prevalent myth about Canadians?

      .. just saw this definition on urban dictionary as well: “The thing stupid american shitholes think canadians say instead of about.”

  • Sally

    HI Ross,

    Actually, now you mention it, my daughter is the BEST at everything!

    I know I can sometimes be biased and I am trying to open my mind to more things, just a bit tough to break the habit of a lifetime!

    I enjoyed this post, actually provoked some thought, Sally :)

    • Ross Hudgens


      Thanks for the kind words. That was the intention – have a little fun and also provoke some thought. Glad you did both. I’m sure your daughter IS the best at everything. She just happens to be that one exception!

  • Ann Holman

    Love this post Ross and you are so right. I think sometimes its very hard to stay objective, reflective with a wide perspective. Being harshest on yourself can be tough but its a great way to ensure you never become complacent. Its important to occasionally give yourself a hard time, as long as you can equally praise yourself too!

    A client of mine always, in any major decision or problem solving exercise, asks the question why? Its a fabulous way of ‘testing’ what you are doing especially in marketing where there are so many variables and subjectivities.

  • Heather Villa

    I think we are bias to some degree. The trick is to put that aside and see things from someone else’s perspective. For some people this is not easy to do. Take that further – some people don’t WANT see others’ points of view.

    That being said – I think you’re spot on. If you hold on to your biases then you’re only going to attract like minded people, which is not good for marketing to the masses. It works in some cases, but there are exceptions to all rules.

    • Ross Hudgens

      Spot on Heather – I don’t think it’s possible not be biased to some point – it’s built into our framework, and our personal experience creates it. It’s just HOW FAR off the spectrum we can get.

  • Andrew@BloggingGuide

    It would work best if we are open-minded and are willing to listen to what other people would have to say, especially when it comes to our customers.

    • Ross Hudgens

      Sometimes the customer doesn’t know what they want, unfortunately – research has shown that. But if we’re making them happy with their expectations, we can feel contentment with that.

  • Ann Holman

    Spot on Heather – I don’t think it’s possible not be biased to some point – it’s built into our framework, and our personal experience creates it. It’s just HOW FAR off the spectrum we can get.