Monday, 9 December 2013

Buyhaviour 4: Conjunction Fallacy


You're working on a beer brand. Consider the following description and then decide who's more likely to be your market.

The beer is a larger. At a whopping 5.4% it's heavy. It's dark and hoppy and has a very strong taste. It's good to drink after a hard day's yakka and it's the perfect beer to drink with mates. Plus, it washes down a pie and chips at the footy beautifully. 

Who's more likely to be your market?

1. People who drink larger.
2. People who drink larger and are tradeys. 

The answer's obvious, right? It's 1. 

Why? Because the probability of two events occurring in conjunction (In this case people that drink larger AND are tradesmen) can never be greater than one occurring alone. 

90% of people who were asked a similar question in Kahneman and Tversky's original study (1983), about a female activist with a rebellious background named Linda, and her propensity to be a bank teller or a bank teller AND active in the feminist movement, chose option 2.

This is the conjunction fallacy. 
  
Stephen J. Gould, a prominent Harvard science professor, when asked about the original study said this: 

"I am particularly fond of this example because I know that the [conjoint] statement is least probable, yet a little homunculus in my head continues to jump up and down, shouting at me—“but she can’t just be a bank teller; read the description.” 

The same as your market can't just be larger drinkers, read the description!

To quote Admiral Ackbar "It's a trap!". It feels so right, our whole body screams it's right, but the reality is: it's irrational. Every conjunction means that you're putting conditions on people to be a customer of your brand. 

Essentially saying you have to be a category buyer AND something else - with each AND reducing the number of potential customers. (Think of how many ANDS are in those Bullseye targets you see in some briefs)

To grow your brand you want to reach as many people as possible, get them to notice you and then have them remember you in a buying situation. 

If you sell a larger beer, then everybody who drinks larger beer has the potential to be your customer. So you should be trying to reach as many of them as possible, not just the tradesman. 

Adding conjunctions lessens your reach. And, therefore, is not recommended if you want to grow your brand. 

The force of the conjunction fallacy is strong. Every day, creatives, suits and planners irrationally take this cognitive shortcut and continue to praise the notion of positioning. 

Being aware that you're falling for it is the first step in stopping doing so. And stop it you must if you want to grow a brand. 

Plus, it's only putting unnecessary constraints on creatives and hamstringing us from thinking up truly game-changing ideas. And for what? To lessen reach? It's counter-intuitive, and it's high time you spring the conjunction fallacy trap. 

Discover more Buyhaviour:

Buyhaviour Series: An Introduction 
Buyhaviour 1: Availability Bias 
Buyhaviour 2: Status Quo Bias 
Buyhaviour 3: Confirmation Bias 
Buyhaviour 4: Conjunction Fallacy 
Buyhaviour 5: The Spotlight Effect
Buyhaviour 6: The Matthew Effect  
Buyhaviour 7: Fight or Flight Heuristic
Buyhaviour 8: Imposter Phenomenon 
Buyhaviour 9: Red Queen Hypothesis 

Tversky, A. and Kahneman, D. (October 1983). "Extension versus intuitive reasoning: The conjunction fallacy in probability judgment". Psychological Review 90 (4): 293–315.

Christopher Ott

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