Wuss isn’t a word I use often, but it came to my mind fleetingly as an appropriate self-description during my drive home from the holidays. Though there was only the slightest visible dusting of snow on the highway, I started driving in second or third gear with my hazard lights on and car after car kept passing my (usually speeding) red roadster. But despite the weather map and my fellow travelers, I had decided I did not like the feel of the road beneath my snow tires.
I’ve written before about the psychology of social norms in marketing. The pressure to conform and the power of social influence were alive and well on the road that night, just as they are in our everyday work lives. That night it was not too long before I drove by the first collection of cars off the road, but many decisions to go against the crowd do not provide such immediate feedback.
So how can you tell when you’re being a marketing wuss or a wizard?
Creative, effective, independent (wizard) thinking is unusual in any field, but marketing communication for those seeking sustainable change presents a special dilemma. Changemakers, by definition, must challenge the status quo and that’s not easy for us social animals.
Popular media is rife with talk of branding, advertising and sales strategy successes and failures so everyone has a recommendation or opinion. Isolating and documenting the key factors driving success or failure is costly and time consuming. When I find myself facing a knotty marketing challenge or opportunity, I like to run through a mental checklist of potential cognitive biases that might be affecting my thinking.
The Essential Marketing Wuss or Wizard Checklist
False consensus bias (or beware the bandwagon effect)
Hmm, is “everyone doing it” or agreeing this is a wonderful move? It is rare, in my experience, to have easy consensus around breakthrough ideas. Social influence can easily lead you astray, so caution may be wise. If it’s an important decision and the team just loves your first suggestion, think twice.
Status quo bias (aka fear of change)
On the other hand, are you resisting an idea just because it’s not what you’re accustomed to? Changemakers tend to favor new and different marketing approaches, but that can lead to resisting strategies proven to be effective in your situation. You don’t want to be a wuss about either a new change, or staying the course for a while if it’s working.
Trust your gut (and then research without confirmation bias)
Many marketers believe in the power of intuition to support good decision-making, and outcomes from thin-slice decisions or gut judgments lasting only seconds have matched careful, rational choices in countless studies. But the reality is there there may be too much at stake to rely on any one data point like your intuition. I like to consider my gut reaction to be a hypothesis and seek information to refute, not only confirm my first reaction.
Marketing Wuss or Wizard: Which Are You?
The next time you’re urging caution when others want to forge ahead, or when you’re the only one advocating a particular strategy, I suggest mentally running through this “wuss or wizard” checklist. None of us can completely avoid mental biases, but making the time to examine them can minimize the risk (or maximize the opportunity). What do you think? Is there a bias you’d add to the checklist?
List of cognitive biases — Wikipedia (well-documented article)