Selling to us or them: overcoming the threat of egocentric decision making in marketing
New research highlights how personal biases impact marketing decisions and what can be done to minimize this unwanted effect
One of the more interesting concepts in psychology is something called the false consensus effect, or FCE. This term refers to the egocentric tendency that most people have to project their tastes and opinions onto others. For example, someone who thinks that iced tea is best unsweetened tends to believe that most other people feel this way as well. Likewise, someone who thinks saving the environment is a good thing is often surprised to hear differing opinions because he projects his care for the environment onto most other individuals.
It’s not hard to understand why FCE might be a serious problem for executives responsible for complex marketing efforts. It would be unfortunate or even disastrous for marketers to base brand campaigns on their personal biases. Thus, FCE is an essential topic in marketing research because many studies have shown that marketers are especially susceptible to its effects. It is well established that marketers who like new products assume that most people also like new products. Likewise, marketers who like detailed product information in advertising tend to think that most consumers also prefer detailed product information in ads. To make matters more complex, research has shown that the degree to which FCE impacts a marketer is closely related to her level of empathy towards consumers, i.e., the more empathetic the marketer is naturally — or is asked to be by senior company leadership — the more susceptible she is to the often-undesirable effects of this phenomenon.
Of course, marketers are often aware that FCE exists and poses a risk to their strategies and have developed mechanisms in response. The most common of these is called preference suppression, which is the attempt to recognize and ignore personal preferences when designing marketing strategies. While studies have confirmed suppression as a common tactic to avoid FCE, the mechanisms and efficacy of suppression are not fully understood. Newly published research by Walter Herzog, Johannes D. Hattula, and Darren W. Dahl addresses this gap, with interesting implications for marketers everywhere.
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