Sunday, May 12, 2024

[Research Round-Up] The Latest From NetLine On B2B Content Consumption

(This Research Round-Up discusses the 2024 B2B content consumption report from NetLine Corporation. NetLine publishes this report annually, and it consistently provides a wealth of real-world insights about how business professionals actually consume marketing content.)

Source:  NetLine Corporation
Virtually all B2B companies are now using content marketing in several forms, and therefore understanding how business professionals consume content is now critical to marketing success. The 2024 State of B2B Content Consumption & Demand Report by NetLine Corporation provides valuable insights on this vital issue.

NetLine operates a content syndication platform, and this report is based on data from 6.2 million content registrations on the platform in 2023. The NetLine research is particularly valuable for two reasons.

First, it captures the real-world consumption behaviors of business professionals. The data used for the report was not derived from surveys or interviews but from actual engagements with B2B content.

And second, the report is based on first-party data. The business professionals who use the NetLine platform voluntarily share information about themselves and the organizations they work for in exchange for access to the content resources available on the platform.

For these reasons, the report contains a wealth of detailed information about content consumption behaviors, and I encourage you to review the full 38-page report.

Here are a few highlights from the report.

Content Consumption Continues Rising

As measured by registrations on the NetLine platform, overall B2B content consumption in 2023 increased by 14.3% compared to 2022 levels. NetLine's data shows that the total demand for B2B content has grown by 77% since the 2019 edition of the research. Content consumption by C-level executives is also still on the rise, growing by 7% year-over-year.

It's not surprising that demand for content about artificial intelligence exploded in 2023. The consumption of content relating to AI by NetLine registrants increased 5.5x year-over-year, and NetLine expects demand for AI content in 2024 will increase 1.9x over last year.

Most Popular Content Formats

The ten most requested content formats in 2023 were:

  1. eBooks
  2. Guides
  3. Cheat Sheets
  4. White Papers
  5. Research Reports
  6. Tips & Tricks Guides
  7. Articles
  8. Book Summaries
  9. On-Demand Webinars
  10. Live Webinars 
Collectively, these ten content formats accounted for 87% of all content registrations last year, and eBooks alone were 39.5% of total registrations. 

The Consumption Gap Widens
One of the more useful insights provided by the report relates to the consumption gap, which NetLine defines as the time between the moment content is requested and the moment it's opened for consumption. This data point is important because it provides a guide for timing follow-up contacts with potential buyers. After all, it makes little sense to contact a potential buyer about a content resource before he or she has reviewed the content.
In 2023, the average consumption gap was 31.2 hours, up from 28.7 hours in 2022. The consumption gap has varied over the past several years. The largest gap ever recorded by NetLine was 33.3 hours in 2021, while the smallest was 27.1 hours in 2018. The lesson here is that you should wait at least two days before you try to follow up with people who have viewed, listened to, or downloaded your content.
Content Consumption and Buyer Intent
For the past few years, NetLine's research has suggested that the content format a potential buyer chooses to consume is a good indicator of readiness to buy. In the latest analysis, NetLine identified six content formats that are more likely to be associated with a buying decision over the next year - playbooks, case studies, trend reports, analyst reports, white papers, and live webinars.
One format that is notably absent from this list is eBooks. Despite being the most frequently requested type of content last year, eBooks were not strongly associated with shorter-term purchase intention. This shouldn't be surprising because most eBooks are designed to appeal primarily to potential buyers who are in the early stages of the buying process.
The NetLine report contains several other valuable findings, and I recommend you take the time to read the full report.

Sunday, May 5, 2024

Is B2B Marketing Fulfilling Its Revenue Growth Mandate?

Many B2B company leaders now expect marketing to drive revenue growth, and B2B marketing has evolved in response to this expectation. But has it changed enough to meet the revenue growth mandate? Data from "The CMO Survey" suggest that more change may be needed.

Marketing has always played the starring role in driving revenue growth in the B2C world, but marketing was not viewed as a principal driver of revenue growth in most B2B companies until a few years ago. Sales typically owned the revenue line of the income statement, and marketing's main job was to support the salesforce.

This started to change in the early 2000s with the appearance of B2B marketing automation software applications, which enabled marketing to take responsibility for a larger portion of the B2B buying process.

During the second decade of the 2000s, driving revenue growth became the "prime directive" of the marketing function in many B2B companies. In a 2016 survey of CMOs and other senior marketing leaders by the CMO Council and Deloitte, 33% of the respondents said the senior executives and board members of their company saw revenue growth as the primary mandate of marketing.

More recent research shows that the revenue growth mandate is still present.

  • A 2023 survey of CEOs by Boathouse asked respondents to identify the top five problems they wanted marketing to help them solve. The two problems most frequently selected by the respondents were "create new customers, retain existing customers, drive revenue growth" and "drive sales and grow market share."
  • In a 2021 survey of marketing leaders by the CMO Council and Televerde, 63% of the respondents said they were under very high or extreme pressure to deliver on revenue targets.
Given the obvious importance of the issue, it's appropriate to ask whether B2B marketing leaders have fully embraced the growth challenge and altered their activities to meet that challenge. There's no question B2B marketing has changed in response to the revenue growth mandate. The question is:  Has it changed enough?
Data from "The CMO Survey" can be used to help answer this question. "The CMO Survey" is a semi-annual survey of senior marketing leaders at U.S. for-profit companies that's been conducted since 2008. It's directed by Dr. Christine Moorman and sponsored by Deloitte LLP, Duke University's Fuqua School of Business, and the American Marketing Association.
In every edition of the survey, respondents have been asked to identify activities and functions that marketing is primarily responsible for in their company. Many of these activities and functions contribute to or impact revenue growth. Therefore, how survey respondents answer this question can indicate the extent to which marketing has taken - or has been given - primary responsibility for driving revenue growth.
The survey includes responses from both B2B and B2C marketers. However, one of the survey reports (the "Firm and Industry Breakout Report") makes it possible to isolate the responses from B2B marketers, and the following analysis is based on those responses.
The tables below are based on data from the Spring 2024 edition and the February 2020 edition of the survey. The Spring 2024 edition was released only a few days ago and therefore provides the latest available data. I used the February 2020 edition for comparison purposes because that was the last edition conducted before the COVID-19 pandemic.
The following table shows the ten activities and functions that were identified as marketing-led by a majority of the 2024 survey respondents. The table also shows the percentages of respondents who identified these activities or functions as marketing-led in the 2020 edition of the survey.

The following table shows the same information for the 15 activities and functions that less than a majority of the 2024 survey respondents said marketing is primarily responsible for in their company.

These survey findings suggest that marketing's scope of responsibility has not significantly expanded beyond marketing communications activities in most B2B companies. More importantly, these findings indicate that marketing isn't leading many activities and functions that play essential roles in revenue growth. Consider the following points.
First, only about a third (35.7%) of the 2024 survey respondents said marketing is primarily responsible for revenue growth in their company. 
Second, seven of the ten activities that a majority of the 2024 respondents said marketing is primarily responsible for (shown in red in the first table) are essentially communications activities. These are necessary for revenue growth, but they are not all that's required.
Lastly, less than half of the 2024 respondents said that marketing is primarily responsible for the following activities or functions:
  • Customer Insight (47.9%)
  • Competitive Intelligence (47.1%)
  • Customer Experience (37.1%)
  • Market Entry Strategies (32.1%)
  • New Products or Services (28.6%)
  • Market Selection (21.4%)
All these activities or functions are essential for successful revenue growth initiatives, yet they still aren't within the purview of marketing at most B2B companies.
These survey findings should prompt B2B marketing leaders to consider whether they are sufficiently involved in all the activities that are vital for developing successful revenue growth initiatives and programs.

Top image courtesy of Ryan Milani via Flickr (CC).

Sunday, April 28, 2024

Decoding the Critical Components of Buyer Trust

B2B buyers are conditioned to view vendor-provided information with a healthy dose of skepticism, and this lack of trust can weaken the impact of all marketing efforts. Marketing alone can't create buyer trust, but the right marketing approach can make it more likely trust will develop.

Trust has always been a vital component of business relationships, but it has become a critical issue over the past several years largely because of growing concerns about the collection and use of personal information by business organizations. Trust is likely to become an even more important issue as companies increasingly use various forms of artificial intelligence.

Business Is More Trusted Than Other Societal Institutions

Recent research has shown that people trust businesses more than other societal institutions. One of the largest studies of trust is the annual "Trust Barometer" survey by the global communication firm Edelman. 

Edelman's research focuses on trust in four societal institutions - government, business, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and media. The 2024 Edelman Trust Barometer polled over 32,000 people in 28 countries. 

The 2024 survey found that survey respondents trust business organizations slightly more than NGOs and substantially more than government and media. Based on the 2024 "Trust Index" scores, business organizations are "trusted" in 15 of the 28 countries included in the survey and "distrusted" in only two countries. In the 11 remaining countries (including the U.S.), business earned a "neutral" score.

Respondents in the Edelman survey also rated business organizations as somewhat more competent than NGOs and far more competent than government and media.

On the other hand, public perceptions regarding the honesty and ethics of people working in advertising aren't great. In Gallup's 2023 Honesty and Ethics poll, 49% of the respondents rated the honesty and ethical standards of advertising practitioners as low or very low.

The Foundations of Buyer Trust

Trust can't be manufactured; it must be earned from potential buyers. While marketers can't unilaterally create buyer trust, they can take steps to create an environment that makes potential buyers more likely to extend their trust. The starting point is to understand what leads to the development of buyer trust.

In a business context, the decision to trust a prospective vendor depends on buyers' perceptions of three vendor attributes.

  • Ability - Does the prospective vendor possess the requisite knowledge, skill, and competence to perform in a way that will meet my organization's needs and expectations?
  • Integrity - Will the prospective vendor fulfill its promises? Will the vendor's actions match its words and claims? Does the vendor adhere to ethical principles that I find acceptable?
  • Benevolence - Will the prospective vendor be sufficiently concerned about my organization's welfare to put our interests at least on par with its own?
Specific Factors That Drive the Decision to Trust
The three vendor attributes just discussed provide a sound foundation for understanding the fundamental drivers of trust. However, recent research has also identified several specific factors that will influence the development of buyer trust.
A 2023 study by PwC surveyed 2,508 U.S. consumers and asked survey participants to rate the importance of several factors when deciding how much to trust a company. The following table shows the percentage of survey respondents who rated each factor as very important.

These findings are remarkably similar to the results of a 2019 survey of 2,200 U.S. adults by Morning Consult. In that research, Morning Consult asked survey participants what factors are very important when considering whether to trust a company. The following table shows the 11 factors identified by more than 50% of the survey respondents.

What is noteworthy about the findings of both surveys is that when U.S. consumers are deciding whether or how much to trust a specific company, they place the greatest importance on factors that directly impact their experience as a customer.
The findings of these surveys are also important for marketers because they reveal issues that are important to potential buyers.
Obviously, marketing alone can't ensure that buyer trust will develop, but marketers can influence buyer perceptions about ability, integrity, and benevolence, and about the issues revealed by the PwC and Morning Consult surveys through the content and messaging they produce.

Top image courtesy of Terry Johnston via Flickr (CC).

Sunday, April 21, 2024

[Research Round-Up] New Study Shows the Continuing Value of B2B Thought Leadership

Source:  Edelman and LinkedIn
(This month's Research Round-Up discusses the sixth edition of the B2B thought leadership impact study by Edelman and LinkedIn. This research has consistently provided valuable insights about the impact of thought leadership content on the perceptions and behaviors of business decision-makers.)

Edelman and LinkedIn recently published the findings of their 2024 B2B thought leadership impact study. The study involved a survey of 3,484 business leaders (all LinkedIn members) from a wide range of industries and company sizes. The survey was conducted November 30 - December 14, 2023, and included respondents from the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, Singapore, Australia, and India.

The study defined "thought leadership" as "content that offers expertise, guidance or a unique point of view on a topic or in a field."

Some of the study results were reported by type of survey respondent. The three categories used in the study were: 

  • B2B Decision-Makers - "Company executives who consume thought leadership and are involved in making final decisions on their company's choice of professional service providers or products."
  • C-Suite Executives - "Company owners, partners and founders who consume thought leadership and who have complete or partial ownership of a company, or C-Suite-level executives with responsibility for a business function."
  • Producers of Thought Leadership - "Managers (and higher) who both consume thought leadership and work for an organization that produces free thought leadership."
Here's a recap of some of the study's major findings.
As with previous editions of the study, the researchers asked survey participants about their consumption and overall view of thought leadership content.
  • 52% of B2B Decision-Makers and 54% of C-Suite Executives said they spend (on average) an hour or more per week reading thought leadership content.
  • 73% of B2B Decision-Makers said an organization's thought leadership content is more trustworthy than its other marketing materials for assessing the organization's capabilities and competencies.
  • 48% of B2B Decision-Makers said the overall quality of the thought leadership content they read is good, but only 15% said it is very good or excellent.
Thought Leadership and Out-of-Market Buyers
A major theme of this study is the value of using thought leadership to engage potential buyers who aren't ready to buy. Findings in the 2024 study indicate that good thought leadership content can stimulate demand among out-of-market buyers by prompting them to rethink their status quo.
For example, more than 75% of B2B Decision-Makers and C-Suite Executives said thought leadership content had led them to research a product or service they hadn't previously considered, and of these respondents, 60% said thought leadership content had made them realize their organization could be missing out on a significant business opportunity.
The study also addressed the importance of providing thought leadership content to existing customers. The survey found that good thought leadership content (from a competitor) can lead many B2B buyers to question whether they should continue working with an existing supplier and realize that other suppliers had a better understanding of their challenges.
What Drives the Quality of Thought Leadership
The Edelman/LinkedIn study also asked participants about the attributes of effective thought leadership content.
Sixty-two percent of B2B Decision-Makers said that average or above average thought leadership content is produced or written by prominent or well-respected experts, and 66% said it has a unique format or style that makes it stand apart from other thought leadership content.
B2B Decision-Makers also identified three other attributes that characterize the highest quality thought leadership.
  • 55% said it is supported by strong research and data
  • 44% said it helps them better understand the challenges and opportunities their business is facing
  • 43% said it includes concrete guidance and case studies
The Takeaway
Like its predecessors, the 2024 Edelman/LinkedIn B2B thought leadership impact study provides marketers important insights into the impact of thought leadership on the perceptions and behaviors of B2B buyers. It also confirms the continuing power and value of authoritative and well-crafted thought leadership content.

Sunday, April 14, 2024

[Book Review] Jonah Berger Unveils the Hidden Power of Words

 " Saying you 'recommend' rather than 'like' something makes people 32 percent more likely to take your suggestion."

"Adding more prepositions to a cover letter makes you 24 percent more likely to get the job."

"And saying 'is not' rather than 'isn't' when describing a product makes people pay three dollars more to get it."

Source:  HarperCollins Publishers
These are just a few examples of the power of language cited by Jonah Berger in his latest book, Magic Words:  What to Say to Get Your Way (HarperCollins Publishers, 2023).

Jonah Berger is a professor of marketing at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School and the best-selling author of Contagious, Invisible Influence, and The Catalyst

He has published over 80 articles in top-tier academic journals, and his work is frequently covered in popular media outlets like The New York Times and Harvard Business Review.

Berger is a recognized authority in the field of consumer language research, which can be generally defined as research concerned with the language used and consumed by marketplace participants such as consumers and marketers.

Recent advances in natural language processing and machine learning, together with affordable access to massive computing power, have raised interest in the field of consumer language research and made larger, more meaningful studies technologically feasible and economically practical.

Most marketers recognize that effective content is essential for marketing success. However, marketers don't always realize that minor changes in the specific words they use can have a major impact on content effectiveness. Magic Words is a worthwhile read because it raises marketer awareness of this important topic. 

What's In the Book

Jonah Berger spells out his rationale for writing Magic Words in the Introduction.

". . . while we spend a lot of time using language, we rarely think about the specific language we use. Sure, we might think about the ideas we want to communicate, but we think a lot less about the particular words we use to communicate them . . .

The right words, used at the right time, can change minds, engage audiences, and drive action . . .

This book uncovers the hidden science behind how language works and more important, how we can use it more effectively."

(Emphasis in original)

Berger devotes most of the book to a discussion of six categories of magic words. Specifically, he focuses on words that:

  • Activate identity and agency (Chapter 1)
  • Convey confidence (Chapter 2)
  • Ask the right questions (Chapter 3)
  • Leverage concreteness (Chapter 4)
  • Employ emotion (Chapter 5)
  • Harness similarity (and difference) (Chapter 6)
In Chapter 7 of Magic Words, Berger argues that words ". . . not only influence and affect the people who listen to or read them, they also reflect and reveal things about the person (or people) who created them." (Emphasis in original) Therefore, he contends, language science techniques can be used to detect and reveal societal beliefs and biases.
Chapter 5 of Magic Words exemplifies the kinds of insights found throughout the book. In this chapter, Berger explores why emotional language enhances engagement in most circumstances. He discusses the value of tapping into both positive and negative emotions and why it's important to move frequently between positive and negative emotions whenever possible. He also explains why creating some uncertainty can enable your content to hold attention.
My Take
Magic Words is a thought-provoking book that would be useful for anyone who needs to communicate more effectively and persuasively. The fact that just about everyone has this need at least occasionally explains the widespread appeal and popularity of the book.
Magic Words is a particularly valuable resource for people like marketers and salespeople whose professional success is largely dependent on their ability to be effective and persuasive communicators.
The book is also an easy read because Jonah Berger's writing style is engaging. He is an academic with the rare ability to make a complex topic accessible to a non-academic audience. He uses real-world examples and anecdotes throughout the book that any reader can relate to.
One of the book's most important lessons for marketers is that the "magic words" discussed in the book aren't equally magical in all circumstances. Which words will work best depends on the context in which the words are used.
In Chapter 4, for example, Berger writes that concrete words are usually more effective than generic words. Concrete language signals that you understand the specific needs of a prospect or customer, and it makes your message easier to understand and more memorable. However, Berger also writes that abstract language often works better when the goal is to convey the potential of an idea, a new product, or a new business.
In every category of the magic words he discusses, Berger points out that there are "exceptions to the rule," or more accurately, that some circumstances will call for a different, and perhaps contradictory, approach.
So, in the end, Magic Words does two things that make it a valuable read for marketers. First, it demonstrates the power of specific language choices. And second, it reinforces the over-arching principle that context should ultimately dictate the choices you make. If you're involved in creating content, Magic Words should be on your reading list.

Sunday, April 7, 2024

Halos, Horns, and Content Marketing

Source:  Shutterstock

If you've ever bought or sold a house, you're probably familiar with the concept of curb appeal. Curb appeal is the visual attractiveness of a house as seen from the street, and it's what creates a potential buyer's first impression of the house. Real estate professionals know curb appeal plays a big role in determining how quickly a house will sell and what the selling price will be.

Good first impressions are also important for successful B2B marketing. Today, most potential buyers will form their first impression of your company based on the content you produce. If your content doesn't create a good first impression, potential buyers will quickly turn elsewhere, and you may not get another chance to connect with those buyers. 

In the words attributed to Will Rogers, "You never get a second chance to make a first impression."

When your content creates a good first impression, potential buyers are more likely to come back for more, and they will be more inclined to view the rest of your content - and your company - favorably.

Enter the Halo Effect

This inclination results from a cognitive phenomenon known as the halo effect. The American Psychological Association defines a halo effect as, "a rating bias in which a general evaluation (usually positive) of a person, or an evaluation of a person on a specific dimension, influences judgments of that person on other specific dimensions."

Put more plainly, a halo effect exists when we transfer our perceptions about one attribute of a person or an organization to other attributes of that person or organization without having a rational basis for the transfer. In other words, if we perceive that a company is good at "A," we will tend to think the company is also good at "B," even though we actually know nothing about the company's capabilities at "B." 

The halo effect was first identified by psychologist Edward Thorndike in 1920, and it's been widely studied since that time. Although the halo effect was first applied to the evaluation of people, we now know that halo effects influence how we evaluate inanimate objects including products, services, brands, and companies.

The most important thing to remember about the halo effect is that it magnifies the influence of first impressions beyond what would be justified on a purely rational basis.

Halos Are Everywhere

The halo effect can be found in a wide range of human judgments. For example:

  • If I meet a likable person, I will be inclined to believe he or she is also generous and ethical, even though I know nothing about the person's generosity or ethics.
  • If I have a good experience with a Honda automobile, I'll be inclined to believe I will also be happy with a Honda lawnmower, even though I know nothing about the quality of Honda lawnmowers.
  • If I find one of your company's white papers to be valuable, I'll be inclined to believe other content produced by your company is likely to be valuable. I'll also be inclined to believe your company is probably good at what it does even if I know little about your company.
Halo Effect's Evil Twin
The halo effect is most frequently discussed in the context of irrational positive evaluations, but the same cognitive mechanism can also produce irrational negative judgments.
If I attend a webinar hosted by your company and find the content to be poor, I'll be inclined to think the other content produced by your company probably isn't very good. In addition, my webinar experience may lead me to form a negative overall impression of your company.
This negative manifestation of the halo effect is called, appropriately, the horn effect
Implications for Marketing
As a B2B marketer, it's important to recognize that almost every content resource you publish has the potential to trigger (or contribute to) a halo effect or a horn effect. Therefore, one obvious lesson is that you can benefit from halo effects (and avoid horn effects) if you consistently produce content that will create a good first impression with potential buyers.
I would also argue that the potential benefits of halo effects should influence how you think about content distribution. Marketers have been debating the use of gated vs. ungated content for the past several years. While opinions vary, the conventional view is that it's appropriate to gate very-high-value content resources, while keeping other resources ungated.
I contend this is the wrong approach. Suppose you have created a content resource that is truly outstanding, one that is likely to make a good impression on potential buyers. In that case, you should want that resource to reach (and be consumed by) as many potential buyers as possible. The last thing you want is to put any hurdles between your content resource and your target audience.
If a potential buyer is impressed with your content, he or she is likely to seek out other content you've produced. And when the potential buyer is ready to begin an active buying process, your company will likely be included in his or her initial consideration set of potential vendors.
The benefits of halo effects aren't always immediate, but they can be powerful.

Sunday, March 31, 2024

Remembering the Life and Work of Daniel Kahneman

Daniel Kahneman, the renowned psychologist best known for his groundbreaking work on the psychology of human judgment and decision-making, died this past Wednesday at the age of 90.

Dr. Kahneman is widely regarded as one of the intellectual founders of the behavioral science discipline now called behavioral economics. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences in 2002 even though he never took a course in economics.

Dr. Kahneman earned his PhD in psychology at the University of California, Berkeley. He began his academic career as a lecturer in psychology at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 1961. He later taught at the University of British Columbia, the University of California, Berkeley, and Princeton University.

At the time of his death, Dr. Kahneman was Professor of Psychology and Public Affairs Emeritus at the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs, and the Eugene Higgins Professor of Psychology Emeritus at Princeton.

Dr. Kahneman gained prominence in the 1970s when he and fellow psychologist Amos Tversky published several scientific papers describing their research on human decision-making under uncertainty. 

Kahneman and Tversky challenged the long-standing notion that people make economic decisions on a purely rational basis. They argued that people regularly rely on mental shortcuts known as heuristics that make us subject to several cognitive biases.

In his 2011 best-selling book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, Dr. Kahneman described his views regarding human judgment in non-academic terms and introduced his now-famous "System 1-System 2" model of human decision-making. Thinking, Fast and Slow has achieved seminal status, and in my opinion, it should be required reading for all business, marketing, and sales leaders.

Like thousands of others, I have been greatly influenced by the views advanced by Daniel Kahneman. When I learned of his death, I looked back at the posts I've published here and found that I've discussed or referred to his work in no fewer than 20 posts.

One of my earliest discussions of Dr. Kahneman's work was published in March 2015, and to commemorate his life and work, I've reproduced that post below. Even after nine years, the material in the post is still remarkably relevant.

Fair winds and following seas, Professor Kahneman.


Why You Need Marketing Content for Two Ways of Thinking

This is the second of several posts about the role of behavioral economics in marketing, particularly in content marketing. In my first post, I introduced the topic of behavioral economics and argued that it's critical for marketers to understand the psychological aspects of human decision-making and to incorporate those factors into marketing strategy and marketing communications.

Behavioral economics challenges a fundamental assumption of mainstream economics. For decades, economists have assumed that people make economic decisions rationally. The traditional view says that people weigh the economic costs and benefits of proposed actions, have relatively stable preferences, and usually act to maximize their economic self-interest. Behavioral economics holds that people don't always make rational economic choices because they unconsciously use heuristics (mental shortcuts) that produce several cognitive biases.

In his landmark book Thinking, Fast and Slow, psychologist Daniel Kahneman - whose research with fellow psychologist Amos Tversky laid the foundation for behavioral economics - argues that heuristics and biases originate in the ways we think and learn. Kahneman says that the cognitive processes used by humans can be thought of as two "systems."

  • System 1 (fast thinking) operates automatically, quickly, with little or no effort, and with no sense of voluntary control.
  • System 2 (slow thinking) consists of thinking processes that are reflective, controlled, deliberative, and analytical. 
According to Kahneman, when we think of ourselves, we identify with System 2, our rational self, but System 1 actually originates many of the impressions and feelings that are the sources of the explicit beliefs and deliberative choices of System 2. 
Kahneman puts it this way:  "System 1 continuously generates suggestions for System 2:  impressions, intuitions, and feelings. If endorsed by System 2, impressions and intuitions turn into beliefs, and impulses turn into voluntary actions. When all goes smoothly, which is most of the time, System 2 adopts the suggestions of System 1 with little or no modification."
Therefore, System 1 exerts a powerful influence on the economic decisions we make, including decisions about the purchase of products or services.
System 1 thinking is valuable and, in fact, essential to our well-being. We live in a world that is both complex and rapidly changing, and we don't have the time, energy, or information-processing capacity to consciously and deliberately analyze every event or circumstance that we encounter. If we didn't have a mechanism for thinking fast, automatically, and effortlessly, we simply couldn't function effectively. The good news is, System 1 is generally good at what it does - the "suggestions" that it makes to System 2 are usually accurate and appropriate.
However, System 1 also has biases. It tends to make systematic and predictable logical errors in certain circumstances. In Thinking, Fast and Slow, Kahneman identified 22 characteristics of System 1 thinking that can contribute to biased decision-making. All of these characteristics are important for marketers, but some of them are particularly relevant for creating engaging and persuasive content. For example, System 1:
  • Links a sense of cognitive ease to illusions of truth - if something is familiar and easy to understand, we are more likely to believe it is true
  • Responds more strongly to losses than to gains, which makes framing content messages the right way particularly important
  • Infers and exaggerates consistency (the halo effect)
  • Sometimes substitutes an easier question for a difficult one
In upcoming posts, I'll discuss how marketers can use these characteristics of human thinking to make marketing content more compelling.

Image courtesy of nrkbeta via Flickr (CC).