A Marketer’s Guide To Managing Projection Bias

News flash: Everyone’s biased.

Yes, even you! And there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s part of human nature, and it comes with the territory when we all bring unique perspectives and experiences to the table.

But, in marketing, you have to manage projection bias—it may be natural, but you can’t let it get in your way. Unchecked projection bias can cause you to lose your connection with some of your customers, leading to missed opportunities.

Challenging projection bias leads to better marketing through audience connection and inclusion. But to challenge it, you need to be able to identify it and address it. 

What Is Projection Bias?

Projection bias assumes other people have the same beliefs, attitudes, and thought patterns as you do. It can also be the assumption that your future self will have the same wants as your present self. In both cases, you project your thinking to a place where it may no longer be accurate.

For example, if you love chocolate, you’re likely inclined to assume that everyone else does too, even though it turns out 10% of the population don’t eat chocolate at all.

This same phenomenon is at work when you go grocery shopping hungry and end up over-buying, convinced that your future self would need as much food as you think you’ll want as you’re strolling the aisles. (Weeks later, future-you may find that box of Twinkies in the back of the cupboard and wonder what you were thinking.)

Projection bias has consequences.

These examples may be pretty benign, but projection bias can become problematic quickly and have more severe outcomes.

A doctor’s office might assume everyone has access to the internet, for instance, and decide to offer all test results or appointment scheduling in an online portal. But 19 million Americans (that’s 6% of the population) don’t have consistent or reliable internet access, meaning they’d be excluded from access to healthcare.

What if building managers assumed everyone knew where the fire exits were—since they do—and didn’t put up signage? Or what if city planners figured everyone would just know which lanes were turn-only and didn’t bother painting arrows on the ground?

We don’t know upfront whether our biases are benign or problematic, and that is why it’s imperative to be proactive about challenging projection bias.

How does projection bias play out in marketing? You could miss out on essential data, for one.

Image courtesy of Unbounce Conversion Benchmark Report

Let’s say you’ve personally bought less from leisure and events brands lately due to the pandemic, so you figure they would have a lower landing page conversion rate in 2021. According to the Conversion Benchmark Report, though, it turns out that the rate still managed to go from a 4.7% median to a 5.2% median. It shows how important it is for marketers to look at the data instead of making assumptions.

How to Wrangle Your Projection Bias in Your Marketing

Everyone has projection bias, but they can also work around it. These tips will help you create content tailored to your customers’ preferences instead of yours.

1. Explain what seems obvious to you.

What’s common sense to you isn’t always common sense to your audience. After you spend so much time with your product, it becomes second nature to you. But it’s still brand new for your audience.

Let’s say you sell machinery. You might know that one of the parts is necessary for the machine to work properly, but your buyers may not. And you’ll learn the hard way why you need to explain the importance of the part if you’re the one who’ll be responsible for fixing the machine when it (inevitably) breaks down.

So, again, explain the “obvious.” In fact, assume nothing is obvious… and go from there.

You know what rocks about this tactic? Well, it gives you more ideas for your marketing.

Let’s look at this Unbounce landing page from Packlane that follows this method.

Image courtesy of Packlane

While it might be a no-brainer for a Packlane team member to measure packed items carefully and to add .25 inches as a buffer, there’s a good chance Packlane customers might not know. Packlane’s “Size Matters” landing page walks the customer through each step of the process.

2. Get to know your audience.

Yeah, I know—it’s one of the most popular pieces of marketing advice out there. But it’s so common because it’s true!

You need a deep understanding of your audience so you can deliver content they enjoy and understand. This knowledge includes their awareness of your product, the language they use (often called the “voice of the customer”), and their tastes.

Plus, paying attention to your audience puts you ahead of most marketers. Despite this best practice being common knowledge, 65% of marketers do little to no audience research. (Not you, I’m sure. You’re on top of things, right?)

You’ve got a lot of sources for getting to know your visitors. Dig deep into your audience’s psychographic and demographic info with surveys and focus groups. Or, better yet, reach out and have some conversations about their needs. Real-time landing page data will also give you a look at your audience’s behavior.

In partnership with Fat Stone Farm, Webistry took a new angle on a popular product thanks to audience research.

Fat Stone Farm’s elderberry products typically sold well in the winter, but Webistry found an opportunity for summer marketing through understanding their audience. They found there was an interest in natural health among their audience, so they made a campaign based on adding elderberry shots to smoothies. (Guess what? It worked like gangbusters.)

Image courtesy of Fat Stone Farms

3. Bring in more perspectives.

Here’s an important tip: If everyone on your team has similar backgrounds, you’re probably missing out.

A team without diverse perspectives can lead to missed marketing opportunities.

For example, what if you run a campaign that makes sense to your team, but you later discover that it contains too many buzzwords that outsiders couldn’t understand? Most industries are full of jargon, after all. You could avoid that type of pitfall by having a non-expert outside your department look at your campaign.

When you include diverse experiences and perspectives in your work, you’ll also counter biases that you’d otherwise miss. For example, let’s say you sell men’s shampoo, and a female team member mentions that she buys her husband’s shampoo. There’s an opportunity to market your product to women as well as men.

This is another tactic where Smart Traffic shines. Case in point, if you made a landing page for that shampoo, you could create different versions for people of different genders. Then Smart Traffic would use machine learning to send visitors to copy that better matches their gender and personality.

Diverse perspectives also matter when it comes to factors like accessibility. Even if you don’t have folks on your team who need accessible tech, you could learn from disability advocates how to make your landing pages more accessible.

Alternate text for images is a hot topic in search engine optimization (SEO), but it also helps visitors using screen readers. Try keeping them in mind by always filling out the “Alt Text” field when you add an image to your landing page.

You can add plenty more accessibility features to your landing page that you might miss if you don’t use them yourself. Fortunately, Unbounce automates a lot of the technical stuff. With those elements covered, you can work on factors like color contrast and Google’s Lighthouse tool’s Accessibility score.

Be Mindful of Your Marketing

Congrats! If you’ve gotten this far, you’ve completed the first step to overcoming projection bias: Being aware of it. So give yourself a pat on the back, you savvy marketer, you. 

What’s next?

  • Build checks and balances into your marketing processes to look for projection bias.
  • Actively look for homogeneity and add more diverse experiences to project teams.
  • Establish a few review teams with outside perspectives which can serve as fresh eyes.

Combating projection bias can help avoid negative outcomes, but it will also set you up for success in the future.

And tools like Unbounce’s Smart Traffic make the job easier. Smart Traffic automatically adjusts where it sends your traffic to account for everyone’s differences.

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About Melanie Deziel
Melanie is the Director of Content at Foundation Marketing, where she oversees content ideation and creation for B2B brands and Foundation itself. She’s an author, a speaker, and a big-time coffee drinker. All posts are proofread by a very fluffy feline named Luna.
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