Thursday September 25, 2014

Association Bias- How to Leverage It For Your Brand

(Friends in Oregon are no doubt saying to themselves after seeing the article image, "Art Robinson? What in the world?!?!"- or some variation of that- calm down, read on...)

We've had to develop sophisticated filtersdowntown scene with lots of ads

Every day we are subjected evermore noise and stimuli. It's been well researched. In any given day, we're exposed to thousands of images and messages: YouTube ads, banner ads, news feed ads, mobile ads, dancing sign-holders, and today, of course, everyone is a blogger. 

 With all this noise coming at us, it's my theory, that we as people are developing sophisticated filters to help us make decisions. Filters that allow us to quickly ignore or zero in on all the information being presented to us. 

 One of those filters, is what I call "association bias". It's not quite the same as the association bias researchers have recently been studying, it's a bit different. More guttural, more like "thin-slicing" that Malcolm Gladwell talks about in his book Blink. It's also related to Robert Cialdini's law of social proof.

 It works like this- If I see a shared post for a product, game, service, article or blog post in my news feed, I instantly associate that content with the person who shared it and in an instant judge whether or not 1) that person is like me and 2) do I trust them. We all have many, many Facebook friends, but let's face it, we accept their friend requests for different reasons. Many are  not "like us" and there's many we don't actually trust. 

 If the person associated with the ad, article, product, etc. isn't like me and I don't trust them, I immediate cease seeing that content. This happens in an instant. Another thing happens though- I immediately file that product, service, writer, media in my "not me" file. In our social, sharing society, we immediately associate product and brand, with the people around us sharing it. 

 This goes both ways though. That same content that was previously filed in the "not me" folder, can be re-presented by someone that 1) I think is similar to me and 2) that I trust, and all of a sudden that product or brand is shuffled into the "like me" folder and I consume it. We are truly emotional decision-makers, something marketers and behavioral economists have known for decades. 

This isn't limited to digital 

This isn't limited though to online exposures. Here's a case in point: 

 Art Robinson is a crazy polarizing political figure in Oregon. I'm not necessarily applying the crazy modifier to Art per se, I'm applying it to his level of polarity. As in, "He's crazy polarizing." 

 Politics aside, his marketing during this election cycle gives an interesting case in point. 

 Art has put out large signs that are essentially the same as he used the last election cycle, but now they have the words "We Like Art" in breakout yellow.political sign, art robinson

 In the previous election, Art's competition (and some would argue, his own campaign) succeeded in labeling him a wacko that no sane person would vote for. What Art's doing now is pushing, "No look, people do like me, including this person. See?"

 It is very interesting. Here's the peril- Art has a lot of people to win over if he has any hope of winning. And he, just like everyone else has to contend with association bias. 

 See, every time I see one of these signs, I instantly size up the person associated with it- their home, their yard, their vehicle, other political signs in the yard. If I know who lives in that house, I'm judging them- 1)Are they like me and 2) Do I trust them. 

 And again, if the answer is no, I not only cease to see  that sign, but I file Art's brand in the "not me" folder. Therefore Art potentially has a big problem. Or a great opportunity.  

 What does Art need to do, to effectively leverage association bias for his campaign's benefit? 

 First, he has to know what votes he needs to get. Whose vote does he not already have? What is that voter's profile- where do they live, what kind of house do they have, what sorts of cars do they drive, what kind of education do they have, career fields, where do they worship, where do they shop, etc. 

 Once he knows this- he needs to get signs in those people's yards. He needs those people declaring "I like Art". Art doesn't have to worry about his current loyalists. They've already "bought" Art. So even if Art get's surreptitiously put in some loyalists "not me" folder because of these new associations, they've already purchased him, and will honor that in the voting booth (thanks in no small part to Robert Cialdini's law of consistency).

Association Bias and Your Brand 

So what do we as business owners and brand executives do with this knowledge? 

 1) We need to know our customers better- everything about them- where they eat, where they work, where they shop, what pages they like, what they drive, how they recreate, what causes they support, how they talk, who their friends are. 

 2) We need to plant our flag on that target profile. No more willy nilly marketing non-strategy. Curate products and services for them, tailor your messages for them. Talk to them on their turf. Talk about things they care about. 

 3) We have to make it easier for them to share our brands with friends of theirs that 1) are like them & 2) trust them.

 Another thing I like to tell customers- "We don't want everyone. We only want customers like you."


Chris Nordyke is an integrated marketer and strategy consultant. He works with owners and senior business leaders to transform and grow service companies via a unique holistic approach that drives referral business and client retention. Click here to schedule a complimentary consult with Chris.

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