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Marketing 360® Blog

How to Use Confirmation Bias in Your Marketing Story

Post By Scott Yoder | Content Marketing & SEO

Looking for a marketing story to tie into your business?  Don’t try to teach consumers something new.  Agree with what they already believe about themselves.

Patagonia knows what type of person spends money on their clothing.  They’ve built their story around their target audience’s world view.

When you go on the Patagonia eCommerce website and click on the page for skiing/snowboarding gear, they don’t take you to a product page.  Instead, you visit a page that tells stories, with videos like this:

This is a powerful piece of content marketing by Patagonia.  In demonstrating their support to keep the Jumbo Wilderness Area wild, they tell a story that seems to discourage the development of a place where their buyers would use their products.  You’d think they would favor the idea of a big resort with plenty of people wearing Patagonia jackets.

But Patagonia knows their target audience very well.  Their high-end products are bought by the kinds of outdoor enthusiasts who can afford to access wilderness areas where there is no infrastructure.  The truth:  wilderness expeditions and heli-skiing are not inexpensive pastimes.  They are speaking to an audience that knows – and can afford – what is truly the most “exclusive” outdoor experience.

Confirmation Bias

Confirmation bias is the tendency we have to emphasize facts that reinforce our existing beliefs.  If you’ve ever been in an argument about climate change, you know this bias.  You can’t reach conclusions because both sides favor facts that support what they already believe.

In marketing, you use confirmation bias to create an affinity with potential customers.  To do this, you need an understanding of a cohort (your target audience) and ways they favorably view themselves.

Patagonia’s Jumbo Wild story leverages confirmation bias.  Patagonia customers don’t see themselves as dweebs frolicking at tame, over-developed resorts.  Their vision has no parking lots or Starbucks.  They are emissaries to nature in its purest, untouched form.  The ability to get where few can – or would – tread is the story Patagonia wants their customers to see themselves in.  And they do – when they show skiers “treading” into this pristine wilderness, protected by Patagonia clothing.

This may seem duplicitous, but give Patagonia credit for achieving multiple goals.  In using confirmation bias, Patagonia is manipulating consumers.  Still, there’s no doubt the Jumbo Wilderness is worth preserving.  Patagonia is a supporter of a better environment and shows authentic intentions.

But in telling a story that confirms the worldview their target audience has of themselves, they are still marketing.  This is a piece of contemporary content marketing so masterfully presented it doesn’t appear to be marketing at all; it’s too altruistic to feel anything like a traditional advertisement.

Know Your Audience

There is a lesson here you can use in your marketing strategy.  Don’t lecture, teach, or try to be overtly persuasive when you’re telling your marketing story.  Instead, create a storyline that confirms what your target audience already thinks about themselves.  Tie into their beliefs and deepest concerns – and show that you’re with them.

Of course, to do this, you need strong data on the confirmation bias you’re connecting with, meaning you need to know your audience.  This is not a tactic you can guess at.  It works best when you have insights into how subconscious aspects of their self-image affect their decision making.

At the consumer level, confirmation bias connects to personal aspirations.  We look for facts – and buy products – that re-enforce the best versions of ourselves.

It goes back to the old adage:  the best advertisements don’t look like advertisements.  Add in meaningful ideas with targeted confirmation bias, and you have a strong content marketing tactic.