We’re in the thick of brand planning session for our clients. Most brand planning processes kick-off with a rigorous situational analysis designed to illustrate current market, competitive, and brand dynamics in order to set an objective framework to build the next year’s plan. Despite the goal of objectivity, it is a time when confirmation bias reaches its height within our industry.
Confirmation bias is the tendency for people to favor information that confirms their preconceptions or hypotheses regardless of whether the information is true or not. It’s an artifact of how our brains recognize patterns. We recall and place greater significant on information that is favorable to our thinking and minimize information that is not. The sheer volume of prep reading for brand planning has heightened the selective nature of our information recall. The danger of this phenomenon, particularly during brand planning, is that participants often focus in on evidence and recall information selectively and interpret it in a biased way to support the original decision making from the previous year. The output is often a strategic framework unchanged and a set of tactical investments for the New Year that is a mirror image of the current year
What are the best ways of combating confirmation bias during the brand planning process?
- Solicit senior permission and participation – nothing aids attacking confirmation bias more than senior leadership giving a room full of people permission to challenge everything and then having him/her participate in the inquisition
- Gather evidence from new sources – it’s convenient to have the same vendor do your ATU year after year, but soliciting feedback from a new vendor may enlighten your question set as well as the insights garnered
- Prioritize unbiased evidence – everyone involved in planning has promotional prejudice especially given the financial ramifications of the process, so prioritize unbiased evidence when evaluating performance such as comparing your performance against an independent 3rd party evaluation like Best Practices LLC
- Invite confrontation – inviting the naysayer to the party to stir the pot is probably the boldest and most impactful way to attack confirmation bias, and the resulting debate almost always reveals the facts
- Distribute accountability – don’t forget to populate and socialize evidence supporting the final direction of the plan so that you can distribute accountability to all parties (both internal and external)
Confirmation bias is a well-established human behavior, but that doesn’t mean that you have to accept it as part of your annual brand planning process. Creating a plan to mitigate the risk of this bias will ultimately create more focus for your brand and corresponding budget requests for the following year.