The Burden of Bias: the neuroscience that helps consumers convert – Kenda MacDonald

Kenda MacDonald
By the end of the session you'll be armed with actionable know how to help increase conversions and keep brains choosing you.

Key takeaways on the Burden of Bias: the neuroscience that helps consumers convert

  • [09:48] Buying = Decisions
  • [11:15] The brain is not your friend
  • [14:16] Our brains aren’t out to get us. They’re trying to help us survive.
  • [25:31] Bias will happen and they will ruin your conversations.

[09:48] Buying is decision making, and decisions are complicated

  • Decision making
  • Problem solving
  • Judgement
  • Deductive and inductive reasoning

[12:04] Bad brains

  • Your brain lazily saves calories.
    • Hill climb: Your brain will substitute smaller goals for bigger goals, i.e. it will choose how pretty a company’s branding is over the actual functionality.
  • Your brain transfers and conflates.
  • Your brain condenses information and satisfices.
  • Your brain generalises and doubles down.

[14:16] (Cognitive) Bias Happens

  • Based on Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow:
    • System 1: The Minions
      • Fast
      • Automatic
      • Autopilot
      • 11 million bits p/s
      • Rules/Mental Shortcuts
    • System 2: Gru
      • Slow
      • Manual
      • Pilot
      • 40 bits p/s
      • Intensive, Effortful, Uses Calories
    • The Minions rule, but the minions make mistakes, and these mistakes are our cognitive biases.
      • We tend to create our marketing for Gru, but we really need to get the attention of the Minions.

[25:50] Conversion-killing crutches

  • Confirmation bias
  • Ambiguity bias
  • Anecdotal fallacy
  • Loss aversion
  • The availability heuristic
  • Curse of knowledge

[37:03] Marketing sucks

  • Give us a channel and we’ll ruin it.
  • Give us a bias and we’ll exploit it.
  • We suck:
    • Hacks, tricks, and coercion
    • Ignore strategy in favour of quick wins
    • Biased around our own biases
    • Bandwagon effect
    • In-group bias
    • Information bias

[39:46] Bias begone—Bias busters

  • Too much information
    • Filter out
    • Pick out most “meaningful” bits
    • Drawn to things that stick out/are funny
    • Notice things primed in memory/repeated often
    • Confirm our own beliefs
  • Solution:
    • Simplify the information
    • Repeat important information
  • Not enough meaning
    • Connect the dots
    • Find stories in sparse data
    • Generalise and fill in characteristics/stereotypes
    • Oversimplify numbers and data
    • Project
  • Solution:
    • Provide meaning
    • Be explicit
  • Need to act fast
    • Overconfident in our own abilities
    • Favour the immediate/relatable
    • Prefer completion
    • Prefer autonomy and status
    • Avoid ambiguity
  • Solution:
    • Summarise
    • Highlight
  • What we should remember
    • Keep on what’s “useful”
    • Pick out a few and discard rest
    • Save space
    • Transfer and conflate
  • Solution:
    • Keep it simple
    • Big picture
  • Make it Minion-Friendly
    • Make it easy
    • Context is king
    • Frame control

[43:57] Minions love specificity

  • Stages of awareness consumers go through:
    • Unaware
    • Problem aware
    • Solution aware
    • Product aware
    • Most aware

[44:21] Rounding up

  • Be aware of bias
  • Provide context
  • Lean into consciousness, not coercion
  • KIMF = Keep It Minion-Friendly

Q and A on the Burden of Bias: the neuroscience that helps consumers convert

Q: Internal stakeholders always love certain marketing tactics even though they show objectively poor ROI (ex. trade shows). Is this an example of ambiguity bias and, if so, what can we do about it?

A: This is an example of information bias—seeking out information even though we don’t need it. There may also be a bit of anecdotal fallacy at play here. The best thing we can do about it is to have our North Star and focus on strategy. Tactics have their place. We can’t execute strategy without tactics. But tactics shouldn’t be our North Star. Also, funnily, information bias is combated with information. Give information as to why something may not work and fight them with data and ROI.


Q: Do you have any tips on how to convince your boss that quick wins are simply not a thing?

A: Marketing is so driven by quick KPIs—things that don’t actually move the needle in the long run. The best way I’ve seen to combat that is to move the KPI-driven metrics. Focus on customer lifetime value at a much deeper level because that will stop you from focusing on superficial KPIs and metrics. Customer lifetime is measured by: how long a customer has been with you plus how much they’ve spent over that period of time minus how much it has taken to bring them on.


Q: Can you overuse this knowledge? I feel overwhelmed with it. Where is the safe spot to enjoy it from a marketer’s perspective?

A: That is, in part, why I don’t go down to the individual biases. I like to parade the individual biases because they’re fun to look at; but, I prefer to focus on the core areas of: the purchase formula (how we make purchase decisions and how they impact marketing activities), awareness stages, and the four areas of biases. When you take those three principles into consideration, you’re going to have a good time and you won’t need to go any deeper. But when you start to optimize sales pages for individual biases, you’re getting into trouble. Rather, look at those groupings and make sure you’re giving people what they need to stop those biases from happening.


Q: Does ambiguity bias include information that is quite technical and meaty? If the answer is “yes”, what advice would you offer for technical and meaty content in blog posts?

A: Yes, ambiguity bias will definitely happen when there are more decisions to be made. If decisions involve having to understand the implications of various options or how things will be applied, always remember not to fall into the curse of knowledge: Don’t assume that people already know. Give them the information they need to know. Break things down and give people basic levels of information and highlight the important parts, then move into something a bit more complex. It is a skillset to make complicated skills easy to understand, and it is a skillset that everybody working in these technical industries should work to develop.


Q: Can you use your knowledge about biases to generate bias in your favor? If so, what are the implications?

A: Yes, you can do that. But I think it’s morally and ethically repugnant. My stance is that it wouldn’t get past an ethics community in psychology, and if it can’t get past the ethics community, you shouldn’t be doing it. I want to be good with my audience and I want them to make decisions that they would make even if I wasn’t manipulating a bias. I want them to make the right decision that is right for them because that gives me longer customer lifetime value.