7 Cognitive Biases That Can Invalidate Your Message

7 Cognitive Biases That Can Ruin A Perfectly Good Message

By Joel Widmer | Authority & Thought Leadership

Apr 06

We are all under the subtle influence of cognitive biases. 

It's that assumption that the guy riding your bumper is a jerk, when actually his wife is in labor and they are trying to get to the hospital. 

It's only following people and institutions on social media who confirm our beliefs. 

It's insisting you predicted that a global pandemic would change the nature of work forever, so you changed your business model last April. 

These biases also show up in our content, whether we're aware of it or not. 

To move the content needle back to something resembling unbiased and objective, let's go through the unintentional mistakes we all sometimes make when we engage with our audience. 


1. The Confirmation Bias

Is your content reinforcing what your audience already thinks and believes? If it does, then the confirmation bias is at play. There's a tendency to listen more often to information that confirms our existing beliefs, even if logic and reason tell us otherwise. 

But this approach has diminishing returns and ultimately offers little value. If you aren’t educating and moving your audience along, you aren’t viewed as a thought leader or problem solver. 

You are simply another resident of the echo chamber. 

2. The Hindsight Bias

This bias is also known as the "I knew it all along" phenomenon. 

No one wants to read a Monday morning quarterback blog. Whether your conclusions led you to a big win or sour grapes, using the past to bolster your vision for the future is a terrible strategy. It also sends a misplaced message of confidence. 

3. The Anchoring Bias

Your readers can be negatively influenced by the initial pieces of information they read. 

In other words, beware of anchoring them in a place you do not want them to stay by over-explaining. This happens a lot in the wellness space, where a reader's desire to find a solution to a problem or challenge that you have an answer to gets lost in technicalities. 

This approach bores the reader away from you and diminishes your credibility. 

4. The Halo Effect

We all overestimate how much people pay attention to our behavior and appearance.

When starting out, we waste time and overthink every sentence because we think the whole world will read it. 

They won't. 

Focus more on developing your publishing muscle. Get stuff out to a well-targeted audience and keep careful tabs on engagement. 

5. The Dunning Kruger Effect

The much-touted study concluded that the less you know, the more confident you are, and the more you know, the less sure you are. It's obvious what the result of this bias would be in content.

Are you over-explaining concepts? Suffering from Imposter Syndrome? Over researching somewhat straightforward solutions? That's the Dunning-Kruger Effect in action. 

6. The Availability Heuristic

Some content tends to express success, validity, or proof based on examples that readily come to mind. It's a rush to judgment, essentially. 

For example: If you notice two of your competitors are focusing their messaging on TikTok, you might believe everyone in your arena is moving there. Not true. 

7. The Barnum Effect 

This phenomenon (also called the Forer Effect) occurs when individuals believe that superlative descriptions apply uniquely to them, even though the descriptors apply to almost everyone. In content, we see this in puffed-up testimonials and case studies that are tepid and non-specific.  

Remember, we all have a unique point of view. If we lead with sincerity and clarity in the content we produce, bias against us and trust in us naturally follows. 


About the Author

Joel Widmer is the Founder & CEO of Fluxe Digital Marketing—a content marketing shop that helps smart businesses create, produce and promote their content through a unique one-on-one interview process. When he’s not working, Joel can be found trying new restaurants with his wife, son, and daughter.

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