INside Performance Marketing
Heuristics – Mental Shortcuts to Drive Conversion

Heuristics – Mental Shortcuts to Drive Conversion

During a session on behavioural economics by Ogilvy Deputy Chairman Rory Sutherland at a previous event of ours, he discussed how marketing has changed so dramatically over the past 15 years to levels that have left previous advertising metrics playing catch up:

“I think what’s happened, is that because the metrics and models of advertising were all effectively created in the Don Draper age [c. 1926], in the age of ‘Mad Men’ and the age of one super dominant mass advertising medium, there still survives in marketing the idea that there’s only one force at work.

“By and large, conventional marketing says that this force is ‘brand preference’, and ‘brand preference’ translates into purchase behaviour. And that’s it.”

“What you all know because you’ve been practicing affiliate marketing, is that it doesn’t work like that. Whatever you know from the ‘conventional’ model, it’s clear to you that there are forces at work in human behaviour, which aren’t explained either by conventional brand models or by logic.”

These other forces of human behaviour are not fully understood, not able to be measured and often go undetected, quite simply because there are so many. One of these he touched upon was a heuristic, and is a human behaviour that can drive conversion.

What Is a Heuristic?

As stated in the Psychology Dictionary, “a heuristic is a mental shortcut that allows people to solve problems and make judgments quickly and efficiently. These rule-of-thumb strategies shorten decision-making time and allow people to function without constantly stopping to think about the next course of action. While heuristics are helpful in many situations, they can also lead to biases.”

One of the first helpful steps to understanding heuristics is a quote from a UK-based advertising guy named Paul Feldwick who, when writing about brand advertising, said that what conventional brand advertising does isn’t necessarily sales – it’s sale-ability. By lending brand awareness, social engagement and visible commitment to a brand, you may not actually be selling but you are rendering the brand as one where people are prepared to buy. Very familiar to the axiom of affiliate marketing.

Brand advertising work does not often sell directly, however the awareness gained (from an e-mail, banner advertisement, appearance on affiliate website and so on) influences people who wouldn’t have normally considered this as a purchase, and instead places the brand or product within their repertoire of things they are now willing to buy.

The heuristic (or mental shortcut) in this instance is “don’t buy things you’ve never heard of”, and instead thinking broadly speaking “you can trust things that are famous”.

Why do we use Heuristics?

Most of the time we do not make perfect, optimal decisions. Why? In most cases it’s a time related issue to make an optimal decision. You need information – and lots of it. A perfect example of a more generic heuristic is catching a ball in Baseball. To make the optimal decision on where the ball will land and where you should place your hand, you could use advanced physics.

By the time you’ve worked it out, however, the ball will most likely have landed five minutes prior! What you do instead is take a mental shortcut, extrapolate the path of the ball, predict where the ball will land and estimate where you should place your hand. It’s the same thought process for the way in which a dog catches a frisbee.

These heuristics (there are hundreds of them) are also used when we buy things. If you’re faced with three price brackets (cheap, medium and expensive) you tend to purchase the one in the middle. You can read more about heuristics from the expert Gerd Gigerenzer, in his book ‘Simple Heuristics That Make us Smart’ available at Amazon.

How can this Drive Conversion?

For affiliate marketers, understanding heuristics can enable you to position yourselves as part of the awareness funnel, aiding brand promotions and increasing chances of conversion. It’s therefore important to understand what promotional campaigns are being undertaken by the brand to ensure you align your content and messaging to support campaigns.

If you’re interested in finding out more about heuristics, other human behaviour and how this is linked to marketing, spare some time to view the entire keynote session from Ogilvy’s Rory Sutherland.

Performance Marketing Insights: NYC takes place on March 12/13 at the Crowne Plaza on Times Square. Find out more and get a 15% discount with code A4U15

Continue the conversation

Got a question or comment – tweet Chris chrisjohnski or comment on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIN.

Chris Johnson

Chris Johnson

Content Director for PerformanceIN. Based in Bristol & London.

Read more from Chris

Related Articles

Join over 10,000 performance marketers for the ultimate weekly update on industry news