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Behavioral Bias And Their Impact On Online Marketing

There is an extremely long list of behavioral bias, and they represent a valuable area of study for anyone interested in human behavior. And 5 such effects stand out as having particular relevance to online marketing


This describes the way people’s decisions, especially when numbers are involved, can be strongly influenced by exposure to irrelevant out-of-context information. For example people’s ability to estimate a probability, or quickly guess the answer of a complex sum can be significantly influenced by the presence of another number even if this is clearly irrelevant to the task at hand.

This effect is well documented and very difficult for test subjects to avoid, even in intelligent “expert subjects”, and even when they are made aware of the effect’s existence. This effect is hugely significant to pricing of products as it can be demonstrated that customers will estimate a higher reasonable price for a product if they can be primed with a larger number, but obviously there is relevance here in a lot of different situations. For example:

This product was originally on sale for $49, then cut down to $24, and we’re gonna sell it to you for $19!

The Forer Effect

Also known as the Barnum Effect after the American Showman P.T.Barnum. The Forer effect refers to the way that people can be convinced that statements made about them are highly personalised and insightful but are in fact generalised statements that can apply to any individual. This effect was famously demonstrated by the psychologist Bertram Forer who gave the following statement to his students.

You have a great need for other people to like and admire you. You have a tendency to be critical of yourself. You have a great deal of unused capacity which you have not turned to your advantage. While you have some personality weaknesses, you are generally able to compensate for them. Your sexual adjustment has presented problems for you. Disciplined and self-controlled outside, you tend to be worrisome and insecure inside.

At times you have serious doubts as to whether you have made the right decision or done the right thing. You prefer a certain amount of change and variety and become dissatisfied when hemmed in by restrictions and limitations. You pride yourself as an independent thinker and do not accept others’ statements without satisfactory proof. You have found it unwise to be too frank in revealing yourself to others. At times you are extroverted, affable, sociable, while at other times you are introverted, wary, reserved. Some of your aspirations tend to be pretty unrealistic. Security is one of your major goals in life.

Most people recognise this statement as being very strongly descriptive of themselves, and the text has been used many times since to demonstrate this effect. Because people respond strongly to the belief that they are being understood and catered for individually these types of statements are often used in advertising copy and other marketing material in order to establish a rapport with the consumer.

False Consensus Effect

This refers to the tendency of people overrate the extent to which their opinion is held by others, this can lead them to strongly react against any suggestion that their beliefs are wrong, and negatively impacts their impression of individual or organizations that tend to disagree with them. Related is the tendency of individuals to modify their opinions subtly in response to their perception of others beliefs.

This has a couple of important implications for marketers, first it suggests the avoidance ofdivisive issues, as the negative response from those who feel that you have disagreed with them is likely to significantly outweigh the positive response from the rest of the population. Secondly it suggests that it may be more productive to try and influence someone’s opinion by suggesting that consensus opinion disagrees with them rather than approaching the subject directly.

Survivorship Bias

This describes people’s tendency to make decisions based on the information that is currently available to them, discounting information that is missing because it failed to “survive” an initial filtering process. At the most basic level this might include basing one’s opinion only on a those who have completed and submitted a survey or who are following a social media account.

Rhyme as reason effect

Finally we have the somewhat bizarre rhymes as reason effect. This refers to demonstrated tendency of individuals to ascribe a greater level of trust to a statement when it rhymes. So, obviously, you’d better get practicing your rhyming couplets for all of those PR’s and social media updates. For example:

Do what you do best and outsource the rest!

What you can do!

Can you work any of these behavioral effects to your advantage in your sales copy. Approach your customers an humans who need to connect on a deep emotional level.

Last modified: July 21, 2021