Is Overconfidence Killing Your Marketing Effectiveness?

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Are you an above-average marketer? Statistically speaking, you probably think so… even if the results of your most recent campaigns suggest otherwise.

Survey after survey has shown that a majority of us think we are exceptional on the road, in the midst of competition, and even between the sheets. In our own minds, we all tend to be experts and better-than-average performers.

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View all of the posts in our Cognitive Biases in marketing series.


The underlying cause is a psychological phenomenon referred to as overconfidence effect. And, while it’s fairly innocuous in many parts of our lives – feeling that we are stand out romantic figures can give us a big ego boost, for instance – it can actually wreak havoc on our marketing campaigns.

When we think we know things we don’t, and imagine we can do things we can’t, the result is bad decisions that get compounded again and again. We waste time and money and can’t figure out why. Because we don’t see our own shortcomings, we keep looking for outside answers that don’t necessarily exist there.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the symptoms and challenges associated with overconfidence effect and see how they affect your ability to attract customers online…


A Little Knowledge Can be a Marketer's Nightmare

Counterintuitive as it might seem, higher degrees of knowledge, education, and expertise are associated with a stronger sense of overconfidence effect. Or to put it another way, we start developing blind spots that fill the gaps in our knowledge.

 The more we learn, the more we assume we know. 

This can create a double-edged problem. Remaining ignorant certainly isn’t going to help you become a better marketer. But at the same time, you need to remember the limits of your learning and except that things can change and some outcomes are utterly unknowable.

As the old saying goes, “a filled cup can’t hold more.” Maintaining a curious mind, and asking lots of questions, is just as important as gaining knowledge. That’s especially true with the web, when best practices shift all the time and unconventional tactics can sometimes yield big results.


Maybe You Don’t Know Best

The overconfidence effect doesn’t just cause us to feel like we know more than we actually do. It also tricks us into thinking our abilities are greater than they might actually be.

It leads us to overestimate the odds of our success in any project, or feel as if we will succeed where others have failed. If you know any entrepreneurs, you've likely seen this bias in action.

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In the online marketing world, it’s not unusual to hear business owners talk about wanting to create viral videos, quickly earn a top search spot in search rankings, or discover some long-dormant copywriting skills.

Reason would suggest they will have a hard time accomplishing these feats, given that so many others have tried and come up short. But, the belief that they are “different” leads them to keep pushing forward anyway.

That’s not entirely bad news. A positive attitude and a sense of hope can be very valuable if you’re looking to make your mark. At the same time, a dash of patience and realism can go a very long way.

If many of your colleagues have struggled to do something, ask yourself why your experience should be any different. If you can’t find a good answer, then consider rethinking your strategy or adjusting your expectations.


Where are the Results?

Being aware of overconfidence effects is one thing, but spotting them in yourself is quite another. After all, the very nature of overconfidence will probably lead you to think you’re less susceptible to it than other people.

One of the biggest telltale signs that you’re placing a little bit too much faith in your own abilities is that you have online marketing campaigns that fail to generate the right results, even though you can’t figure out why. If the numbers say one thing, and your opinions say something else, then it could be a sign that you’re relying too much on your own luck or talent.

There are a lot of reasons you can struggle to find prospects over the Internet, of course, but get in the habit of thinking how someone from the outside views your situation. Or better yet, get that outside advice and see what happens.

You may just discover the shift in perspective yields brilliant results.

david-a-100.jpgDavid Amerland
Author The Sniper Mind

Running a business is a marathon in the fullest sense of the word. It requires preparation, planning, endurance, strategy, skill, focus, smarts and analysis.


How to Beat Overconfidence Effect

For the most part, being a little too confident in our own abilities is pretty natural. In fact, the opposite phenomenon – too little belief in our skill or expertise – is virtually unknown in the psychological world.

While the problem might be nearly universal, though, it’s not without its remedies.

  1. Focus tightly on measurable results (set SMART goals)
  2. See how you stack up against your competitors in a subjective way
  3. Use verifiable metrics to assess your own abilities in decision-making skills
  4. Practice, practice, practice

It’s also a good idea to seek advice in outside perspectives. Just be careful about the voices you listen to, because some of the “expert” opinions you’re likely to hear are also being affected by another person’s overconfidence.

More than anything, I encourage you to simply be aware that overconfidence effect exists, and that it’s easier (and more common) for each of us to be wrong than we like to admit to ourselves.

Once you adopt that mindset, the problems associated with overconfidence often give way to rational decision-making. That might be harder on the ego, but it’s much easier on your bottom line. And talking about the bottom line, we think we can help yours. Download this campaign checklist and get started on the path to success.

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Topics: cognitive bias, behaviour