Glossary Series

What is confirmation bias?

See how confirmation bias can affect you as a marketer, or in an industry, as we are so easily manipulated by our subconscious.


Confirmation bias is the subconscious investigation for research or results that align or confirm with a belief or hypothesis. When looking into a particular marketing strategy or campaign, you could focus on particular metrics that seek to confirm your efforts, looking over the more objective measurements of success.

Your opinions though, they are well informed, and you are open-minded to new strategies that help build growth and development. You don’t fall victim to the same old thinking patterns, you live outside the box, don’t you?

Well, you’d be surprised.

Image Credit to Steve Johnson

As humans, we are exposed to countless amounts of information, stimulus, and content on a second to second basis. With smartphones, the internet, and social media we are bombarded with an incredibly high level of imagery, video, and messaging. Far more than anyone who has previously lived before us.

As pattern-seeking creatures, it makes life easier when we find a recurring pattern. With finite energy and limited capacity to process, understand and coordinate all the information, we will look for shortcuts. Naturally, these shortcuts will be influenced by our currently held beliefs and opinions. We wouldn’t operate well if we had to take in every single detail.

Our default setting is to find, process, and understand this information aligned with our worldview. If you were to watch a film with someone, their experience of the content could be wildly different depending on their beliefs, opinions, and lived experience. The default setting can influence how we view major concepts, can create and maintain stereotypes, as well as blind us to objective reality.  

 


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Confirmation Bias when running experiments

As we are creatures of our own context, this undoubtedly creeps into our professional life. Within our work, no matter the task, we look for validation from every possible source that our methodology for approaching work is the right one. We devour podcasts, read Linkedin posts, trawl through Twitter, and more looking for concepts and ideas that we already agree with. We want the evidence to be on our side. 

This can lead us down a bad path. When we are constantly looking for evidence that agrees with us, we can overlook clear evidence that disagrees with an assumption, hypothesis, or strategy that we’re implementing. After all, it’s hard to see red flags, when you’re wearing rose-colored glasses.


Image Credit to Dawid Małecki

There is something to be said for relying on your instincts and trusting your experience in the marketing field. It’s perfectly natural to shy away from risk and to trust what you “know” to be true. 

This particular strategy can lead to stagnation. Within many different industries, those that are experimenting with new ideas and concepts will find more success than just those who are doing the tried and true methods. This can be connected to a famous quote by John A. Shedd:


“A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” - John A. Shedd.

Additionally, we have Daniel Murray joining the discussion with this:

 

Managing confirmation bias is difficult because this isn’t happening within our active thought, it’s the concoction and amalgamation of our subconscious. Trying to be cognizant of confirmation bias is difficult.

A helpful way to help prevent this is to communicate. Communication serves to ensure teams are on the same page, that the strategy is going toward the right goal, and has subsequent accountability if the goal isn’t met. Excuses and justifications may pop up, but within a team, it's far easier for an external perspective to shake up the thinking process.


Objective sources can be another helpful tool to combat confirmation bias. If the reporting system used by your company, or the progress that has been tracked is mainly about data, then you’re less likely to suffer from confirmation bias. The data rarely lies.


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How a personal stake affects perception

We can even be defeated by our level of involvement or stake within the strategy, product, or decision. A startup founder has a massive stake in their business success and will cling to anything that supports their perception that their idea is valid. The desire for success can be blinding, and this can lead to products that slowly bleed to death, rather than an objective perspective that can highlight the feasibility of a project. 

Additionally, there is an element of commitment and time that can influence confirmation bias. If someone has been working on a campaign for 6 months, all the different elements of the strategy, the assets, the whole shebang, they won’t be able to see it clearly. They’re influenced by their skin in the game, they will be desperate for evidence that confirms that all their hardwork was for something, that the consistent output would be worth a tangible result. 


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A condition of confirmation bias

Illusory superiority is a condition of confirmation bias. This condition means that people will often overestimate their ability when comparing themselves to the entire population. A popular example of this is that over 50% of drivers will perceive themselves to be above-average drivers when statistically that doesn’t compute.

If someone is working within their industry, it is likely to then posit that they believe themselves to be better than the majority of others within that same industry. This confidence and self-perception are dangerous too. 

 


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Final Thoughts

Confirmation bias is an unfortunate side effect of being human. We are constantly in the middle of thousands of pieces of information, entertainment, and more. We can be growing and learning, while at the same time be digging our heels further into a belief and worldview that has been established by our subconscious mind trying to make sense of the world around us.

 

If you’re struggling to find a better way to map your data within your marketing funnel, then you may need to find a solution that has better data collection and analytics capabilities. At Upflowy, it was one of our main concerns, and our analytics tab shows clearly the impact of certain steps and processes within a web experience. It’s difficult to have that bias come into play when the data is clearly in front of you.

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