You don’t have to accept the things that come your way without doubting, inquiring, and confirming them before taking your next step. Follow the content curation route, and you’re never lost again.
There you are, scrolling through YouTube when yet another unskippable ad comes on. You’ve seen this one a bunch of times already, having even memorized some of the words to it. “Not this ad again”, you mumble to yourself.
If you start paying attention to these ads, you’ll notice that all of them may feature a catchy tune, a slogan, or maybe even a character that evokes rather strong emotion. None of these elements are in vain — not the music, not the catchphrases, not the characters…and much less the repetition.
After frequent exposure, some people may even develop a certain liking for that ad. The reason? It’s simple: our sense of liking tends to increase when something is familiar to us.
You may not currently like or need the product you see on TV. But one thing’s for sure: if you ever do need it, this product will be one of the first options your mind will bring into play. And when that happens, the ad has done its job.
The first thing that comes to your mind will almost always win. That’s what every single brand is striving towards nowadays: to be your “first-to-mind”. But what’s the psychology behind it? And what does human content curation have to do with it? Let’s find out.
We’re All Victims of The Mere-Exposure Effect
Your brain is always looking for shortcuts to everything, and deciding on your next purchase is no different.
(For the purposes of this article, I’ll mostly use marketing-related examples. Just be aware that, in every situation, your brain will always lean toward the path of least resistance.)
When looking for a certain product and measuring it against other products, you’ll favor the things you already know. Every single time. You’re well aware that choosing what’s comfortable is a lot easier than going through the doubt associated with uncomfortable choices.
There’s a name for that: it’s called the mere-exposure effect.
The mere-exposure effect is a psychological phenomenon by which people have a tendency to prefer certain things, merely (that’s where “mere” comes from) because they’re familiar with those things. None of us is immune to this phenomenon. After all, familiarity is safe. It’s cozy. And apparently — although that’s far from the truth — what we know can’t hurt us.
As I’ve described right at the beginning of this article, brands are always in a rat race to be your “first-to-mind”. That’s why so many of them count on jingles and catchphrases. That’s also why they’re always trying to innovate by evoking different emotions from their audience through imagery, writing, and sound. They want to live rent-free in your head, and some of them do it successfully.
Now, let’s talk about something almost everyone loves: coffee.
Coffee brand Folgers has surely implanted the mere-exposure effect into the minds of a lot of Americans. Its classic slogan, “The best part of waking up is Folgers in your cup”, doubles as a catchy tune. It cleverly associates the early morning with a fresh cup of coffee, but not just any coffee. Only Folgers coffee is the best part of your sunrise.
I’m not sure how many Folgers drinkers we’ve got here. All I can say is: a lot of you have caught yourselves humming to that tune on your way to fixing yourself a morning cup. You can thank the mere-exposure effect for that.
Trust is a Result of Cognitive Ease
Our brains receive an estimate of 11 million bits of information per second, but we can only process about 40 bits of information per second.
Our inner machinery can’t deal with every single stimulus that’s thrown at us at every moment. Still, it has developed ways to speedily handle mounds of information through shortcuts. These shortcuts are also called cognitive biases. One of those biases is called cognitive ease, which we’ll get to in a moment.
Biases, although they get a bad rap, are part of human nature. According to Simply Psychology, biases arise from our brain’s efforts to simplify the complex world in which we live. Talk about complex! The thing with bias is, and I quote, “it affects the rationality and accuracy of our decisions and judgments.”
Interesting. So, if biases can negatively affect our decision-making process, why do we use them as alternate routes? Why don’t we just, you know, make informed choices like the capable human beings we are? Here’s why.
Biases exist because we can’t be making educated decisions 24/7, otherwise, our brains would get really tired, really fast. We can’t approach every single one of those 40 bits of information in an analytical fashion. I mean, we could, but then our mental energy for the day would be depleted in a very short time.
That’s why, when we’re unfamiliar with something but have to make a decision about it, our brain instantly takes us back to the familiar path. The things our brain won’t have a hard time processing, and thus we’ll be motivated to invest our time and effort in. The cognitively easy stuff.
Cognitive ease, as the name suggests, is our brain’s ability to process information with relative ease. It’s also a profound bias. This process involves a combination of factors: a sense of familiarity, a belief that the information you’ve come across is reliable, and the perception that the task at hand is effortless.
When you believe all of those things to be true, that information doesn’t feel strange or suspicious to you. Rather, it feels safe. So you relax, knowing that you might be on the right path.
For the purposes of this article, let’s focus on the sense of familiarity.
When we experience something repeatedly, we feel like we already know it. And merely because we know it, we don’t feel any incoming threats, and we let our guards down. It’s like you‘re telling your brain “hey, you know this thing. It’s safe to move forward.”
As you may have guessed, this bias can (and most likely will) fool you. Just because you feel a certain way, that doesn’t dictate reality. After all, our brains don’t often recognize the difference between cognitive ease and the actual reliability of a statement.
Without our knowledge, this familiar feeling can easily be influenced by things that are irrelevant, incorrect, or outright deceitful. That’s why, sometimes, it’s best to take information with a grain of salt.
When making important decisions, such as purchasing high-ticket items, you should allow your slow-thinking to take control. Yes, even when it comes to a first-to-mind product. With that in mind, you should always be looking at reviews, comments, and viewing things from a different perspective. This could prevent you from making mindless decisions you may regret.
Your Circle Will Most Likely Dictate Your Next Choice
Back in the day (and by that I mean way back), deviating from a group of people meant you’d be vulnerable to vicious predator attacks out in the wild. The failure to mimic other people in the group and going where they were going could determine one’s demise.
Of course, no one wanted that ending. This turned group action into life-or-death matters, thus originating yet another deeply ingrained bias: the social proof bias, a term coined by Dr. Robert Cialdini in 1984. Today, our anxieties have more to do with the fear of receiving defective packages than being killed, but the intrinsic belief is the same.
Social proof is our inherent need to follow the actions of other people. As an example, we’re much more likely to consider buying something if that thing has an abundance of positive reviews — an indicator that a lot of people have purchased it, and weren’t disappointed with their choice.
But why does that matter? Here:
The constant assurance that something is worth having front-loads it in our minds. When a large number of people back their choices with relatable and truthful stories, they hold incredible persuasive power. Extra points if we’re talking about a widely-known product, which strikes people’s sense of familiarity.
That said, we can always hit roadblocks along the way. The internet is filled with people we’re not familiar with. This may surface a range of questions in our minds: Have they really tried that product? Were they paid to say all that? How do I know if they’re being honest?
We’ll always wonder if certain statements are false. We do that to protect ourselves from harm. Yet, if skepticism consumes us in every instance, we’ll have a hard time making even the easiest of decisions.
That’s when we’re supposed to turn to the most trustworthy source of all: our family and friends. The people around you will be able to provide you with human content curation at its finest, and in living color.
Human Content Curation, The Mere-Exposure Effect, Cognitive Ease, and Social Proof. What’s the Correlation?
Suppose you need to buy a new camera. Hopefully, you have one or more photographer friends who will point you in the right direction. They’ll let you know such things as which brands are best, which lenses do you need, and where you can find the best cameras for the lowest prices.
How interesting is it that the old and simple word-of-mouth communication is already a sort of human curation?
Out of all the brands a certain person knows, they’re picking a handful of those and making your life easier. They’re curating the best options for you on the spot. And, because we’re talking about a real human, their recommendations make these few options even more trustworthy. That’s social proof right there.
Now, let’s say you don’t have any photographer friends to speak of. Are you alone on your quest to find a great camera?
In this world, you’re never on your own. You still have the accessible alternative of reading blog posts or watching videos aimed at helping beginners find the right professional equipment. Provided that the creators are professionals, they’ll curate quality content based on their vast experience and focused knowledge.
Emphasis on the word professionals. Remember: we’re all victims of the mere-exposure effect. Especially if someone isn’t a subject-matter expert, you’ll never know whether their recommendations are reliable enough. They might as well be communicating their own first-to-minds to you.
Considering that, allow yourself to make judgment calls. Whenever possible, take enough time to validate those suggestions by running them through an expert’s opinion. That’s how you win.
You Don’t Always Have to Let Your First-To-Mind Win
There’s nothing wrong with choosing the path of familiarity. In a world that’s riddled with cons and unethical people, we hold the right to shield ourselves from anything that may hurt us. In this context, hurting ourselves could mean anything from wasting an hour of our time to falling for a phishing scam.
Just like the fight, flight, freeze response, psychological phenomena can work to our disadvantage while trying to protect us. It doesn’t have to be that way. Although our first-to-minds come to us automatically, we have control over what we’ll do with that information moving forward.
The key takeaway is: you don’t have to accept the things that come your way without doubting, inquiring, and confirming them before taking your next step. Follow the content curation route, and you’re never bound to be lost again.
See you next time,