Any good affiliate marketer thinks they understand their customers or website visitors. They have to. Without that understanding they’d never be able to make money, right? We think we have a really good idea of how they are going to react and what they are going to think. The problem is we aren’t very good at this. We think of ourselves as great intuitive psychologists but we aren’t. And that mistake is costing all of us money.
When we design a site, we put ourselves in the minds of our customers: when we carry out keyword research we think like a searcher, when we write sales copy we put ourselves in their shoes. I actually think I’m pretty good as doing this, you probably do to; we think the punters will have a similar opinion to us, but science has proven that we tend to over-estimate how similar people’s opinion is to our own. This is known as False Consensus.
Example of False Concensus
There’s a great example of this false consensus in study carried out by Ross, Greene & House in 1977. They carried out a study excellently described on Spring.org.uk
In this study a group of students were asked to wander around their university wearing a big old sandwich board emblazed with the Slogan “Eat at Joe’s”. What was the motivation put forward by Ross and his buddies to encourage people to walk around in potentially embarrassing get-up? Just that they would learn ’something interesting’ about themselves, however they were under no obligation to carry out the task.
People tended to think other people would make the same call as them. The people who agreed to wear the sandwich board, 62% thought others would also agree. Of those who refused, only 33% thought others would agree to wear the sandwich board.
This is an interesting finding - we think people are far more likely to agree with us than they actually are. This should really make you think again next time you’re assessing a piece of work you’ve created. You think it’s perfect, you think other people will think the same, but how much of that certainty is based on False Consensus?
Combating False Consensus
So we know that we’re likely to overestimate how popular or common our opinions and actions are: What can we as affiliate and digital marketers do to combat this?
1/ Assumptions are normally based on some level of False Consensus. You need to discount these. The best advert copy in a PPC campaign is the one which performs the best in a fair test. It might be wise to try to apply a similar level of scrutiny to all aspects of your business. Always remember that multi-variant testing is your friend.
2/ Several of you in a room agreeing doesn’t make your collective opinion any more likely to be correct. In fact the chances are you’re all influencing each other, making you more certain than you would be if you had asked everyone independently. That doesn’t mean you need to make every decision in isolation and tot up the results afterwards. But I do recommend that if a group of people have got together and brainstormed an idea, always run it by someone who wasn’t part of the creative process. Not being part of the group they can be much more objective. You can see this in practice if you watch any episode of ‘The Apprentice’. All the people together will convince themselves it’s a great idea, even though an outside could instantly tell them otherwise.
3/ Generally speaking the more important the decision the more likely we are to be effected by False Consensus. Be aware of this, and test even the biggest decisions. You’ve probably tested different ad copy on landing pages or maybe small variations in layout, but did you test the whole colour scheme? Or carry out a test campaign before launching a whole new category of your site. The smaller decisions are the easiest to test but the bigger the decision, the greater the reward of making the right call.
4/ Google+ is probably old news to you, you’ve probably been checking into places on Foursquare for years – you are not normal. You knew that already. You probably know your customers might be a few months behind you but False Consensus will encourage you to think there’s more people as switched on and up to date than there really is.
5/ The flipside to False Consensus is False Uniqueness – it’s where you tend to overestimate how unique a positive quality is, in a similar way to False Consensus. Ask any company what their USP is or how they’re different from their competitors and you’ll probably see False Uniqueness in action.
There’s dozens of these cognitive biases and they’re influencing you and your visitors. The better you understand them, the less likely they are to cost you money or cause you to make bad decisions.
image thanks to desktopedia.com