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25 behavioural biases that influence what we buy

It is always fascinating to find out more about consumer behavior in certain conditions. Behavioral science is an interdisciplinary approach to studying human behavior which offers immense opportunities to marketers to discover why people behave, feel or think the way they do. Moreover, it helps brands build the right products sooner and gain competitive advantage.

In 2018, Richard Shotton, Head of Behavioral Science at Manning Gottlieb OMD, published an inspirational book - The Choice Factory -, covering the complex subject of consumer behavior and reducing it to cognitive biases. It has applications in advertising, as well as solid actionable advice, supported by research and case studies.

The concepts presented in the book are easy to understand and apply, as Richard Shotton gives plenty of takeaways concerning situations in which advertisers will find themselves. Each of the stories with evidence from academic research, advertising campaigns or the author's views illustrates cognitive biases and how to apply them to marketing strategies.

The biases presented in the book are related to perceptions, price, context and mood. While some of them are well known to us (price relativity, primacy, social proof or scarcity), others are not so often encountered or even counterintuitive - for example, the pratfall effect; a risky approach on how flaws make a brand more appealing.

One of the pieces of advice covered in the book concerns habitual behavior: it states that we should shake consumers out of automatic behavior and target customers after they have undergone a life-changing event such as moving to a new house, ending a relationship, starting a new job or getting married. Another interesting discussion is about context, as we consistently underestimate it. On this topic, the author suggests targeting contexts and not only audiences,
as contextual factors influence behavior more than personality aspects. The author also offers his views on the ethics of capitalizing on biases, as it only makes the advertiser reply on emotions and, as he states, the fact "That an audience is moved by emotional pleas doesn’t make them blind; it makes them human".

Each of the 25 chapters covers a cognitive bias in a concise, clear and comprehensive manner, making this book a great read for anyone interested in the topic of consumer behavior. Furthermore, the author not only offers suggestions on the best ways to put the presented theories into practice, but he also recommends a list of book references in order to deepen our knowledge on this subject.

The end conclusion of the author challenges us and it also sums up the purpose of this book: We, the readers need to understand cognitive biases, but it is even more important to test and employ them: "I think behavioral science is the best way to understand human behavior. But don’t take my word for it. Go and test it for yourself.". 

Reviewer: Monica Diana Bercea, PhD Student in Neuromarketing Affiliation: “Alexandru Ioan Cuza” University, Faculty of Economics and Business Administration, Marketing Department, Iasi, Romania