Unleash The Confirmation Bias In Business + 5 Examples

Last updated December 5, 2019

Have you ever wondered why it’s so hard to convince someone their beliefs are wrong? It’s even harder to convert them to your way of thinking.

They tune you out when you talk about things that aren’t in line with what they think and believe. As soon as you talk about what they know to be true they’re all ears.

Their pupils dilate, their posture changes, and they give you their undivided attention. It’s the confirmation bias at work.

The confirmation bias is the tendency to selectively search for, recall, interpret, and consider information that confirms your beliefs.

We latch onto information in line with what we already believe.

For example, someone putting together a research paper showing the effects of oil on aquatic environments will search for evidence that bolsters their point of view and largely ignore any other perspective.

A hiring manager that thinks a candidate is a good fit will pay more attention to information that supports their conclusion.

A coach that thinks people over six feet are better players will give taller people preference when choosing the members of his team.

Quizzes are uniquely positioned to give you the advantages of confirmation biases. When you understand your audience, your outcomes will reflect what they already believe about themselves.

We can go on and on about it, but it’s safe to say that the confirmation bias can open huge opportunities in your business. All you have to do is tap into what your customers and clients already consider a truth while confirming they’re on the right path.

Peter Wason did us a huge favor

In the 1960’s, Peter Wason performed a simple experiment with a number of volunteers. The volunteers were asked to determine a pattern that applied to a series of three numbers. The example given to the subjects was “2-4-6” and they were allowed to construct their own series of numbers to test their hypothesis.

When they constructed their own series of three numbers, Wason would tell them whether it conformed to the rule or not. The actual rule was any ascending series, participants had trouble identifying it and would create rules that were far more specific.

What was most interesting was that participants only tested rules that would confirm their hypothesis. For example, if they thought the rule was “increases by ten” they would only test numbers that confirmed it EG 10-20-30 and ignore those that violated it EG 10-11-12.

Wason brought this cognitive bias to light and we’ve been using it ever since.

Examples of The Confirmation Bias In The Wild

Whether we admit it or not, we all want validation from friends, family, and peers. That validation can take many forms and it’s often used subtly in marketing. Here are a few examples of confirmation bias you can steal

Thank You Pages

I’ve written on the power of thank you pages to unlock more engagement and revenue. What happens after they opt in or buy from you? Are you using the thank you page to confirm their initial thoughts about why they joined in the first place?

Derek Halpern of Social Triggers throws in some confirmation bias when you sign up for a free Ebook to get your first 5,000 subscribers. He confirms your initial thoughts that he’s a genuine person and asks you to start participating in the community that’ll help you grow your business.


If you were wondering if it was too good to be true, he removes that doubt immediately. From that point on, anyone who subscribes will only look for more information to back up their initial impression.

Think about how you can use this in your sales funnel and at different touch points customers have with your business. Can you confirm their initial assuptions and put common fears to rest?

RoboForm goes straight for the jugular with their thank you page after sign up.



After signing up, they let you know immediately that you’re an amazing person. Not only that, they ask you to show off this validation to your friends by asking them to sign up. The internal dialogue goes something like this.

The person who signs up thinks they made a good decision. RoboForm confirms this by telling them they’re awesome. With this newfound validation, the person would be more likely to spread the information to their social circle.

You can take this a step further by offering an ethical bribe so people will be even more likely to share it with their network. 

RoboForm gets more users, you get more validation to confirm your initial awesomeness.

Completing a process


When you’re using Mailchimp, you’ll eventually send out a few newsletters. I’ll never forget that first high five the monkey — Frederick von Chimpenheimer IV — gave me when I sent my first one.  This positive reinforcement confirms what I already know, I’ve completed a major milestone, and gives me kudos for doing so.

digital high five confirmation bias

The same process works during a checkout process. Sprinkling in “well done” and “you’re almost there” messages will help increase conversions.

Another way to use the confirmation bias to encourage the completion of a process is to use a progress bar. When you sign up for services like Facebook, Dropbox, or anything that requires a little more information, a progress bar is used to show how much you’ve done.

We use a variation of this inside of our app.

confirmation bias inside KyLeads

If you’re at the beginning of the process, usually, your own momentum is enough to keep you going. Then, something happens and you have to log out or start doing something else.

The progress bar shows you how much effort you’ve already put in and subtly reminds you that there’s just a little bit more to go.

LinkedIn profile completion


LinkedIn does this well with their profile strength indicator.

Before you take the time to complete your profile, you probably don’t have much going for you on the platform. It’s likely you don’t have many views or connections. You’re a beginner.

After filling out some more information, you’ll be an all-star ready to take on the world of corporate espionage :).


Daniel Ndukwu LinkedIn profile


The all-star rating confirms what you already know, you’re amazing.

It’s not limited to just social profiles, you can easily use it during the checkout process like the following example.

It lets you know that you’re almost there and for you to have come this far, there must be something worthwhile in the product you’re purchasing.


The Confirmation can be used in many ways which are both subtle and overt. Some of the best ways to intertwine the confirmation bias in your engagement and acquisition strategies are:

Reinforce an impression they already have

Use it to remind them of how much they’ve already committed thus confirming their love of what you’re offering.

Don’t stop there, brainstorm different ways you can use the confirmation bias to build stronger relationships with your tribe.

Let me know what you think about the confirmation bias in the comments and don’t forget to share.

Information Bias in Business: How to destroy its negative impact

Today’s business landscape is evolving at a breakneck pace and technology has made it possible to measure almost everything.

This is a double-edged sword because there’s so much data. If you’re not careful, the information bias can creep in and lead to drawing the wrong conclusions about what’s really happening.

You may kill campaigns that were actually yielding fruit, discard tests that were working, take down lead magnets that can be optimized, or push marketing initiatives that hurt you.

It seems unlikely but in this post, I’ll show you real-life examples of the information bias at work, the common places it hurts your marketing, and what to do about it.

What is information bias?

The information bias is an error that stems from a measurement error (the difference between the observed value and the true value). It’s a flaw in the measuring exposure, covariate, or outcome variables that result in different quality and accuracy of information between comparison groups.

Put another way, the information bias happens when the inputs used to draw conclusions aren’t measured or observed properly. This leads to the wrong decisions.

John Hopkins defines it simply as “when information is collected differently between two groups, leading to an error in the conclusion of the association.”

These definitions may not be immediately clear so let me illustrate with an example that cost the company billions of dollars.

The cost of the information bias

Gillette has been a household name for decades. Until recently, it held over 70% market share in the US for its flagship products. Due to many factors like new competitors and attitudes around grooming, that market share has dwindled to roughly 50%. Gillette decided to tap into a social issue to rebrand and increase sales.

Gillette released it’s now infamous short film – We Believe: The Best Men Can Be. It has been viewed 33,000,000 times and has been disliked 1.5 million times.

For perspective, promotional videos get less than 1% of viewers to like or dislike them. The We Believe video had 4.5% of its audience give a negative reaction.

It was polarizing.

How did a multibillion-dollar brand drop the ball in such a massive way?

Information bias.

Gillette has been championing masculinity for 30 years but in the face of declining sales, they listened to a loud minority. Those people make toxic masculinity seem like the norm.

The reality is that only a few men can be categorized as perpetuating toxic masculinity. The ad alienated their core demographic.

In short, they listened to the people who were shouting from the rooftops that modern men are like this:

image of toxic masculinity

When in reality, they’re more like this:

image of real modern man

Needless to say, the people who buy Gillette products and are part of the second group didn’t like being lumped into the first group. It contributed to Gillette’s parent company, P&G, writing off $8 billion.

This is an extreme example of information bias but let’s look at how it can affect your business every single day.

Areas where information bias affects marketing

As mentioned earlier, there’s a lot of data – a lot of information – in modern business. You can measure everything from the number of people who visit your website and how long they stayed right down to whether or not the red or blue button gets more clicks.

All this data creates silos in organizations. The marketing team knows certain things almost intuitively. Even though it would positively impact the customer service team, they have no idea about it. That’s why an internal knowledge base and proactive knowledge sharing are so important.

If the knowledge isn’t shared, it brings up countless opportunities for information bias to impact your business in unintended ways. I’ll focus on the most common.

Conversion optimization

We do conversion optimization for everything from our lead generation forms and quizzes to sales pages and email subject lines. When done properly, they can have significant positive effects for your business.

Most A/B tests fail.

It may be due to the methodology of the test, what’s being tested, or the number of people who go through the test.

There are two main problems with conversion optimization. The first is inadequate traffic levels which means a lot of tests don’t get to statistical significance. The second one is what the test is measuring.

A dirty little secret in the conversion optimization world is that the majority of split tests which focus on superficial items like the button color or button text revert back to the median over time. So if that red button increased conversions by 50% today, those results may not hold over time.

For example, there’s a case study about how changing the button color increased CTR by 21%.

I don’t doubt those claims. What I doubt is whether they were able to sustain those gains over time.

This is information bias at its finest. The sample size for tests is too small so we’re using the wrong information to draw conclusions. Conversely, we’re testing the wrong things over a short period of time. When we roll the changes out, they don’t stand up over time.

What to do about it

The solution is dependent on how mature your CRO efforts are right now. If you’re just getting started, the most important thing you can do is to start with best practices and create meaningful tests.

Instead of focusing on the button colors and other inconsequential elements, test things like the layout of a page, the overall messaging, etc. These changes, though larger, have the potential to create long-lasting conversion boosts and prevent you from being forced into a local maximum.

Finally, create benchmarks for your tests such as the number of visitors needed before a decision can be made or the length of time before it can be adopted across the board. Once created, stick with those benchmarks religiously so you have standard datasets to work with.


There has been a shift towards optimizing web experiences for humans which is a good thing. Part of this process is interacting with the humans who use your website and products.

To that end, we use surveys which are incredibly versatile for understanding customer perception about different aspects of your business. A few things you find out are:

  • Understand why people stop buying
  • Figure out what makes people buy
  • Get deep insights about willingness to pay
  • Brand perception

A common problem is treating all survey respondents alike. For example, if you send out a survey to your entire email list, some of them are customers and some of them aren’t.

It would make sense to give more weight to the opinions of customers over the opinions of casual browsers or email subscribers. At the same time, you can further divide your customer groups into segments.

Information bias occurs when you send out a survey to everyone who you can contact and give every answer the same weight.

What to do about it

The name of the game here is segmentation. There are countless ways to segment people who receive your survey. You can do it between customers and non-customers. You can segment by purchase history. You can segment based on demographic markers like age or gender.

It’s important to make sure the way you segment is in line with the goal of the survey. For example, if it’s market research, you may want to segment by buyer persona or demographic information. Here are a few more ways to think about segmenting your survey respondents.

  • Customers and non-customers
  • Frequency of purchase
  • Customer value (what pricing tier are they on or how much have they spent)
  • Source of the respondent (EG did they come from your mailing list or social follower)
  • Length of answer (for open-ended questions)

Advertising initiatives

This happened to us when we were testing Facebook ads for KyLeads. We tried to market like a SaaS company and were creating ads that were asking for a direct sign up.

We’d basically show up in your feed, ask you to sign up for a trial, and let our onboarding emails do the rest.

This technically worked. We got signups but it cost us $125 to get a customer. Our ads looked a bit like this:

(bonus points if you can guess the company).

Many people would consider this a success because with this acquisition cost, our LTV:CAC ratio is better than 3:1. There’s just one problem, we don’t have a lot of money in the bank from our VC backers (IE we don’t have ANY money from VCs).

If we tried to scale that acquisition strategy, we’d be out of business even though we’re acquiring customers who would eventually yield a profit.

We put a halt to Facebook because the data was telling us it wasn’t working. We were looking at Facebook ads the wrong way – information bias – and suffering because of it.

Other ways people fall prey to information bias with advertising initiatives include:

  • Not letting the campaigns run long enough (not giving it enough data)
  • Incorrect targeting
  • Using broken funnels/sales processes and amplifying them with paid traffic.

In these instances, the information you receive will have errors which lead to the wrong conclusions. In the end, you may write off ad platforms that have the potential to change the game for you.

What to do about it

The solution here is manifold because there can be many reasons you’re getting the information bias. First, it’s important to run your campaigns long enough to get the right data. Make sure you allocate enough budget to your advertising campaigns before you kill the losers off.

Before you start running ad campaigns, research your market thoroughly so you can make sure your targeting is correct. This depends on the platform you’re using. With Facebook, that’s interests but with Google that’s Keywords.

If you don’t have the time, energy, or skills to do the research then be prepared to test many different variations of your targeting until you’re able to hone in on the one that works for you.

Finally, optimize your pages, sales process, or funnel before you write an ad platform off. Many times, you may get clicks on your ads but no one is converting. Is it because you’re being sent junk traffic? Maybe. At the same time, it may be because of message mismatch or poor landing pages. You won’t know until you test and optimize it.

That process takes time and energy. Sorry, no shortcut.


The information bias, like other cognitive biases, happens whether we like it or not. The key is to be aware of it and actively work to minimize it.

In this post, I’ve touched on a few ways information bias affects businesses and what to do about it. Don’t try to tackle everything at once so you’re not overwhelmed.

Instead, focus on one or two areas such as CRO and determine whether or not you’ve been affected by information bias. If you have, take steps to reverse or minimize the effects of it. When you’ve put processes in place to ensure it won’t repeat itself, tackle the next one until you’ve reduced the information bias in your business.

It’s important to note that you can’t get rid of it completely, you can only manage it. Let me know how you’re tackling the information bias in your business and don’t’ forget to share.

The Barnum Effect: Use Flattery to Instill Belief (Or Why Quizzes Work)

Have you ever looked at your horoscope in the newspaper and thought it was oddly accurate?

Do you find it strange when you answer a few questions and get an assessment based on that information which seems to hit the nail on the head?

It’s not your fault, it’s a cognitive bias called the Barnum effect at play.

We’ve advanced a lot over the last 100 years. Computers, televisions, and penicillin were invented. Someone living in 1919 wouldn’t recognize the world of 2019.

Time square comparison image

For all our advancements, we’re still beholden to cognitive biases. One of which called The Barnum Effect and it’s part of the reason why personalityquizzes are so effective.

In this article, I’ll take a deep dive into what The Barnum Effect is and how you can use it to engage your audience and make more effectivelead gen quizzes.

What is the Barnum Effect

The Barnum Effect (also known as the Forer Effect) is a psychological phenomenon in which individuals rate descriptions of their personality – which are supposedly tailored to them – as having high levels of accuracy. In reality, the descriptions are vague and can be applied to a wide range of people.

I found my daily horoscope which was vague but just relevant enough to make me feel like it applied to me.

The sooner you speak up the better. You can spare yourself a lot of aggravation today by pointing out the discrepancy between talk and action whenever you notice it. Someone might simply forget a commitment or there may be a change that you’re not informed of yet. Sweeping up the mess can be short work if no one insists upon holding tight to drama. Put productivity at the top of your list of priorities and make logic your best friend. Your conscientious ways keep things ticking along like clockwork. Proactive measures save the day. Source

The term Barnum effect was popularized by Paul Meehl in his 1956 essay Wanted – A Good Cookbook.  This may be due to the belief that P.T. Barnum – the showman – claimed a sucker was born every minute.

The fact that people believe general information is tailored to their unique situation shows a level of gullibility. I wouldn’t go as far as saying they’re suckers.

Research relating to the Barnum effect

Over the years, there has been a lot of research that tested the efficacy of the Forer effect in different scenarios.

One such study was performed in 1947 by psychologist Ross Stagner. Stagner gathered personnel managers and asked them to take a personality test. After the test, he presented each of them with generalized feedback that had nothing to do with their test answers. In fact, it was based on horoscopes and graphological (the study of handwriting) analyses.

After being presented with the results, participants were asked how accurate the assessment was. Over 50% described it as accurate and no one described it as wrong.

In 1948, another experiment was carried out by the psychologist Bertram R. Forer. He performed what has been referred to as a classic experiment.

He administered his “Diagnostic Interest Blank” test to 39 of his psychology students. Each one was told they’d receive a brief personality sketched based on the results of the test. A week later, participants were given what was supposed to be an individualized sketch.

In reality, Forer gave every student the same sketch which had 13 items. Here are a few of the statements:

          You have a great need for other people to like and admire you.

         There is a tendency to be critical of yourself.

          You have a great deal of unused capacity which you have not turned to your advantage.

          While you have some personality weaknesses, you are generally able to compensate for them.

          Your sexual adjustment has presented problems for you.

The average rating the students gave the personality sketch was 4.3 out of 5 (5 being the highest).

Using the Barnum Effect with quizzes

At this point, it’s clear that people will accept general statements and apply a high degree of accuracy to it after answering questions about themselves.

There are a few things to take into consideration to make it work successfully with quiz outcomes.

Barnum Statements

Barnum statements are assertions that are vague and general but seem to be specific to an individual. For example, you can tell someone “at times, you have a strong sexual appetite.”

Well duh, almost everyone gets turned on every now and again but under the right circumstances, it seems personal and accurate.

They’re commonly used by psychics and mediums to put their subjects at ease and make them more receptive to statements that follow.

We’ll use it in a slightly different way.

When crafting your quiz outcomes, it’s important to make them vague enough to apply to a large group of people. At the same time, you want to phrase them in a way that’s personal and relates to the answers they gave.

It’s necessary to prime them with the title of the quiz and the questions you ask.

In the above image, the title itself primes me for a comparison to a game of thrones character. The quiz goes on to ask me questions about how I’d behave in certain scenarios which reinforces my belief of an accurate assessment.

Pollyanna principle

To get the most mileage out of your quiz outcomes and increase the believability, a little flattery is in order.

The Pollyanna Principle is the tendency for people to remember positive or pleasant items more often and more accurately than unpleasant ones.

This makes sense. Why would you allocate mental bandwidth to an argument or unpleasant experience? On the other hand, we cherish moments when we’re happy or pleased.

Your quiz outcomes can tap into the Pollyanna principle by adding a few positive Barnum statements.

For example, in the Game of Thrones quiz, I got Jon Snow.

Using Barnum Statements and the Pollyanna principle, a possible outcome could mention “When it matters enough to you, you become a fighter, just like Jon, you’re able to turn around situations that would sink others.

It’s a generally positive statement that could apply to everyone but seems unique because I just took a personality assessment.

The wording of the description itself.

This refers to how often you use positive statements vs negative statements. The more positive statements you use, the more likely someone is to take the assessment to heart.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use any negative descriptions or statements. They have their place and when used sparingly, it increases the likelihood the receiver will believe what you say.

Authority and honesty of the assessor

This is a major factor in determining whether or not someone will accept your outcome. Are you in a position to give advice on the topic? Are you credible in your niche?

For example, a fitness blogger could set up a quiz about body types and effectively sell the outcomes. If they put up a quiz about online income then it may not go over as well.

This is an extreme example but you should keep in mind that your quiz and outcomes should focus on your core competency. An SEO expert shouldn’t make a quiz about lead generation or CRO. It’s tangentially related but not quite their core competency.

Examples of the Barnum effect

The Barnum effect is everywhere when you know what you’re looking for. It’s not the specific domain of personality quizzes even though it works well there.

Horoscopes and cold reading

This is one of the most common uses of the Forer effect. A horoscope, like the example I shared above, will have positive Barnum statements that put you at ease and make the statement more trustworthy.

Cold readings consist of people who look at you, ask one or two questions or read your palm, and start telling you about your personality.

They use what’s called a rainbow ruse. They apply a personality trait to the mark and also apply the opposite personality trait.

For example, “You can be energetic when it comes to business but sometimes personal matters leave you exhausted.”

It works.

Netflix – recommended for you

Have you ever been on Netflix and gotten recommendations that were only kind of related? For example, you may have watched an anime six months ago and now your recommendations are full of anime.

Or it’s possible you didn’t watch anything in the same genre but Netflix is still recommending it for you.

They’re using a bit of machine learning and the Barnum effect to deliver those recommendations.

Yea, I’m only slightly interested in what they’re showing me but I’ll still take a look because it’s recommended for me.

Personality quizzes

Last but certainly not least are personality quizzes. It seems like they were built for the Barnum effect because of the way you can tailor outcomes to the way someone answered.

The key with personality quizzes, as mentioned before, is to prime your audience with a compelling title and questions that draw out information about the quiz taker.

personality quizzes using the barnum effect

In the above examples, the titles prime quiz takers to get a personality assessment. It’s coming from BuzzFeed which is well known for compelling quizzes.

It checks the boxes for the Barnum effect

          It’s coming from someone considered trustworthy

          The results use wording with just the right amount of positive Barnum statements


The Barnum effect is the secret to why quizzes (and personalized recommendations) are so effective. We’re primed to believe statements that appear to be tailored to us even if they’re general.

The key to using the Barnum effect is to use general statements that can be easily interpreted by the receiver. You should deliver a type of assessment or recommendation and incorporate positive statements.

In the end, the Barnum effect will increase the effectiveness of your messages and encourage people to trust your assessments in the future.

The Framing Effect: Simple Tweaks to Stop Losing Money

Imagine you’ve got a deadline to meet.

It’s been 15 days out of the 30 you were initially given. You’re working slow and steady; after all, you’ve got two weeks left.

The next morning, you’re talking to a few friends over an early lunch at your favorite restaurant. Everyone is sharing what’s going on in their lives — birthdays, projects, travels, etc., — you mention the project you’ve been working on and how you’re happy with your progress.

Your friend John — always the pessimist — explodes when you tell him you’ve got two weeks to finish.

To him, it’s not two weeks left, it’s two weeks already used up that you can’t get back. It’s two weeks gone which you could’ve used to finish the project.

It’s two weeks you’re using to pursue one thing when you could’ve pursued multiple things.

To John, you’re in trouble and need to pick up the pace.

You leave the lunch date anxious and worried about whether or not you’ll meet the deadline. You’re also thinking about the opportunity cost of not being more productive.

You no longer have two weeks. You’ve burnt two weeks.

What happened here is a classic case of the framing effect. You and John were both expressing the same information but in different ways. John framed it negatively and you framed it positively.

By simply changing the way the problem was presented, you became more risk-averse or more risk-prone.

The framing effect is a powerful tool we’ve been using it for thousands of years to convince and convert.

Keep reading to learn more about framing and how you can use it to stop losing subscribers (and money).


The framing effect is simply the way you present information


The framing effect is an example of a cognitive bias, in which people react to a particular choice in different ways depending on how it’s presented; e.g. as a loss or as a gain. People tend to avoid risk when a positive frame is presented but seek risks when a negative frame is presented. Gain and loss are defined in the scenario as descriptions of outcomes (e.g. lives lost or saved, disease patients treated and not treated, lives saved and lost during accidents, etc.).(source)

The Framing effect is something each and every one of us uses in our everyday lives. We use it to structure arguments with our friends, family, and colleagues. We use the framing Effect when we’re negotiating, talking about problems, or even seducing.

It’s ubiquitous, but many of us don’t even know what we’re doing. Framing was formally identified as a cognitive bias by psychologists

Framing was formally identified as a cognitive bias by psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky.

The Experiment That Got Everyone Talking About Framing


The original experiment asked students to make a decision in a hypothetical situation. They would be required to save lives or allow lives to be lost.

Imagine that the U.S. is preparing for the outbreak of an unusual Asian disease, which is expected to kill 600 people. Two alternative programs to combat the disease have been proposed. Assume that the exact scientific estimate of the consequences of the programs are as follows

When the situation was framed with a chance of saving lives, people were less likely to take risks (positive framing).

If Program A is adopted, 200 people will be saved. [72 percent]

If Program B is adopted, there is 1/3 probability that 600 people will be saved, and 2/3 probability that no people will be saved. [28 percent]

Another Group was given the same cover story, but the loss of life was emphasized and people became more risk prone (negative framing).

If Program C is adopted 400 people will die. [22 percent]

If Program D is adopted there is 1/3 probability that nobody will die, and 2/3 probability that 600 people will die. [78 percent]

Even though the absolute value of all these situations is 200 people surviving, the way each situation was presented had a huge impact on how people decided.

Positive frames create an environment that avoids risk-taking and proactive behavior.

Negative frames create an environment that causes people to take more risk.

Have you ever watched two news stations at the same time?

Watch a station like BBC or CNN while watching Aljazeera.

Compare and contrast what they’re reporting and what they’re not reporting. Also look at how they frame stories that appear on both stations.

It’s eye opening.

Framing has worked in propaganda since man has been able to communicate. It’s not always so overt or even intentional.

Take the controversy over the U.K. ballot to leave the E.U. — The Brexit.

The original wording on the question was:

"Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?"

It would have prompted a simple yes or no, but complaints were made over the question being biased or confusing. U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron accepted a recommendation to change the wording after the phrasing was tested on potential campaigners, academics, and language experts.

The final wording on the question was:

Get Insightful Content Like This Delivered Straight to Your Inboox

“Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?”

The options that led to the fateful decision were:

Remain a member of the European Union

Leave the European Union


When you frame a situation a certain way, it forms a reference point. We’re irrevocably tied to reference points which in turn create expectations about outcomes.

Enter the expectation effect, the logical progression of framing

The expectation effect, also known as the subject expectancy effect, is the way behavior, perceptions, and results change as a result of personal expectations or the expectations of those around us.

As soon as you think it’s possible then the belief creates a higher chance of it occurring.

Once you replace negative thoughts with positive ones, you’ll start having positive results. –Willie Nelson.

You’re familiar with many instances of the expectation effect due to positive or negative framing. You just didn’t know what was happening until now.

  • Hawthorne Effect: Workers are more productive when given more attention during a test or change to their work environment that’s SUPPOSED to improve productivity. The effect is temporary.
  • Pygmalion Effect: Individuals perform better or worse depending on the expectations of their superiors.
  • Placebo Effect: One of the most common and widely studied applications of the expectation effect. Patients — based on the belief that treatment will work — receive treatment benefits.
  • Halo Effect: Positive feelings in one area cause inconsequential or neutral traits to be viewed positively. In English, positive attitudes associated with a brand’s marketing can spread from one product or service to another aspect or thing. E.g., from using new software to the amount you’re improving your business.

To create the right expectations, your framing of the situation needs to be credible.

In a marketing situation, you can’t hope to build the right expectations if the context you use to frame your solution isn’t congruent.

For example, if you framed your solution as a stripped down version of popular accounting software, your customers won’t expect it to do much more than the basic accounting functions they need to keep their finances in order. If you — for some reason — begin to market it as an all-in-one system, there’ll be problems with their expectations.

If you — for some reason — begin to market it as an all-in-one system, there’ll be problems with their expectations.

To set the right expectations in a group, frame the situation correctly from the beginning.

Now that you have a very clear understanding of the framing effect, it’s time to use it to become incredibly persuasive.

Four Types of Framing to Bring About Your Desired Action


Loss Framing

Loss framing is also known as the negative framing effect and is simple to understand. If you’ve ever come across a landing page that uses a timer then you know what loss framing is.

Don’t lose $100 every month on groceries, enroll in our exclusive shoppers club.

You don’t want to lose the opportunity to ….

Don’t lose your home because you “didn’t know,” call us today….

The common thread here is fear. Fear of potential loss.

Loss aversion describes people’s tendency to strongly avoid losses to acquiring gain. Keeping your house is more important than buying a new one.


Contrary to popular belief, it’s pretty simple to frame novel products. Instead of focusing on only it’s novelty — always a hard sell — you can focus on what it’ll prevent them from losing.

Facebook prevents you from losing contact with your friends and family.

AirBnB prevents you from losing money on huge hotel bills while experiencing a new city.

The video below shows how loss frame and gain frame can be used in medical screening.



When to use it

The answer depends on your audience and the attitudes they have towards the product. Loss-framed messages work best when the outcome is less certain. It helps remove attention from the ambiguity of the situation and refocus it on what they lose by not choosing you.

In the context of buying your product, you can say “don’t lose $250 every month on insurance. Buy xxx.” Instead of “save $250 every month by buying xxx.”

When possible, present two options.

  • Buying your product
  • A sure loss

This’ll put them in a risk-taking state of mind and make them more likely to take a chance on you.

The same applies to personal situations. If you’re trying to convince someone to take a less than certain risk — a cross-country road trip. You can frame the argument to highlight all the things they stand to lose like opportunity, experiences, meeting new people, and memories.


Gain Framing

Gain framing is most effective when the benefits of your product, argument, or situation are obvious to the other person. Positive framing is another way to describe it.

Learn a new skill and advance in your career…

Treehouse uses gain framing in their YouTube advertisements.


They have a few different variations, but they’re all showing you the same thing. Someone who was working in a field they didn’t find rewarding took a few classes through Treehouse.

After that, they were able to get high paying jobs. You can do the same if you sign up for a program with Treehouse. You can gain a whole new career and financial freedom.

Dentist’s also use gain framing a lot. Take the video below:


They’re pretty much selling you the world and then some, but you have to start with your smile  (Honestly, I had no idea a smile could do everything under the sun until I watched this video).

When to use it

When the outcome is clear and easy to illustrate, gain framing is the best type of framing effect to use. They’re more persuasive than loss-framed messages because the outcome doesn’t require your prospect to think too much.

For example,

You can easily say get fifty percent more on your tax return when you choose us.

For me, that’s a no-brainer.

Statistical Framing

Statistical framing is arguably the most abused type of framing effect. It relies heavily on data to influence decisions. You can use statistics to create a negatively framed or positively framed message.

I can say my product works 90% of the time while a competitor can say it fails 10% of the time.

Both statements are strictly true, but deliver a very different meaning to the person receiving it.

The video below shows how marketers have been abusing statistics for years.


Long ago, political aspirants mastered the art of statistical framing. The video below is from the 2012 presidential campaign which pitted Mitt Romney against Barack Obama.

The facts presented are strictly true, but the context only tells a part of the story. Obama presents facts and frames them in the context that best suits him. It fails to tell the whole story.


Prosecutors are also known for using statistics to frame arguments in what’s known as the prosecutor’s fallacy.

When to Use it

Statistical framing is one of the most versatile framing effects because it’s easily coupled with positive or negative framing.

You can use it in your marketing messages to show social proof in a positive frame e.g., 7,345 smart people just like you have signed up for our newsletter.

Since 7,345 people have already signed up, there must be something there.

You can also use it the same way Mitt Romney and Barack Obama did. It’s always fun to pick a fight with the competition.

Note: never pick a fight with someone who’s considered David when you’re Goliath — we still believe in fair play.

Language and Imagery Framing

Let’s not forget about the imagery and power words you can use to have a profound effect on the frame of your message. Copywriters have been using words and imagery to frame powerful messages for decades.

In The Adweek Copywriting Handbook (formerly known as Advertising Secrets of the Written Word) Joe Sugarman says:

“Your ad layout and the first few paragraphs of your ad must create the buying environment most conducive to the sale of your product or service.” 

For your website, that means your words need to sell and your imagery needs to back them up.

I’m a fan of design; I’m always making small tweaks to my website to figure out what’s working best and what’s not. My design is always second to the copy.

You can use words and imagery that appeal to the emotional center of the brain. When your design backs up your imagery, you give a stronger sense of stability, sophistication, and trustworthiness.

If you’re a young exciting clothing brand, you should have words and images that support your branding.

Vibram Kills it with their five fingers campaign.

A stroll through an apple store is very different than a stroll through an AT&T store. Apple gives you a feeling of class and sophistication while AT&T gives you a feeling of utility. Neither is inherently better than the other. It’s the frame created through the imagery and language used.

Drop your visitor into an environment that encourages one behavior and discourages another.

I read the story that Cantor Fine Art created (and watched the video).

They use compelling imagery, music, and a powerful narrative to sell their art.

When to Use It

Imagery and language are staples.

When you can, insert a video of someone using your products. If there’s no video insert images of your product in action.

In lieu of both these options, tell a story about your products and how they made someone — or even you — a better version of themselves.

One of the most powerful ways to use language and imagery to test out framing is when you’re running A/B tests.

Instead of looking at A/B testing as changing the color of a button from red to white, look at it through the eyes of your visitor.

Maybe the problem isn’t the button; the problem may be the way the information is presented or the actual information that’s presented.

For example, someone landed on your wedding dresses page and you’re showing wedding dresses from actual events. Your visitor wants to see the wedding dresses that are in stock. Because of that, she’ll bounce from the page and won’t call.

On the other hand, if you show wedding dresses in stock, she’ll be more likely to call you and discuss alterations or a fitting.

Language and imagery are indispensable. Period.

It’s your turn


We’ve looked at the framing effect from many different angles in this article and you’ve seen how it works in the wild.

Stop reading and take a deep look at the framing of your messages. Are they giving you the most bang for your buck?

Statistics, are you using as well as you should be?

Are you setting the right expectations from the beginning?

Would you benefit more from a positive frame or a negative frame?

Is your language compelling and does your imagery work to back it up?

The framing effect is everywhere and we use it ALL the time — both consciously and unconsciously.

Use the framing effect to your advantage and stop losing your audience and customers.

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