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Cognitive biases in international marketing: How bias influences global consumer behaviour and decision-making

Have you ever wondered why you pick one brand over another? 

Or, why you shop at an expensive store when a more affordable option is available?

Well, our brains have built-in shortcuts, called cognitive biases, that help guide our decisions. (Sometimes, erroneously).

From choosing a brand of cereal to making big business decisions, cognitive biases shape our buying decisions. So as a marketer, you need to understand how people make decisions so you can shape what they make a decision to buy. 

But here’s the interesting bit.

Biases can be influenced by cultural norms and linguistic nuances. What does this mean when you’re marketing to a global audience?

Whether you’re creating a campaign for a local audience or translating your marketing materials for international reach, you need to understand how biases may present in different cultural settings, so you can tailor your marketing to resonate with diverse groups of people. 

In this article, we’ll cover how language affects our choices, look at a few common biases, and give practical tips to help you navigate cognitive biases. Let’s get stuck in.

What are cognitive biases and how do they influence marketing?

A cognitive bias refers to the errors of judgement made during decision-making. Cognitive biases aren’t random mistakes – rather, they’re consistent thinking patterns that deviate from logical reasoning. Basically, cognitive biases are mental shortcuts that speed up decision-making–decisions that we may not even be aware of.

In fact, a Harvard Business School professor reported that 95% of purchasing decisions are made subconsciously. This indicates the influential power of cognitive biases at play for consumers. For example, consumers may choose a well-known brand over a generic one due to familiarity, even if the generic brand offers better value. Biases can affect everything from the initial attraction to a product, all the way to the decision to purchase it.

From a cultural perspective, cultural biases may influence the marketing decisions a brand makes, which could have unintended negative consequences, such as cultural appropriation or confused messaging through incorrect translation. This underscores the importance of marketers knowing not only which cognitive biases may influence an audience, but also which biases may influence them and their perceptions of the cultures they are marketing to.

4 cognitive biases that affect marketing (including cultural aspects to consider)

Whether you’re marketing products locally or on a global scale, understanding cognitive biases is crucial for effective marketing strategies. Let’s look at the most common ones.

1. The anchoring effect

The anchoring effect occurs when the first piece of information someone comes across sets the tone for how they view a product or service. For example, the first price a consumer sees when researching a product is anchored as a comparison point, any price higher will seem expensive, and any price lower will seem like a good deal.

How does the anchoring effect impact marketing?

Your initial pricing or the first promotion you offer can strongly influence whether people decide to make a purchase. For example, if the first price someone sees when researching a product or service is high, a later discount might seem like a deal, even if it’s still expensive relative to other brands. 

Cultural or linguistic factors to consider

If you use anchoring in international markets, beware that the effectiveness of anchoring can vary between cultures. When marketing to different cultures, consider local norms about pricing and value to set effective anchors. For example, if your target audience is a collectivist society, consumer price judgement might be more affected by peer consensus than by the anchoring bias.

2. Survivorship bias

This bias occurs when people focus only on successful outcomes and ignore failures, leading to skewed data of what works.

How does survivorship bias impact marketing?

Marketers often focus on successful campaigns, products, or strategies, and neglect failed campaigns. This neglect can lead to an overly optimistic and inadequate understanding of what works, resulting in missing insights and lessons from campaigns or marketing strategies that didn’t succeed. 

Cultural or linguistic factors to consider

In a sentence? A marketing campaign or marketing communication that’s successful in one country may not be successful in another country.

3. Confirmation bias

Confirmation bias is the tendency to search for and pay more attention to information that aligns with our existing beliefs and ignore information that contradicts those beliefs.

How does confirmation bias impact marketing?

This bias highlights why Voice of Customer research is an important step in identifying the underlying beliefs and motivations of a target audience. When marketers create messages that mirror people’s beliefs (e.g., through transcreation methods), the message will reinforce consumers’ decision to engage with a brand.

Cultural or language factors to consider

What’s the takeaway? Messages that align with a culture’s existing beliefs or norms are more likely to be accepted. So, understanding those beliefs when entering a new market can help you create messages or translate your existing marketing communications into ones that continue to resonate with the new target market. This tenet is the foundation of localisation.

4. Cultural bias

Cultural bias involves making judgements or interpretations based on one’s own cultural standards, rather than taking into account different cultural norms, values, or beliefs.

How does cultural bias impact marketing?

When marketers approach campaigns from a narrow cultural perspective, they risk alienating potential consumers who have different cultural backgrounds

For example (as mentioned before), messaging that resonates with one culture may not translate well, or be irrelevant in another culture. So, accounting for cultural nuances when expanding to new markets could create more inclusive and well-received marketing.

Cultural or language factors to consider

Marketing that works in Australia or the United States may not resonate in Europe. If marketers aren’t sensitive to cultural nuances, marketing communications may be culturally insensitive or miss the mark.

The power of language in shaping consumer perceptions

Your choice of words can either resonate across cultures or get lost in translation, affecting your brand’s global appeal. For example, a slogan or message that works in one language may not have the same impact, or could even be misunderstood when translated directly into another language.

Similarly, using gender-neutral language in marketing is a powerful way to reinforce inclusivity and diversity. Remember, some languages have gender-specific word endings so consider language structure when translating marketing material into other languages. This is where translation and localisation services come in. 

Translation companies don’t just change the words from one language to another – they make sure the message and your intentions stay the same across cultures.

Practical tips for marketers to navigate cognitive biases in international marketing

Understanding how cognitive biases may influence target audiences, or yourself as a marketer, can improve your marketing strategies – especially when reaching out to culturally diverse audiences. Here are practical tips to help you:

Be wary of biases

Sounds obvious, but the first step is awareness. If you are aware of common cognitive biases and how they affect consumer behaviour, you can use this knowledge to create marketing strategies that either mitigate or leverage these biases.

Test and adapt

Don’t assume a strategy that worked in one context will work in another. Always test your marketing campaigns, especially when entering a new cultural market. Use A/B testing to compare different approaches and adapt based on the results.

Localise, don’t just translate

When marketing to different cultures, it’s not enough to just translate your materials. You need to localise them. This means adapting your marketing to fit the local culture, norms, and values.

Consult local experts

When entering a new market, consult local experts who understand the cultural nuances. They can provide invaluable insights into how your marketing strategies might need to be adapted.

Use data wisely

Data can provide you with valuable insights, but be cautious of biases that might skew the data. For example, if you’re only looking at success stories, you might fall into the trap of survivorship bias.

Invest in professional services

Consider using a professional translation service that understands the new markets cultural nuances to ensure your marketing is culturally and linguistically appropriate. Professional translation services can protect your brand credibility by avoiding cultural faux pas, ensuring your message delivers the intended message in each language.

In summary

Companies and brands that want to increase global reach cannot take a copy-and-paste approach to their marketing, instead, they need to adapt and localise their marketing communications, including understanding how cognitive biases influence consumers.

The good news? 

With awareness, testing, and the right professional services, you can turn these biases into opportunities to improve your marketing. If you’re interested in how Crisol can help you navigate cultural biases and marketing translation contact us here.

Author: Caitlin Bell

Caitlin is a psychologist-turned-freelance-copywriter who helps professionals and personal brands sound as personable and engaging in writing as they do in real life. Caitlin writes websites that not only get clicks but also attract the right fit clients. Caitlin lives in sunny Australia, and when not geeking out over branding, you can find her sipping an oat latte by the beach or getting bossed around by her mini schnauzer, Heidi. Get in touch with Caitlin.

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