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| 4 minutes read

Using Cognitive bias and simple psychology in your content marketing

You may never have come across the term “Cognitive Bias” before, but you will almost certainly have been manipulated into buying something by a clever marketer using one or more cognitive bias or cynically steering you towards an action using a bit of psychology.

A cognitive bias refers to a systematic pattern of deviation from norm or rationality in judgment, whereby inferences about other people and situations may be drawn in an illogical fashion. Individuals create their own "subjective social reality" from their perception of the input. Cutting through the psychobabble – a cognitive bias makes us do irrational things, whilst thinking they are incredibly rational. For example, lots of people that are worried about getting on an aeroplane, will quite happily get in a car and drive – despite the fact that we are much more likely to be in a car crash than a plane crash!

There are a whole list of specific Cognitive Biases (which are really interesting and you should look them up). I thought it would be interesting to run through some of the ones that might help with your content marketing:


As humans, we feel compelled to reciprocate – if someone gives you something you feel you should give them something back. Content marketing is built on a foundation of reciprocity. You as a business, provide content (for free!) and in return people will share your content, sign up for your newsletter, or download your ebook (giving their email address as an exchange!). All the while they are starting to view you as a trusted source and moving closer to the real reciprocation you want - buying what you sell.

If you are providing valuable content without asking for something in return, your are missing a trick!

Social Proof

Out in Oxford on a Friday night I overheard a couple of tourists discussing dinner options. Highest on their list was “Hussein’s” which is currently listed on Tripadvisor as the number one restaurant in Oxford. Hussein’s is a kebab van on a busy street – great for a late night kebab, but because it has been rated so highly on Tripadvisor people who would normally not go anywhere near it are flocking there (sober and in daylight!) – This is social proof, the idea that if lots of other people like it, it’s really good  

When it comes to your website and content, you can leverage this by making sure your sharing stats are highly visible and it’s easy to share – people are more likely to share something that lots of other people have shared!

Status Quo Bias

Generally, we as humans, would rather stick with what we are doing rather than consider change, we’ll fight for the status quo even if it makes no sense to do so. We will put greater emphasis on the cons of change and ignore the pros and on the whole we will avoid change until we absolutely have no choice. 

When it comes to content on your website, this means that prioritising all the content that shows the fabulous changes your product can catalyse can be counterproductive, scaring your visitors off. Instead try talking about ways to stick with the status quo, become someone they look to for advice and a trusted resource. If you are talking about change, be gentle and help them find an easy and non-scary way to get from A to B rather than raging threat ridden portents of what will happen if they don’t change. 

Anchoring Bias 

We are generally over-reliant on the first piece of information we see on any given topic. This is why it’s important to be the first to offer an opinion on news and events surrounding the niche you work in. Practically this means finding ways to get your content out first, because if your potential customer reads a competitors opinion first, you’ll have a tough job to change their minds. 

Availability Heuristic

Sounds very clever, but in simple terms, we tend to overestimate the importance of the information that is available to us. This is why it’s really important to be aware of the questions your customers and prospects are likely to ask, and make sure that answers are available. If they can’t find the answer from you – they will go elsewhere, and probably stay there. 

Images, Images, Images 

This one is not a cognitive bias, more something I thought I’d shoehorn it in as it goes with the general theme and is important, especially as a large proportion of bloggers and content producers seem to ignore it! People are six times more likely to retain information that contains an image – even if the image is in no way related to the subject matter. More images drive even better retention and people are significantly more likely to share content that contains am image.

Going into advanced use of images – it’s worth being aware that people’s eyes are naturally drawn to faces and data from eye tracking studies tells us that on the whole, when we see a face, we look where they look. If the eyes of the person in your image are looking at your text, your readers are more likely to look at your text!

Blind spot bias

Cognitive bias is a fascinating area and one that all marketers and sales people should be aware of and use on a daily basis. The kicker is that we all suffer from what is known as blind spot bias – which is a failure to recognise our own cognitive bias!