Customer Behaviour and Cognitive Bias

By Kenda Macdonald | Behaviour

Aug 30

In today's session I help a muddled marketer who is somewhat lost by their customer behaviour.

Our agony wracked listener is bewildered by why prospects sign up for things and then never open the email.

It's an age old problem - although the medium has changed the fickle nature of customer behaviour certainly hasn't.

Prospects and customers are after all, capricious things - out for what they want at the best possible price. That means they'll sign up for anything if they get something for free or at a heavy discount. 

That's okay though. Once you accept that customer behaviour is often illogically - sometimes even going against self interest - you can account for that and adjust your approach accordingly.

The reason being that we can't make logical decisions without emotion. Which is a illogical...captain.

So if something doesn't feel right, customer behaviour tells us they'll decide against it - even when it makes total sense.

Listen to episode 5 of the Marketing Agony Aunt to hear Auntie Kenda's diagnosis.

If you have a problem...if no one else can help...and if you can find them... maybe you can contact The A(gony) Team!

Send all your problems predicaments and pickles to and we'll do our best to help.

We'll always keep you anonymous unless you expressively say we can use your true identity. All comedy names and beverage suggestions welcome.

If you're interested in joining me on the Agony Aunt Podcast or you'd like to to discuss how we can help you more directly then get in touch and we can chat.


To read a transcript of this episode scroll on down:


Welcome to the Marketing Agony Aunt. I’m your Aunty - Kenda Macdonald. Today we’ve got an absolute gangbuster of a topic. We’re going to be looking at why your prospects and customer behave so weirdly, and sharing how you can plan for behaviour for awesome conversion rates and super effective marketing that leaves no prospect behind.

So come on in and take a seat on the couch - grab a drink if you need some fortification - and let’s get agonising. 

Now to our letter from our curious agoniser:


Dear Supreme Ninja Overlord,

I’m hoping you can help me with a rather odd problem.

I’m not sure if this is something that is just happening to me, or if it’s a weird phenomenon…

I have a few different leadmagnets, and I get good sign up rates and conversions off of them. That’s not the issue here. They could always be improved, but they perform well enough.

My question is more around the weird things that prospects tend to do. Why is it that people sign up for something, and then never open emails? I get a 60% open rate on the first email after sign up. What happened to the other 40%?

I also run surveys to my audience, so that I can segment them better and make sure I’m giving them the right help. But I often see that people who have said they want one thing then go and buy another thing.

I find this all really… well, odd.

How am I supposed to market to them the right way if I can’t anticipate what they’re doing?

And how am I supposed to be segmenting my audience if I can’t trust what they say?

Yours confusedly,

A Curious Marketer 


Hah! Supreme Ninja Overlord! Hells yeah!!! You know me so well…

Right so, I have a delicious unicorn gin here. Basically it’s sloe gin to give it a touch of colour, and then sparkly stuff. It’s both gorgeous and yummy - so make sure you have something tasty too and lets get agonising.

Now this letter here was bound to catch my attention - not only with a befitting title of Supreme Ninja Overlord - but because it’s full of my favourite things!

Weird stuff and odd happenings! Good ol bizarre human behaviour.

So at Automation Ninjas, where I am the supreme ninja overlord, we specialise in behaviourally intelligent marketing automation.

And while it sounds terribly highbrow and complicated, what that really means is that we’re good at helping businesses understand their customers. We help craft and design customer journeys that take real humanness into consideration, and then automate for it.

It’s a beautiful marriage between marketing, automation, and behaviour. Is that allowed? Three people in a marriage? There is a blog post in there somewhere-  The polygamy of marketing... Anyway, the results are awesome. You could say Epic...

So your letter, dear curious marketer - has hit all the right buttons for me!

Strangely enough - the only thing we can count on when it comes to human behaviour, is that it will be mostly illogical. So for your very first question - is it just you, or is it a phenomenon?

Right let me just stop there - the word phenomenon is really throwing me off! There are so many pop culture references to be made to the movie, LL Cool J and of course the fantabulous Rob Zombie that I am quite overwhelmed.

And before you think I’m super hip, let me just share with you that I am a heavy metal fan and know nothing about other genres of music. I thought LL Cool J was called JJ Cool - and I was so proud of myself - until Mike corrected me. Ahem.

Back to business! Curious Marketer - no. It is not you. This is just humans being human.

A while ago now Antonio Damasio showed that humans can’t make logical decisions without emotion. He did this by studying people with damage to the parts of the brain that are responsible for emotion. These people were completely normal and of sound mind before they were struck with disease or had some kind of accident. After that they could not decide between A or B.

Damsio was the first to very clearly show that we rely on emotion to function when it comes to decision making.

Further to that - Daniel Kahneman in his nobel prize winning career, showed us that our brain is only able to function at the level that it does because we use rule sets to help with most of what we do. The brain saves power with rule sets. Those rule sets very often go wrong and we do some very strange things indeed.

And then of course Thaler and Sunstein developed on that and created the field of Information Architecture so that we could better help people make decisions.

So it is most definitely not you! We are not logical in any shape or form.

That can seem a bit daunting, because what’s the point of marketing then if you can’t predict behaviour?

Ah well. You see we’re illogical in some very set ways. That’s the cool bit to this.

Since Kahneman and his buddies originally released their research, so much more additional research has been done. There are now literally hundreds of identified cognitive biases.

So taking a quick step back, a cognitive bias is an error in a rule set. So to save time and memory, our brains use rule sets for things we do often. This is how we learn. And they are called heuristics. Because of them we are better than amoebas at most things.

But sometimes that shit goes wrong. And when it does - it’s called a cognitive bias.

These are super important for anyone in marketing to understand. I’ve popped a link to two videos I have done for the Epic Marketing show on these, in the description.

When we understand that humans don’t make decisions logically, and make all sorts of mistakes - we can improve our marketing.

Now I don’t expect you to go learn all of the different cognitive biases out there- no no.

Although bonus points for commenting your favourite cognitive bias if you have one!

No - all you need to know is that we do make these mistakes. And very broadly all of them fit into 4 areas. Mistakes that happen with regards to:

  • What we should remember
  • When we need to act fast
  • When we don’t have enough meaning
  • When we have too much info

So the next question  becomes, how do you build all of that into your marketing?

Well for number 1, make it easy for people to remember things. Acronyms are the shizniz for this.

When a user needs to take action, so number 2, make it easy. Don’t complicate things. This is why you shouldn’t have loads of call to actions. Keep it simple.

Number 3 is all about context. In order to understand or make a decision we need context. When we have that we understand meaning. No meaning means no action.

For 4, break the complex down into easy to understand chunks. Use as little information as you can - that doesn’t mean always writing like a text or sms, but rather focusing on the relevant information and not over complicating things.

Interestingly with all 4 very rough categories - it’s all about being clear, keeping it simple and actionable. So basically everything a good copywriter tells you to do.

But that’s not the end of it. No no.

You also need to make sure that you are planning for behaviour.

In our awesome methodology - ARMI, we always plan for behaviour. This is our winning strategy for marketing automation. It’s what gets our customers such awesome results.

As a very brief run down, the methodology is as follows - Assessment, Recommendation, Machination and Implementation.

Assessment is all about information. Knowing where you are and making sure you’ve got all the data. Assessing your position.

Recommendation is all about getting strategic - doing any research, and making suggestions for improvement etc.

Machination is all about the PLAN. It’s about getting down into the detail and figuring out how to execute for optimum success.

And then implementation is all about getting shit done. Sticking to the plan you set.

Because next you’re going to assess your efforts, recommend improvements, plan for execution and so on in a never ending cycle of awesome.

That’s a whole nother conversation to have. But I mention this because it’s in Machination that we really plan for specific behaviour.

Knowing your prospects are going to behave batshit crazy helps - because you can put something we call “buckets” in place.

Good marketing affects behaviour towards a specific outcome. That’s probably my favourite self quote - you can quote me on that shit.

And that’s exactly what the buckets are for.

Most marketing is built in a very linear fashion. I want the prospect to move from A to B then to C, and then we’re terrible upset when the prospects comes along and fuck all our shit up with their weirdness.

Good marketing takes that weirdness into consideration.

So here’s how you do that.

First you wanna build a flow chart.

Yes ok, I’m a total flow chart freak - but it’s for good reason. Only once you’ve mapped your entire process out, can you start to find the gaps and the holes and the areas in which your prospects are going to go AWOL.

You don’t have to get all fancy schmancy with it, a piece of paper will do. But map out the process you want to take your prospect or customer through in its entirety.

Once you’ve done that, go back and look for gaps and holes.

So holes are the parts of your flowchart that people either can’t progress past, or leak out of. These are the points where their behaviour falls into the void.

And this is where your buckets come in and save the day. Buckets are the things you put in place to capture the leaks…

What you’re really looking for is areas where you have failed to plan for “if this, then that”.

So what I mean here is - when someone does something you want - so what? What happens now? When they don’t do something you want them to? Then what?

You go through the process and you look at all the points your peeps could action something and you go, if they do this, then that happens. If they don’t go this, then that happens.

To help, you’re looking for two things here:

  • Positive actions
  • Negative actions

Positive actions are where they haven’t quite done the thing you wanted to - so they’re not 100% committed - but they’re showing you with their behaviour that they are interested.

Negative actions are the absence of behaviour. This is where they haven’t done stuff, and they’re showing you with their behaviour that something ain’t right. Either they’re not interested, or if something else is going on in their lives, they’re not interested enough.

So let’s look at an example of positive behaviour - this could be clicking through to the sales page when you send out an offer, but not buying. They were interested enough to take an action - but they’re not committed - don’t ignore that -  this is your opportunity to help them make a choice. Help them.

And for negative behaviour - let’s say they get to the end of a campaign, and they haven’t done what you want them to. Why? Is it because they are not interested in your offer? It’s your chance to engage them with something else entirely.

So before you do stuff, you’re looking at the process and accounting for behaviour. And that’s where awesome marketing comes from.

Then while your campaign is live you want to track data and assess - tweak constantly. Always be improving.

Now - that’s how I’d recommend you look at the behaviour of your customers. Obviously this is a much longer term strategy to make sure you ALWAYS use.

But here are 2 things you can specifically do for the problems you wrote in about. I’d suggest mapping out the flows, and finding all the gaps, but here’s two little things you can do:

  1. Put a video on the thank you page of your leadmagnets.This will help push people to the email to download their content. Remember that 100% of the people that sign up land on your thank you page. It’s prime real estate. Don’t waste it. Get people excited about it!
  2. Don’t just ask. Listen to behaviour. So this one is huge. I don’t trust people. They are always saying one thing and doing another, and ultimately that’s because of a whole bunch of societal perception stuff that goes on. But with marketing automation we have an AMAZING tool at our disposal.

    We can track what people engage with, and we can use that to inform our marketing. By all means ask - but pay very very very close attention to their behaviour, and use that to truly segment and make your marketing epic.

Ok phew - that’s quite a lot covered! So let’s summarise and write back to our curious marketer: 


Dear Curious,

Let me assure you, your odd concern is in no way abnormal.

Human behaviour is at its roots - illogical. Your prospects and customer are simply behaving in the way that is completely normal for humans. Super weird.

Let’s get that weight lifted and show you how you can combat this.

Firstly, the human brain makes many mistakes when it comes to day to day activities and making decisions. These are called cognitive biases. You can help your customers and prospects avoid some of these biases by making sure that you make it easy for people to remember things. Keep actions clear and simple. Make sure you give clear context for understanding. And always break complicated information up into easy to consume chunks.

Make sure you’re always clear, keeping it simple and actionable.

It’s also important that we can plan for behaviour.

I prescribe that you map out your marketing processes and campaigns.

Make sure that your marketing isn’t linear and that you account for both positive and negative behaviours. Put buckets and systems in place to capture this behaviour and utilise it.

Secondarily, ensure that you are listening to behaviour - and utilising the information that your audience is giving you to segment them and engage them behaviourally.

I suggest you start the mapping process with your leadmagnets and survey process.

Add additional engaging content to your thank you pages so that you get prospects excited about what they have just signed up for.

And remember that humans are illogical, but that doesn't mean we can’t plan for their behaviour. Get clever with your marketing with a solid methodology.

I hope you are feeling enlightened, invigorated and excited about your odd audience now.


Your Marketing Agony Aunt - The Supreme Ninja Overlord


What an awesome topic from our curious marketer! Thank you so much for writing in! Getting to speak about behaviour and flowcharts in one session is stupendous amounts of fun.

If you’ve been affected by any of the issues raised in today’s programme, your friendly ninjas are to hand. Head over to the site, and grab yourself a FREE marketing assessment. 

If you’d like us to take a look at any of your problems - you can pop us an email at - we’ll keep you completely anonymous (unless you want to share who you are).

You can also contact us on all the social media options in the description. And as a little bonus from us to you, when you implement what you learn and get the successes and wins you’re looking for - let us know - and we’ll feature you!

If you enjoyed today’s session, feel free to subscribe to the show on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts from, share with the people you love, leave comments - engage and of course - pop us a nice honest rating and review if you feel so inclined.

Next time on the Marketing Agony Aunt, we’re spilling the beans after a very cheeky question from a listener.


About the Author

My mission is to help forward-thinking businesses get better quality leads, that convert better for happier customers that spend more. The key to this is combining buyer psychology and marketing automation.

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