How to use cognitive biases for effective marketing

There are certain shortcuts in our brain that can determine our behaviour… without us knowing about it! What if those shortcuts work against you? What if they block all your business efforts? You sales?
Now imagine having them work FOR you. Imagine having the knowledge to turn cognitive biases from your adversaries into your allies to getting more subscribers, more likes, and more sales? Read on to learn just how to do that.

Cognitive biases are those little tricks that our mind plays on us. The problem with them is, that we are totally helpless against them. We can’t fight them. Even more, we don’t even realise when they take over.

If you don’t know about them, you might never know if (and to what extent) they are blocking all your business efforts. You might be doing a great job as a marketer, but then it will all take you nowhere if you hit one of the biases. If that happens, there is little you can do.

But you don’t have to be a victim of those mental shortcuts. You can turn them into working FOR you rather than against you.
You might be asking yourself now: How to do that?. This is exactly what we’re going to cover in this article.

The most important step towards turning cognitive biases into your allies is understanding what they are and how they work. So let’s have a look now at the 6 main cognitive biases and how to turn them into your allies.

1. Loss Aversion

Loss aversion

We hate losing

We hate losing! And we will go really far to avoid a loss. In fact, we hate losing so much, that when we’re faced with a threat of losing something we never wanted, we will put extra energy into having it. In other words, loss aversion is so strong that it can make you crave things with all your heart, and chase them with all your strength, even if before you had no interest for them. Possibility of losing them forever causes this change. It changes our preferences. It can change our priorities, too.

Turn Loss Aversion into your ally: Position your offer so that it feel to your audience like a loss if they don’t get it. Make them believe that turning down your offer will be a loss for them.
You can read more about loss aversion and marketing tactics in one of my previous posts here. Check out how the headline of this post is phrased – it’s an example of using loss aversion in your message.

2. Status Quo Bias

Status Quo Bias

We prefer things the way they are

We prefer the default option. We tend to fight for the status quo and refuse changes. Even if the change is a better option, people will rather stick to what they already have (or know), because change requires energy. Politics is a great example. Even though people might be dissatisfied with the current ruling party, they will not vote to change the government, because with the change comes the unknown. So when weighting pros and cons, they come to the conclusion that they would rather stick to what they’re already familiar with.

Turn Stats Quo Bias into your ally: Don’t force any change or option on your audience. Make it as painful and natural as possible. Underline how easy your solution is (that is does not require energy). Also, don’t overload your audience with decisions. That will make them feel overwhelmed, tired and confused and they will end up refusing to make any decision. That means, they will not decide to leave a comment on your post. They will not decide to like your page. they will not decide to subscribe to your newsletter. And they will not decide to buy from you.

3. Anchoring


We always compare our options

Nothing is absolute in a human mind. Whenever we are presented with something (be it a new product, a person, an idea), we immediately compare it to something else. If, for example, you had a very athletic friend in high school, you might be comparing all the new people who are into sports to him. This friend of yours becomes an anchor. Or, another example, if you are used to cheap air tickets for about $200, then when you see a special offer for $500, you won’t really feel it’s so special. But let’s say you’re used to paying $1000 dollars for your flights. As the anchor changes, so does the perception of a 500-dollar-flight.

Turn Anchoring into your ally: You can’t stop comparisons from taking place, but you can control them. Instead of allowing your customers to search for their anchor, suggest the anchor to them. If, for example, you sell cell phones, don’t wait for your potential customer to compare it to another brand that offers cell-phones half that price. Point right away that other phones like yours can cost up to 3 times more than what you’re charging, and so your offer is a real bargain. Direct your customers’ mind to the direction and anchor you want them to use. You can ream more how to use anchoring in your pricing strategies in my previous blog posts.
For the same reason, pay attention to the order in which you show your products. Whatever the first thing they see – it becomes their anchor. If you have a website on which you sell more than one product, start with the most expensive one. All the other ones will seem cheap in comparison. On the other hand, if you start with the cheapest product, then the rest of your offer will seem overpriced.

4. Framing


The way perceive things depends on their framing

Our perception of the same thing will change based on the context in which it’s perceived. The frame of reference changes the way they we think about our choices and decisions. Here is a study that shows how framing works. Participants were divided in two groups. Both of them were given a story of John, a man who quits his job and then goes on an adventure in Africa, where he spends a few months. However, before reading that story each group got a list of a few words. One group read words such as: positive, winner, success. The other group read: failure, disaster, hopeless. As it was shown in the study, both groups perceived John in a diffrent way. The group that read the positive words (positive framing), thought of him as courageous. The other group, however, being in the negative frame, thought of him reckless. But let’s remember – they read the exact same story. The only thing that changed, is what they were exposed to before (the frame).

Turn Framing into your ally: Before you present your offer, craft the frame in which you want your prospect to receive it. If you’re selling life insurance, you might want to tell your potential customer a story of your friend who got into a serious accident, but because he didn’t have life insurance, he had to sell his house to cover the costs of medical care. This way you make your prospect more alert. You then frame your offer as a solution to never having have to fear such a situation.

If you’re a copywriter writing sales copy, you can also start with a story, in which you create the wanted frame. You can create a positive or negative starting point, which will impact how they read the rest of your copy. You can play with framing your message as a loss or as a benefit (depending on your message, one of them usually works best).

You can create frame with your website design. If you go for soft, warm colours, you create a frame of a safe, friendly and feminine environment. In this context it will be easier to sell products and services for women and families. But this frame will not work if you’re selling motorbikes.

5. Ingroup bias

Ingroup bias

We show preference for our group

We showing strong preferences for our group while being negative towards others. This is where our tribal nature comes out. When in groups, we produce oxytocin  (the love hormone) that helps us form strong bonds with other members of the group. That makes us show preferences for them. For the same reason we tend to be suspicious and negative towards other groups. We often assume that the others are wrong, boring, dangerous, etc., only because they are not a part of our group

Turn Ingroup bias into your ally: Craft your marketing so that it points out you are in the same group as your prospect. If your target is a 20-40 year old single man, that speak to him like a 20-40 year old single man. Show him that you’re similar, that you understand him. Use testimonials of people similar to your target group. Use images and overall design that will reflect that.
There is also a very successful technique in copywriting called Us vs. Them that’s based on the ingroup bias. It’s about positioning yourself with the prospect (Us) and in opposition to others (Them). For example, if you’re selling a dieting product, you can use this technique to position yourself with your prospect against the dieting industry, by pointing things like: dieting industry only wants to make more money, but they don’t think of us; diets are unhealthy; diets don’t work (after you finish a diet, your weight bounces back).

6. Bandwagon effect

There are a few reasons for that. Firstly, it’s a sign of conformity, which is necessary for groups (and society) to work. We adjust our behaviour to that of a group, so that the group as a whole can function (Imagine if everybody was doing their own thing, ignoring the rest? That would create chaos). Another reason for that effect to occur is that in moments of uncertainty, others serve as cues as to what we should do. If you find yourself on an elegant gala for the first time in your life, you’ll be probably looking around to see how others behave, and then mirror them. If you see people running, you’ll most likely join in. After all, they might know of some danger coming that you don’t.

Turn Banwagon effect into your ally: Use social proof. You want to present your offer as something that many other people do.

Any purchasing decision brings some amount on uncertainty: Will it work for me? Is it for real? Can I trust them? In cases like that, it help us make a decision if we see what others did. If we know of nobody who bought that product or who was happy with it, than it’s a sign for us, that the others chose the way of not trusting this company. Following bandwagon effect, they’ll do the same. But if you show how many people bought from you and how many people are happy with your offer – then you’re giving a different sign. You’re saying that buying your product is the current flow, so jumping on a bandwagon for your prospect will mean buying from you as well.


These are the most common cognitive biases, that often work against you. But now you know what they are and how to turn them to working for you and help you in your marketing an business strategies.
If you’re interested in learning about more cognitive biases, you check the list here.

Now it’s YOUR turn

Have you already used any of these biases to your advantage? What techniques did you use? Are there any other biases you came across? Join the discussion below.

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  • Tanvir

    Reply Reply September 28, 2013

    WOW ! This is a very good and informative article. After reading this I browse other cognitive biases too. I found few biases which is also equal important especially those biases which belong to our privious belief and self. I feel all these biases are corelated and affect our dicision making togather rather than affecting seperatly. I would love to read much more on this topic from Magda.

    • Magda Kay

      Reply Reply September 28, 2013

      Hi Tanvir! Thank you for your comment. I’ll make sure to write more about it!

  • roy

    Reply Reply November 16, 2013

    Hi magda,

    This is Damn awesome! Where did you learn these things? They are so good!

    How long did you take to master them btw?


    • Magda Kay

      Reply Reply November 16, 2013

      Hey Roy!
      Thanks so much. To be honest, you don’t need that much time to master it. I have been consuming everything about human behavior for about … 10 years now :) But that’s just because I’m really into it. I think in few months you can learn all that is needed.

  • Jamie

    Reply Reply February 22, 2015

    Am I the only one that noticed that #6 is missing? There is 7 stated as being made, but I am not seeing #6?

    • Magda Kay

      Reply Reply February 23, 2015

      Oh Jamie, thank you for noticing it. It should be 6 in total. Thanks, I already updated it.

  • steve

    Reply Reply September 8, 2015

    This is very helpful, it has helped me understand cognitive psychology in marketing. The best part is that you gave well-fitting examples. Thank you Kay Magda!

  • Dilrukshi

    Reply Reply February 9, 2016

    Very interesting article even for non marketers. Thank you.

  • Evelina

    Reply Reply March 26, 2016

    Hi Magda!
    Happy Easter!
    Nice article and really interesting explanation of biases.Would you please write a little about how to measure these biases or at least some ways to check their presence ?

  • jerome currie

    Reply Reply April 5, 2021

    I am looking for some good blog sites for studying. I was searching over search engines and found your blog site.

  • Stanley

    Reply Reply November 16, 2021

    there is no doubt how you researched hard to get these points on marketing , really appreciate the efforts you have put in!

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