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B2B Marketing vs Cognitive Bias pt 1.

As B2B marketers, we’re coming back to the idea that people buy from people, and adapting our approach accordingly. We held our own conference on emotional engagement last year, and my buddies Chris, Gemma, Maxine, Katie and Drew will all tell you about the myriad of ways that you can use the natural biases and blind spots of the human mind to your advantage through effective marketing until the cows come home. Quite literally in some cases- we all know that agencies outside London are legally obliged to have a barn for an HQ.

 I’m here to ask the opposite question. As marketers are increasingly aware of the cognitive biases that affect them, how can they act to prevent them detrimentally affecting their marketing?

 My inspiration for this piece is Charlie Munger. Here he is in cartoon form: 


He’s famous because he’s Warren Buffet’s partner at Berkshire Hathaway. He is also one of the last remaining polymaths and renaissance men, with experience in law, physics, engineering and of course finance and business.

He recently wrote this about the strengths and weaknesses of academic economics. Wait, don't stop reading! It's interesting, I promise. 

 As I read, it became increasingly clear that Charlie has tons of insight for marketers sitting right under the surface. One stood out like a sore thumb...

 “Overweighing What Can Be Counted”

Quite simply, people are pre-disposed to give too much importance to factors and ideas they can accurately measure.

 Business is a complex system full of wonderful data, which can be used in some cases to demonstrate outcomes of processes and therefore evaluate their success.

 But what about everything else that is just as vital – if not more so – but is currently impossible to measure? You know they’re important, but you don’t have the numbers to prove it.

 Practically everybody overweighs the stuff that can be numbered because it yields to familiar statistical techniques, and therefore enables them to avoid dealing with the hard-to-measure stuff that may be more important. This is otherwise known as the ambiguity effect.


 So what does this mean for marketers? 

We've all heard the saying- "If you can't measure it, don't do it"- as ROI measurement has become increasingly important, marketers have looked for more clever ways to prove their worth in all of their efforts. In addition, as senior marketers try to improve their standing at board level, the ability to talk in cold hard facts and figures – a language their audience will often rely on – is advantageous. The ability to give an accurate reflection of your value to the business is already essential, and will only become more so.

 However, in the world of measurement, not all marketing is created equal. Particularly in the world of brand engagement and recognition, the benefits are far less tangible and accountable than the activities that sit nearer the bottom of the sales funnel. That doesn’t make them any less important!

 Let’s finish with a fun and simple analogy

If Marketing was a dog, ROI would be the tail – when it wags, the world is good. When it doesn’t, something is wrong. However, if you oversubscribe to the things you can measure, and neglect the things you can’t, then maybe the tail will start wagging the dog. This could lead to a mechanic, conservative marketing operation where creativity is stifled and marketing gets very boring indeed. 

 So what can you do about it?

The real challenge here is often at board level. Marketing leaders need to demonstrate that, although proving the exact value of above the line activity is difficult, it is just as important as lead development and sales.


And if they use the "can't measure it, don't do it" mantra, tell them to drop me a message.