You are Human and Humans are Biased

Observing and experiencing is a part of everyday life. You have been doing it since the day you were born, and it helps you to learn. For example, you may have learned from experience not to touch the hot burner on the stove by touching it when the stove-top was hot and burning yourself. You could have also learned this fact by observing your big brother burn himself and thinking to yourself, “I’ll never do that.” You may have also learned it from valuable, knowledgeable and equitable resources like your parents who told you not to touch the hot stove burner because you would burn yourself (of course, you had to try it yourself, I’m sure). This is called trust and wisdom. Throughout life we have learned to make associations between different types of things, items and ideas like the stove-top is hot when turned on. You’ve probably also learned associations in your own business. Simple, obvious things like when the lights are out in a store, it’s a signal that it is closed (or it was struck by lightning and it blew out the power) to more complex things like learning your best customers’ names and getting to know them makes them more loyal to your business or that 80% of your business comes from 20% of your customers.

Our life experiences can bias our thinking, behavior and interpretation of other experiences. Everyone has biases and there’s no way around them. They are efficient shortcuts in decision-making. You may have a bias that your most profitable customer is using your product or service in a particular way, when actually they are using the product or service in a completely unintended way. A good example of this would be the milk carton. Not only is it used as a container for milk but it is also cut and used as a scoop, a bird feeder, and a building material. Your biases could limit your view of how your product or service is used or could be used.
The classic example of biases affecting business is “me-marketing”. This is when the products and services are designed for the designer and not for the customer. Bose speakers ran into this problem at the beginning of business conception. Their first product was a dynamic speaker system. The need was uncovered because the person who created it wanted a better speaker system and the rest of the world just happened to fall into that category also. Later in their new product iteration, they took the same approach. They created a speaker system that the designers wanted, but it flopped in the market. Why did it flop? It was because they created a product for themselves (high net worth geeks) and not to meet the needs of their core customers.

We all have biases, and they affect the way we think. The best thing to do is to learn how to manage your biases so they do not affect the research you conduct with your customers and end users. When a person conducts customer research with customer biases in mind and asks about opinions of their customers, this is called subjective research. This is because the research is not based on fact but someone’s interpretation of the facts. An important note here is that it is important to understand your customers’ biases toward your product or competitive products because it may have more of an impact than the factual objective things about your product or service, but it is just as important that the person conducting the research manages their biases and keep them to an absolute minimum.
When research is based purely on fact and when those conducting the research do not let their biases or the customer’s biases enter into the research, the research is called objective research. The best way to conduct objective research is to have the person doing the research have little or no stake in the outcome of the research. This would help with not biasing the results.

It is best to conduct both types of research with consumers because it gives you a broader perspective. The classic example of a large company basing its conclusions on one type of research is the introduction of “New Coke.” New Coke was introduced because objective research (sample taste tests) said that over 51% of the sample population liked the taste of New Coke over Classic Coke. The research didn’t take into consideration the population’s bias and loyalty towards Classic Coca-Cola as a symbol to them, and the Coca-Cola Company had a rebellion of consumers on their hands. We all know the end of the story. Classic Coca-Cola was reintroduced into the market and New Coke was slowly phased out. So, heed the warning, do not use only objective or subjective research to make conclusions about your customers.

What I need to know before I begin

  1. Our current reality is conditioned by our past. We create what we see. We create our own “reality.” The same data can give rise to more than one “reality. Your goal is to be aware of those different realities. These differences are important to note when observing and interviewing your consumer.
  2. Bias sets behavior. Our biases cause us to act out certain behaviors and not others. This can even affect the research design or sample selection. These cases are difficult to recognize unless a research team is aware of their biases and the behavior associated with them.
  3. Biases can limit what we see because we tend to hold on to what we know and/or like. We get tunnel vision and only see what we want or expect to see and then create our own “self-fulfilling prophesies.” Labeling your expectations and biases before beginning research helps to alleviate this. Remember the old saying “love is blind.”
  4. Biases freeze processes in time. Everyone has routines. For example, you regularly push your snooze twice before getting. The goal of your research could be, in part, to break up that everyday routine and to help you see your consumer from a new perspective.
  5. Most biases contain some truth. Truth is fact. Facts are verifiable pieces of information. Biases are an interpretation of hard facts. If you take a biased statement, you can trace it back to the root facts. When you find your biases beginning to influence your thinking while interacting with you consumer, it is important to trace it back to the root observation that led you there.

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