Your Experience Is Your Biggest Hurdle

Remember Your Target Audience and Try to Forget Your Bias

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Tom Denari
Tom Denari
"I don't want to hear an elaborate set up. Don't try to sell it to me. Just show it to me. I want to react to it just like a consumer would."

Surely, you've said this right before you've been presented a campaign -- at least once. Your intent is pure, knowing that consumers have short attention spans and make quick, emotional decisions. You simply want to be able react in the same way. Sounds reasonable.

Unfortunately, you're subject to the malady that often prevents all of us from being objective.


Simply stated, bias is a particular inclination that prevents unprejudiced consideration of information. Typically, you might think of bias related to skewed or tainted journalism, but it actually seeps into everything humans think about and do. Biases are natural, normal and are formed by past experiences. We all carry them around and can't help but let them influence the decisions we make on a daily basis.

Bias makes it difficult for you to separate yourself from the natural, mostly unconscious tendencies that influence your own decision-making when presented a campaign. Unchecked, bias makes it difficult to be objective, and often causes marketers to prefer messages that are more relevant to them rather than to the people they are trying to influence. It's likely the reason why so much advertising misses the mark, as it appears that it doesn't understand who it's talking to.

While you want to react like your consumer, you have to remember that you don't have the same detachment or perspective that your consumer has. Instead, you're being influenced by the vast, intimate knowledge about your own product, as well as the various politics and pressures that come with making important decisions.

Bias often causes marketers to rely on conventional wisdom -- the way they think the world works. Instead of approaching a problem in a new way, they too often rely on past experience or previous familiarity. Sometimes, even experiencing prior success can hold them back from trying something new.

This is not an indictment of marketers. They aren't uniquely subject to bias. Agency types are, too. We all have a tendency to cling to what we know, and reject what we don't. In fact, the closer we are to a situation -- the more personal experience we have in it -- the more likely we are to be less objective, and therefore, biased about it. Whenever my agency is in the process of marketing ourselves, those discussions are infinitely more challenging than those on behalf of our clients, because we don't have the appropriate perspective or detachment.

So then, if experience is actually the primary cause of bias and a giant hurdle to effective, persuasive communication, how do you get over it? How do you eliminate bias?

Unlearn what you know. Then replace it with new, more objective knowledge and experience.

Your experience is best replaced through an immersion process with a more reliable source that has a more realistic perspective: your target audience. While this should be of no real surprise to you, it's remarkable how your personal perspective will change once you really get to know the people you're trying to influence. That engagement -- more like anthropology than research -- can take a number of forms, but it should skew toward getting to know the target audience as people first, and buyers second. It should begin away from the product you're selling so that the perspective is closer to the target's and further from your own.

It's a humbling experience as you begin to realize what's really important to them and what's not, especially when it's your product. You will come to realize, the more time you spend with the target, the less bias you'll experience, making your decision-making more objective -- and more valid. Instead of your own internal perspective, you will begin to see the world through the eyes of the people you're attempting to influence, without bias.

If you've gone through this process, then you can experience the campaign more like a consumer would. Otherwise, you'd better hear the set up.

Tom Denari is president, Young & Laramore, Indianapolis, Ind.
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