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Understanding cognitive biases to improve experiences

newsOctober 15, 2019 By Davy Schuyt

According to the Dentsu Aegis Network CMO Survey 2018, CMOs recognise that capitalising on consumer engagement, i.e., turning interest into commitment or building loyalty, will get increasingly hard over the next two to three years. 

Being relevant in an age saturated with pixels is not an easy task, and marketers have to develop a genuine understanding of their audiences’ behaviour and preferences to truly resonate with them. 

In a world where everything can be measured, it is easy to forget that people are not perfectly rational agents always making consistent decisions based on known preferences. In reality, all of us are subject to cognitive biases in everything we do. 



You heard a new word a few days ago and now see it everywhere? This is a phenomenon psychologists call the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon. Still comparing a product you have just bought with alternatives? This might be post-purchase rationalisation. Ignoring arguments against buying a new smartphone? This is probably a case of selective perception. 

These biases can be sources of discomfort. People can be paralysed when facing too many choices. Actually, 54% of us say we feel overwhelmed by the choices we have to make in our lives.[i] Consumers may make decisions that don’t really benefit them only because they want to conform to their peers. For brands, it means their customers can be overwhelmed with decisions and may give up or make choices they will regret later. Marketers should attempt to identify how these biases interplay within their current proposition as they seek to design more relevant experiences for their audiences, particularly when considering the brand’s digital properties. 


On a website, there are many occasions where users drop out early: they may be distracted along the way, or they may have a limited amount of time, energy and motivation. Optimising their experience starts with data. Analytics are critical to mapping problematic areas on a website where metrics like bounce rates, click through rates, and general behaviour based data can help pinpoint underperforming areas and suggest potential reasons behind poor performance: bad UI, unreasonable expectations, confusion, etc. Brands must employ qualitative research techniques such as heatmaps, user recordings, forms, and polls, if they are to understand their users’ struggles and build hypotheses for optimisation. 

Are users having trouble deciding? Simplify their options or make comparison easier through better information framing. Do they lack trust in your website? Work on authority though expert advice, or social proof in the form of reviews. Are they unmotivated? Let them know how far they have progressed through progress indicators. 

Ask yourself “What is beneficial to the customer?” before “What is beneficial to the brand?” If you are not focused on the customer, then tactics such as getting people to click on that CTA more often or setting your newsletter to opt- out may result in an immediate increase in your metrics, but how will they affect your business in the long run? Will customers return products? Will they think highly of your newsletter if they were forced to subscribe? A created account doesn’t mean an engaged customer, and a newsletter subscription doesn’t mean a devoted reader. 

There is no absolute right or wrong. The only truth is the one resulting from iterative testing. For instance, you might decide to display reviews on your page and yet when you test it, the results are marginal at best. This does not necessarily mean it is a bad idea. Try linking to an external party that might have more credibility like TripAdvisor, or use video to show the human side of the reviewer. There are multiple aspects to a single solution that only experimenting can reveal. 



Transavia is a budget airline that is part of AIR FRANCE KLM, the largest airline group in Europe, that provides solutions to a large number of travellers. With a mission of making “low cost feel good”, Transavia is constantly optimising its website experience to each customer’s individual needs. 

Transavia sought to tackle the universal challenge young parents face when travelling: flying with a baby is always a hassle. Young parents may be not be prepared to meet seating and luggage/carry-on regulations, and this adds stress on top of having to take care of their baby during their journey. 

To better understand travellers with babies, Transavia leveraged information available through their customer service and ran usability polls. Based on this research, they formulated the hypothesis that adding specific content about travelling with babies throughout the booking funnel would make parents feel more informed, and thus more comfortable to complete a booking. 

As soon as travellers indicated they were flying with a baby, Transavia changed the content of their pages to reflect the information needed for flying with an infant. Providing all the pertinent baby information during each step in the booking process allowed parents to instantly get a clear overview of what bringing their baby would mean for their flight arrangements. 

It turned out that there was a slight decrease in the total number of bookings among people flying with children; some people decided not to proceed with their booking once they learned about the rules of flying with a baby. However, if having that information was enough to deter them from booking, what if those people had found out about that information only after they completed their booking? They would not have been satisfied with their travel experience, and would potentially have felt betrayed. Conversely, customer polls indicated that there was an 11% uplift in customer satisfactionamong those who did complete their booking

Sometimes, building long-term trust requires looking at a different set of KPIs. Revenue is easily measured in the short-term, while customer satisfaction and retention are not. Transavia chose to put transparency first, placing a positive traveller experience ahead of securing bookings at all cost. By being upfront about all the unavoidable requirements of travelling with a baby, Transavia respected their customers’ time, both during and after the booking process, and created the foundation for trust. 

This doesn’t mean brands cannot win both on the short term and the long term. For example, user research led Transavia to also revise how its fare packages were presented. By providing jargon-free explanations on what each package covers and doesn’t cover, Transavia made the comparison easier for travellers, resulting in a direct 27% increase in sales of its premium packages. 

Want to know more about Transavia’s digital strategy? Click here to read our interview of Vanja Mlaco, Digital Growth Strategist, Transavia.

This article is excerpted from Future Focus 2019: Searching for Trust.  Download Future Focus 2019 for key insights and success stories on navigating truth and authenticity in 2019.



[i]Ipsos, Global Trends Survey, October 2016