Cognitive biases affect us all, whether we admit it or not. They are a product of human nature, and if we aren’t careful, they can easily distort the objective truth, leading us to incorrect conclusions or false beliefs.
When performing market research for your company, you need to gather the most objective results possible — otherwise, your data is not going to accurately project or predict any real results. As you implement and oversee the execution of your market research, take measures to avoid these common cognitive biases:
1. Confirmation Bias
Confirmation bias is one of the most common cognitive biases for entrepreneurs, especially ones who are passionate about their business. This type of bias is a tendency to interpret information based on a previous assumption, rather than letting the data speak for itself. For example, let’s say a business owner already believes that women between the ages of 30 and 45 will respond favorably to a new product, and he sends out qualitative surveys to women who have tested a sample product. Confirmation bias could lead him to interpret those survey comments in a way that confirms his preconceived notion.
You can overcome confirmation bias by using more quantitative data than qualitative data, or by hiring an objective analyst to handle and interpret your data.
2. Irrational Escalation
Irrational escalation is particularly dangerous for an entrepreneur who is already invested in an idea. This cognitive bias is the tendency to dismiss or ignore new research evidence if it happens to override or undermine a decision that has already been made. For example, if a company has already rolled out production for a new product line, and new market research comes out which indicates that people will not buy the product in great enough numbers, the entrepreneur would be likely to challenge, dismiss, or impugn the results of that research.
This cognitive bias is difficult to overcome. You need to be open to the idea of cutting your losses, even if you’re already deeply invested in a decision, and you need to be as objective as possible when considering new research. Having a team of researchers and advisors can help mitigate this effect.
3. Social Desirability Bias
Social desirability bias is actually more of a problem for your research subjects than your research analysts, but it’s still a major cognitive bias that market researchers will need to take measures to avoid. Social desirability bias leads people to make more socially acceptable decisions when in the presence of a researcher than they would if left alone. For example, let’s say you’re testing the effectiveness of a charitable donation program, and you’re asking your subjects whether they would be inclined to donate. If a subject knows he/she is being observed, he/she is more likely to donate to charity than he/she would be under ordinary circumstances. As a result, your data will be skewed.
You can prevent this bias by testing in a real environment, or by accounting for the skew with some sort of data compensation.
Like with social desirability, framing is a problem you’ll face with your research subjects. The theory behind the framing effect states that similar information will yield different conclusions if it is presented in a different way. For example, two political advertisements could contain the same three sections; if those three sections are reversed, the audience is getting the same information, but in a different order, and they may draw different conclusions as a result.
You can compensate for this bias by testing your product or conducting your surveys in a randomized order; for example, you can send out the same 10 questions of a survey in four different, randomized orders to guarantee that the framing effect isn’t interfering with your data.
5. Knowledge Bias
The knowledge bias affects research subjects, and can skew the results of your data if you haven’t compensated for it. The bias states that people sometimes prefer familiar options over options that are objectively better. For example, when Coca-Cola unveiled New Coke, blind taste tests indicated that users greatly preferred the taste of New Coke. However, the public backlash over the product nearly ruined the company; people strongly preferred the more familiar option, even though they objectively favored the flavor of the new option.
Keep this bias in mind when you’re performing blind taste tests or other objective product testing. Brand familiarity and loyalty can sway a potential purchaser’s decision far more than preference or practicality.
Cognitive bias can encroach on your strategy when you least expect it, especially if you’re new to the world of research. You have to stay vigilant and mindful of these biases to make your results as accurate and as objective as possible; without objective, accurate results, your market research is useless.