We are all subject to confirmation bias. This means that when we hear something that we have heard before, or that we would like to believe, we are more likely to have faith in it. We are not as rational or logical as we think we are, and understanding this is crucial to how and when you make data work for the best possible returns.
In The Loudest Duck, Laura A Liswood tells the reader that they should “tell grandma to go home”. What she means here is that tales that your parents or grandparents might tell you, or the beliefs that you pick up as you grow up, are just a version of reality. When you leave home, you need to leave those biases behind you to form healthy new relationships.
This is just as true of media decision-making. If you start out in performance media, you need to learn and understand branding in order to fulfil your potential. If all you know is branding, then you need to learn to love performance.
Every media decision is driven by data. That sounds simple enough. But it isn't. The question is what data you use; what data you reject; what data you use that you don't even realise you are using (gut instinct, received wisdom, "common sense"); how you interpret all the data you have; and how you use it.
Data is, in truth, an all-encompassing term, ranging from immediate performance metrics to long-term information about a brand. It includes sat nav details about driver journeys and qualitative gut-instinct learnings about deep-rooted human behaviour.
The crucial thing is to interrogate the data sceptically. To understand where it is giving real new insights and where it is simply confirming existing bias. For example in Hello World: How to be Human in the Age of the Machine, Hannah Fry writes: “It is incredibly important... to hold algorithms to account.” She describes an experiment from 2015 when scientists set out to examine how search engines can alter people’s view of the world.
Using an upcoming election in India, researchers created an experiment to understand the impact that different ordering of candidates on search engine results pages would have on voting intentions, and it exceeded all expectations.
Psychologist Robert Epstein concluded: “When people are unaware they are being manipulated, they tend to believe they have adopted their new thinking.”
It is equally true that when you hear an empathetic story about one user experience of a brand you must resist the tendency to regard this as a single truth.
Be aware of confirmation bias and question the findings.
Don’t put everything on red (or black). Don’t stick to what you know and don’t reject the new. An effective media strategy is not gambling. You don’t have to bet on performance versus branding. You shouldn’t place all your chips on digital personalisation or on mass market broadcast. It is crucial to create a balanced plan with an intelligent synthesis of all of the available data.
In this respect, diversity of experience and thinking is absolutely vital to create the most-effective balance across the whole of the plan. It is for this reason that it is very important to get the right advice, and to use the right advisors. Case study after case study shows (as Gideon Spanier writes) that digital brands thrive when they use broadcast media. Traditional brands experience a step change when they incorporate best practice digital performance.
Understanding the effect each part of the plan has on the others – in other words, the systems effect unlocks this growth.
It is for this reason that the brands that are making the most from their media investments have a balance in their decision-making. Seeing how everything works together is crucial and learning how to challenge your own biases is essential.
Sue Unerman is chief transformation officer at MediaCom