Biases, Brands, and Business


Don’t you hate other drivers?

Driving to work this morning, a terrible driver cut me off. There was clearly not enough room to merge, but Mr. Mazda took it anyway. I instantly cursed him and assumed he always drives this poorly, likely to anger considerate drivers like myself.

Of course, later when I realized my exit was coming and I needed to merge in a less-than-sizeable gap, I thought to myself, “It’s not my fault. Camry Driver should have left more room!”

Time out. Didn’t we both do essentially the same thing? To me, the first driver was rude for making his move, while I considered myself in the right when doing the same thing. How is this so?

An attribution bias is a cognitive bias that refers to systematic errors made when people try to evaluate and find reasons for behavior.

We are prone to errors that lead to biased interpretations of what’s actually happening. While we may justify our own bad behavior, we don’t always look at all the reasons others may be engaging in similar behaviors. Maybe Mr. Mazda misjudged how quickly I was driving and truly thought he could merge normally; I, however, was biased and assumed he was being a jerk.

Now, how do the different types of attribution biases impact your brand?

Whether you like it or not, your potential customers are evaluating you through their own lens which happens to be filled with biases. The good news is that you can present your brand in a way to overcome some common attribution biases to win over even the most cynical consumer.

  • Self-serving bias indicates that people attribute positive feedback to their own performance and blame negative feedback on everything else. If I ace the test, it was all the studying I did! If I fail, the test was unfair. Use the Framing Effect to stimulate your audience. Help your consumer to feel positive about their choice in selecting your brand instead of pointing out their flaws; this will help them to feel empowered in choosing you.
  • Confirmation bias suggests that people want to validate their own beliefs. If I’m all about going green, a company who supports environmental sustainability will be #1 in my book. Show off your company’s values; your best customers will likely align with similar beliefs, strengthening their opinion of your brand.
  • Attribution error tells us that people do not always take circumstances into consideration, just like the earlier driving scenario. Show off the positive traits associated with your brand in a variety of ways. Help the buyer to see that you are the best choice due to internal qualities, like proven reliability, instead of circumstances, like happening to arrive on time. Showing, instead of telling, can help consumers to avoid attribution errors.


*Wikipedia: Attribution Bias

*Boxter: How to Fix Marketing Problems using Human Psychology