The Choice Factory – Richard Shotton

Marketing and advertising professionals need to stop what they are doing and read this book.

I’m not kidding.

9 out of 10 of the top minds in the field of advertising and marketing have already read Richard Shotton’s “The Choice Factory,” and are now using the insights to catapult their brands from obscurity into revenue-saturated popularity. Do you want to be the one that misses out on this opportunity?

Cognitive Bias and Choice

In the age of infobesity, content shock, and choice paralysis – getting solid advice on any subject can be extremely difficult. Marketers today are obsessed with brand purpose, shiny-automated-dashboards, Big Data & artificial intelligence. Each business hoping to differentiate, to be the first to discover and use “the next big thing in marketing.”

Marketers and advertisers, like everyone picking out their next “self-help” book, are AWASH with options. But, if we reduce the complexity of choice down to a single element – cognitive bias – we can start to appreciate the genius behind Shotton’s book.

The author is careful to point out that there is not a GRAND THEORY of advertising and marketing. People make decisions for a variety of reasons – so why not focus in on that moment of decision; what forces compel us to CHOOSE one thing over another?

Shotton boils consumer behavior down to a collection of 25 cognitive biases that, for this book, makeup the bulk of decision making. Cognitive biases effect the way we make choices, the products we choose to buy, and more importantly, biases are the foundation for our beliefs about the world.

By incorporating real studies from the fields of psychology and sociology, and case studies of brands that have used these biases, or failed to use them, “The Choice Factory” is a useful, inspirational, well-crafted book that every self-respecting marketer and advertiser needs to read.

I’ll briefly share my favorite biases here – but if you want to a piece of this action, GO BUY THE BOOK.

Fundamental Attribution Error

Attributing actions to “fundamental” characteristics, rather than context.

EXAMPLE – Guy cuts you off in traffic, that guy is FOREVER a huge asshole, through and through. His mom was an asshole. I hope his family dies for the sake of the planet.

REALITY – He’s headed to the hospital from a job he just was fired from for excessive absences; his wife is sick with cancer and has hours to live.

This bias is HUGE and behind such hits as road rage, xenophobia, domestic abuse, racism – but also impacts the work being done in advertising meetings around the world.

How can marketing and advertising folk take advantage of this bias?

Consider the context in which someone will see your ad – don’t just focus on the content. Can they see the tiny copy on your billboard as they speed past? Does your display ad campaign take advantage of sites or pages with high dwell time?

Target the context your audience is in – not just the audience.

Distinctiveness

Most brands want to differentiate, they want to be unique – but, these same brands are obsessed with “best practices.” Best Practices is when you look at what everyone else is doing in your vertical, and then act accordingly.

Brands don’t want to take a chance, they want to review the case studies of someone who took a chance – they want to form a design committee – they want it to feel sure in the boardroom; but something that’s safe in the boardroom, is DEAD in the real world.

When it comes to the cognitive bias of “distinction,” Shotton reminds us that there is no “safety-in-numbers” in advertising. To stand out, you really do have to take chances.

SOLUTION – Find the rules, find the best practices and subvert them! –> When the world zigs, zag.

Claimed Data

Claimed data refers to info that has been collected from a survey – it’s what people claim is going on inside their heads. Problem is, most folks are completely unaware of what effects their decisions (hence the book) –

The rational mind thinks it’s the Oval Office, when in reality, it’s Office Depot. When we are asked a question, we answer it like we’re being interviewed for Heaven. We pad our history, forget our shortcomings, and see nothing but sunshine ahead of us.

EXAMPLE –
Don’t ask a guy, “Do you wash your hands before you leave the bathroom?”
Instead, ask – “What percentage of men your age wash their hands before they leave the bathroom?”

SOLUTION – When asking people a question, ask them how they think OTHERS in their own demographic would answer the question. This leads to a stronger truth. When answering a survey question personally, the participant’s reputation is on the line. So they’ll give you the answer society and biases have nudged them towards.

Primacy Effect

The order in which we receive information, effects how we interpret it.

EXAMPLE – People were given a brief description of someone they had never met, and then asked to provide their thoughts about this person, after the description. They were split into two groups, each given the same description, but the order of adjectives was reversed in one group.

Group A – This person is intelligent, industrious, impulsive, critical, stubborn, envious.
Group B – This person is envious, stubborn, critical, impulsive, industrious, intelligent.

Group A described the person in much more glowing terms than Group B, even though the description given to both groups had been essentially the same.

LESSON –
Pay attention to ad rotation. Be the first ad they see during commercial break.
Pay attention to first impressions and copywriting – start strong!

Wishful Seeing

We see what we want to see.

The hungrier we are, the more everything looks like food.

I like Transformers, so EVERYONE likes Transformers!

People love a zero-carbon, environmentally-conscious, locally sourced brand connected to a strong brand purpose – – –

But in reality – things are much different.

EXAMPLE – After reviewing a list of Forbes Top 50 companies, it may be easy to attribute success for a brand to any number of factors. In his book “Grow,” Jim Stengel attributed brand success to strong brand purpose. However, the data does not support the hypothesis.

Of the 50 brands chosen fro Stengel’s 2011 book, only 9 had stock evaluations that held up over time.

Brand purpose is really just a description – success can never be guaranteed by holding fast to some internal behavior or brand ideal.

Have a look at the definition for three of the brands:

  • Moët & Chandon ‘exists to transform occasions into celebrations’.
  • Mercedes-Benz ‘exists to epitomise a life of achievement’.
  • BlackBerry ‘exists to connect people with one another and the content that is most important in their lives, anytime, anywhere’.

If you switched the brand names above with any competitor, you would be hard pressed to tell which is the “best” –

Why are marketers so keen to adopt a brand purpose? Because it makes us feel better. Shotton believes that helping a company sell products may not be as rewarding – so we say our product saves dolphins and makes tomorrow’s rainbows, today. Feels better, right?

LESSON – Hit the pause button before you go all in on brand purpose. It’s not the secret sauce everyone thinks it is.

I could go on and on about the awesome book – but then I’d be rewriting the book YOU SHOULD BE BUYING RIGHT NOW –>

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