Answer one question for me: are there more words in the English language that:
1. Begin with the letter K?.. OR…
2. …Have K as the THIRD letter in the word?
Take a second. Think about it.
Come on. Take 3 seconds to think about it.
If your mind automatically floated to answer #1, then you’ve just experienced a mental “shortcut” called the Availability Heuristic.
In reality, however, there are WAY more words in the English language that have “K” as the third letter.
(acknowledge, viking, ask…)
But those words are harder to remember.
Because of that increased difficulty, our brains focus their energy on finding more “first letter words.”
So we end up with a longer mental list of words that BEGIN with “K” rather than those which have “K” as the third letter.
This is the Availability Heuristic in action.
This heuristic states that people tend to base their beliefs more on information that is readily “available” (i.e. easily remembered) than information that is difficult to remember.
The consequences of this pattern on marketing are remarkable.
Applied correctly, this heuristic opens a pathway for us to prime our customers’ minds for beliefs that we’d like to have associated with our brands.
Beliefs like unquestionable trust, a sense of personal relationship, approval of your environmental practices… The list goes on.
If you think about any marketing challenge you’re facing, it can likely be distilled down to a misaligned belief your customer holds in your brand.
- They may believe you don’t produce quality products…
- They may believe you don’t truly care about their problems…
- They may believe you’re not an authentic or responsible company…
Whatever it is, the Availability Heuristic offers the key to re-align your brand with the “ideal” belief in your customer’s mind.
What’s an ideal belief? Well, the ideal belief compared to the ones above would look like:
- They believe you produce high-quality products…
- They believe you deeply care about their problems…
- They believe you’re an authentic, responsible company…
In the steps that follow, we’re going to explore how to put this heuristic to work in your marketing plan.
How To Use The Availability Heuristic In Your Marketing Message
The Availability Heuristic deals with the establishment of beliefs which your prospects have put to use in comparative, judgmental, or risk/reward scenarios.
- Comparative Scenario: Does Brand X have better customer service than Brand Y?
- Judgmental Scenario (past-facing): How valuable was this webinar?
- Risk-Reward Scenario (future-facing): Is this free consultation worth my time?
All of these scenarios are prime territory for the Availability Heuristic. Let’s look at them in a bit more detail.
In comparative scenarios, if your brand has more easily “accessible” examples of good customer service, the person will have a higher likelihood of believing your brand has better customer service.
It is literally as simple as that.
Here are a few examples that you could use:
- “My Brand is more trustworthy than Brand Y”
- “My Brand will get the job done better than Brand B”
- “My Brand is more ethically committed to the environment than Brand M”
It’s also appropriate to turn the 1-on-1 comparative beliefs into superlative beliefs, such as:
- “My Brand is the most trustworthy out there”
- “My Brand will get the job done best”
- “My Brand is the most environmentally friendly”
In judgmental scenarios, if the webinar attendee can easily remember highlights and snippets of valuable content in the webinar, they will have a higher likelihood of judging the webinar as valuable (this is why summaries are so important at the end of webinar broadcasts).
A free consultation is a good example of a risk-reward scenario; the prospect is exchanging their time for your value. If the consultation prospect can easily remember you consistently providing them with value in exchange for their time, they will have a higher likelihood of booking that call.
(This is why you should never publish a bland blog post. You never know who’s taking the time to read)
You now have a general idea of the types of beliefs you can choose to target. Next, we’ll go through the steps to establish your “target belief” as a strong belief in the minds of your customers. And we’ll be using the Availability Heuristic to do it.
Bedrock Of Brilliance (Ethics Check)
Before I go any further, there are two points from the Bedrock of Brilliance (AKA Neuromarketing Code Of Ethics) that we need to address.
First, it’s important that you choose a belief that is true to your company (see Neuromarketing Code Of Ethics: Bona Fide). If you’re trying to instill a belief that isn’t true, well, number one, it won’t work. Customers can sniff out bullshit in a nanosecond. You’d also be deceiving your customers. Which is the equivalent of a cardinal sin in the marketing world.
Second, it’s important that the customer already has a high likelihood of having the target belief independently of your marketing efforts (see Neuromarketing Code Of Ethics: Bullseye).
If you’re trying to convince a vegan that buying your company’s beef is the “right thing to do,” you’re just going to piss people off and lose market share. Plus, you’d be deceiving your customers (cue cardinal sin lecture). So before you continue, be very honest with yourself about how you’re applying the Availability Heuristic to your marketing.
Be realistic about the Code Of Ethics mentioned above and only move forward when you’re confident that you’re bringing an authentic application of this method to the market.
Let’s dive in.
Step 1: Choose A Belief
To begin, choose a belief about your brand that is currently holding a large portion of your audience back from taking the next step in your buying journey.
That could be a phone call, it could be completing a checkout, or it could be watching a video.
If you’re finding that your conversion rate for that part of your “sales funnel” is not actually… well, converting… then you should find out what’s holding people back. (For an in-depth guide on how to survey your audience on their biggest pain points and roadblocks, check out Ryan Levesque’s ASK Method.)
Here’s where most people naturally get tripped up: it’s easy to get confused at this point between “beliefs” and “actions.” A belief is NOT: “I believe I want to buy from Company X”
… that’s an action.
Here’s a belief:
“I believe Company X bakes the most delicious muffins in town”
The target belief here is centered around taste – specifically “deliciousness.” We’re dealing with subtle patterns of thought; these patterns need to be applied to subtle beliefs too. Otherwise, your messaging will seem strange and obnoxious. Imagine seeing the following sign as you drive out of a car wash:
“Thanks For Visiting! Don’t Forget How Awesome Our Service Was!”
When your conscious mind sees that, it throws red flags all over the place, right? But your subconscious sees messages like that all the time. That’s because beliefs like this are subtle enough to make their way to our subconscious without being detected by our loud-mouthed conscious mind that will be the first to scream, “Well, THAT WAS AWKWARD…”
Step 2: Pick A Visual
Now that you’ve chosen the target belief, we need to make it memorable.
Our brains are coded to remember sensory experiences very vividly. We can recall sights, sounds, and smells in a split second, instantly associating them with a childhood memory, a past home, or a belief. In this step, we’re going to pick a simple visual cue that we’ll associate with your target belief.
To do that, you’ll need to pick a visual scene which has an associated belief that would come to mind immediately for a person in your target market. Here are some examples:
- Visuals For Trustworthiness: Shaking hands, smiling faces, hugging, signing checks…
- Visuals For Quality Of Work: Tightening screws, polishing shiny surfaces, checking off boxes…
- Visuals For Environmental Friendliness: Green grass, trees, wind farms, solar panels…
Whatever visuals you DO choose, make sure they satisfy the conditions of “Ease Of Retrieval.”
Ease Of Retrieval
Ease Of Retrieval is a qualitative measure of how easy (or difficult) it is to access a memory.
If I were to tell you to picture an elephant, you’re probably already picturing an elephant in your mind as you read this. That’s because the image of an elephant has been repeatedly engrained in our brains over the course of our lives.
But if I were to tell you to imagine the concept of cognitive bias, you’d have to think a little about it, right? It wouldn’t be visual. It’s a mental “concept” that has no shape or form. Thus, the concept of “cognitive bias” fails the Ease Of Retrieval test.
To perform the Ease Of Retrieval test on your visuals, which involves asking the following three simple questions:
Is The Idea Simple?
You need one-step understanding when it comes to your visuals. There can be no metaphors, symbolism, or dependencies on the visuals. Keep It Simple, Stupid.
Is The Idea Memorable?
You need an idea that will be engrained in the person’s mind and easily recalled.
Seth Godin’s example of a purple cow is a perfect example of this, as is the example of media hype (the more a sensational event is hyped on the media, the more the public associates a high likelihood of that event happening again1)
Is The Idea Certain?
Keep It Certain means you can’t have the person going back and forth around what the initial belief was. The visual needs to be clear and its underlying meaning un-questionable; otherwise uncertainty will cloud the person’s ability to recall2.
Step 3: Create The Memory
Once you have the visual in mind, you need to place it in front of your target audience. To do that, you need to advertise and share high-quality content that captures the attention of your prospect.
Ideal channels of communication for this would be paid advertisements, web pages, print materials, and blog posts. Use whatever means you can in order to get that belief-based imagery in front of your audience. The goal with this kind of campaign is simply exposure. You’re not trying to get them to take any sort of action just yet.
Let me repeat that: You’re not trying to get them to take action.
The goal of this step is to create a mental association between your brand and your target belief. If you chose the belief of “trustworthiness,” then your marketing imagery might include visuals such as shaking hands, smiling faces, and signing checks.
But there’s no call to action to buy. You are establishing an association with the target belief.
Step 4: Retrieve The Memory
After repeated exposure to the imagery you published in Step 3, you can return to your audience with an advertisement designed to retrieve the memory of the belief and take an action.
There are two primary methods of “retrieving” the memory: retargeting and scheduled print advertising.
Retargeting allows you to return to the same exact people who saw your advertisement, web page, blog post, or other digital media, with the call to action.
Print advertising will do the same thing, albeit with lower traceability.
As long as you allow sufficient time for print ads to run in Step 3, then you can safely run an updated ad in the same publication (to roughly the same people) with your call to action.
It’s recommended that you run the same Step 3 print ad several months in a row, or better yet run several Step 3 print ads in the same publication in the same month, before you run the Step 4 print ads.
What Options Do You Have For Step 4 Ads?
There are two main options you have at your disposal when running retargeting or print ads for Step 4.
First, you can have them make a conscious comparison between you and your competition according to the chosen belief. Second, you can take the next step in the buying journey that was holding them from moving forward.
In either case, the “limiting belief” that was previously holding them back has been replaced by your target belief. They can now move forward in your customer journey uninhibited by the mis-aligned “limiting” belief in your brand. Thus, you’ll likely find that more people take that “next step” in your buying journey, your conversion rates go up, and sales increase.
You’ve just put the Availability Heuristic to work in your marketing. After going through the first two steps above, run a pilot campaign for Step 3 and Step 4 to test things out. Post your questions and results below!
- Read, Dr. J Don. “The Availability Heuristic in Person Identification: The Sometimes Misleading Consequences of Enhanced Contextual Information.” Applied Cognitive Psychology, Apr. 1995, onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/acp.2350090202/abstract;jsessionid=32B5BE1E9DCCD418A2B6C5A8FE2DD92C.f04t01.
- Vaugh, Leigh Ann. “Effects of uncertainty on use of the availability of heuristic for self-efficacy judgments”. European Journal of Social Psychology. 29 (2/3): 407–410. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/(SICI)1099-0992(199903/05)29:2/3%3C407::AID-EJSP943%3E3.0.CO;2-3/abstract