Academics study how marketing execs can avoid personal biases

By our News Team | 2022

Researchers say many marketers are aware of the ‘false consensus effect’ but admit that they still frequently fall prey to it.

How often do ‘I’ statements justify marketing decisions? As it turns out, fairly often. 

According to a recent article published by the American Marketing Association (AMA), it is well established that marketers tend to project their own preferences onto target consumers’ preferences regarding new products or features. 

This phenomenon is referred to as the ‘false consensus effect’, which is one of the most prevalent biases studied in psychology. Most marketing executives are aware of this effect and admit that they frequently fall prey to it.


Photo by Kampus Production from Pexels

Multiple remedies have been suggested to combat such bias in decision making. But how effective is suppressing marketing managers’ personal preferences to reduce this effect?

In a recent Journal of Marketing Research article, academics Walter Herzog, Johannes D. Hattula, and Darren W. Dahl explored this question and uncovered some surprising dynamics regarding the false consensus effect among marketing managers. 

Through a series of interviews and studies with marketers, the authors found that the most common approaches to addressing the false consensus effect may backfire. This is because the effectiveness of reducing bias by suppressing one’s own preferences depends on the clarity and certainty of the individual’s personal preferences.

‘Low certainty’ preferences are harder to plan for

If managers have clear personal preferences and are certain about them, they can accurately notice and remove any personal preferences in their predicted preferences. However, in ‘low certainty’ situations, where managers are unsure of their own preferences, this becomes an impossible question to answer. 

Thus, marketing executives with vague and weakly held preferences deceive themselves; they believe they have addressed false consensus bias by asking the question, while simultaneously having not changed much about their thinking.

Therefore, suppressing personal preferences in this situation might actually be counterproductive and make managers even more vulnerable to the false consensus effect.

The bottom line? Marketers with firmly held preferences are the ones who could benefit most from some self-monitoring. 

However, marketers with loosely held preferences will likely not be safeguarded from the false consensus bias by the same approach; instead, they should remain curious about the consumer without worrying too much about suppressing their own (weakly held) opinions.

“We recommend that marketers focus on what they can do (i.e., reduce the false consensus effect for strong preferences) rather than on what they cannot do (i.e., reduce the false consensus effect for weak preferences),” the study authors said in an interview with the AMA.

“Marketers following this recommendation are, on average, less susceptible to the false consensus effect, and their predictions of consumer preferences tend to be more accurate.”

Read the full AMA article here.