Internet Marketing and the Puzzle of Fundamental Attribution Error
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Internet Marketing and the Puzzle of Fundamental Attribution Error

By Mainak Biswas October 19, 2013 - 2,898 views

Internet is a growing medium for marketing and advertising. The primary reason for its unperturbed growth is its easy accessibility and inexpensiveness as compared to rest of the marketing and advertising methods. Internet marketing has experienced phenomenal growth and has managed to become a big hit amongst the advertisers, every brand plans its online presence even before launching its product in the market, such is the influence of online marketing on advertisers .

Tricks of online marketing

Online marketing is practically open to everyone so it is quite important to understand the tricks of the trade. The competition here is cut throat and even a small glitch in the advertising campaign can prove disastrous for your brand. It is for this reason; advertisers and marketing strategists take special care while dealing with this medium.

Biases in Internet marketing

The dos and don’ts of formulating a perfect marketing strategy can come from any know-all, but the tips to achieve the right attitude and to ignore the influence of situational factors are not discussed by all. Understanding the various parameters of a situation is a precursor to devising any strategy related to it, and while you are at it your perception should be free of any cognitive bias.

Fundamental attribution error

In this society we are surrounded with correspondence bias and fundamental attribution error, it is because of this we tend to make decisions basing on the opinions of an expert rather than our own perception.  Clearly, people do not want to be fazed by the deceptive appearance of the market before devising a strategy and it is for the same reason that they depend on the advices of a market expert rather than following their own instincts.

Evidently, it is very crucial to understand the actual market conditions or else there is no other reason to explain the whooping salaries of market analysts and investment bankers. Going to a trade analyst or a market analyst is a common practice to understand the prevailing trends, even if the same data is available with us we have a disposition to believe what the experts have to say. Their word assures us because we believe that the experts usually forecast the market conditions by evading the fundamental attribution error. By evading cognitive bias we can achieve the understanding of a given situation like no one ever has, and use it in devising a lethal online marketing plan, this is some marketing gnosis that has never been spoken of.

Online marketing and cognitive bias

When it comes to online marketing the hazards of cognitive bias are far more deep reaching due to lack of ethics amongst marketers, they can go to any lengths to sell a product. In context of online marketing there is no distinction between deception and cognitive bias; deception can be carried on under the cover of cognitive bias. Needless to say, it is important to spot the difference and to have the knack of using it to your advantage. It is important to discuss the hazards of fundamental attribution error before revealing the tricks to avoid it.

Examples of fundamental attribution error

Let us consider two arch rivals. Their products  are slated for release at around the same time and but one of them backs out right before the launch date giving reason that their product needs to pass through another test in the Research and Development department.

Ideally in a situation like this, customers may perceive the company that launched its product on time as ‘competent’ and the other company which failed to deliver on time as ‘incompetent’, but little do they know that it could be a strategy employed by the ‘incompetent’ company to see how the product of the other company fares in the market depending on which they can make necessary changes in their product to give it an edge. In this case, both products were much of a muchness and there was a very less chance for either one of them to be extremely successful.

The ‘incompetent’ company understood this very well, so it raised the stakes by delaying the launch of its product and giving out an impression of not being able to deliver on time. What might be perceived as incompetency was a well thought decision to boost the sales by providing an edge to the product. This classic case exemplifies the fundamental attribution error in customers, who blindly believed in what they were presented with and did not bother to reason the situational factors. This realm of social psychology attributes to the naive behaviour of people and it is often explicitly or implicitly used in internet marketing. Online marketing does not provide much scope to the customers to dig deep below layers of fundamental attribution error and perceive the marketing gimmicks.

This error in perception is usually caused when the effect of personality or dispositional factors are enhanced or overestimated in comparison to the situation factors. This error in judgement takes place while explaining the behaviour of others, while interpreting one’s own behaviour one tends to consider the situational factors.

Another example will give a clear picture:

Consider Mr. Hopkins, an old, conservative and moralistic school teacher, who is waiting in his car at a traffic intersection. As the traffic lights turn green Mr. Hopkins begins to accelerate but another car swooshes right in front of him through the red light. Because of fundamental attribution error Mr. Hopkins might perceive the other driver as reckless hooligan who is driving on mind-bending drugs; this judgment could clearly be an error if the other driver turns out to be a sincere humanitarian person rushing a patient to the emergency room.

Probably, Mr. Hopkins would have done the same had he been in place of the other driver.

Few actions are a call of a situation and may be considered heresy by observers, because observers are used to believing and perceiving things in a certain pre defined way and seldom do they consider the situations factors while passing a judgment. Fundamental attribution error thrives on selective attention of observers which generally evades the less obvious contextual cues. People readily pay attention to processed information which is usually made easily available to deceive them.

Internet marketing and fundamental attribution error

In internet marketing the role of fundamental attribution error is of great significance, it usually comes into the picture when a competitor’s abilities are gauged, and to keep a sound knowledge about your competitor is one of the prerequisites for devising a marketing strategy.

When it comes to keeping an eye on your competitor’s developments, no move should be underestimated.

Every situational factor should be taken into consideration while compiling a market intelligence report, only then can you get a true sense of what the completion is in this otherwise deceptive market.

• Never make baseless assumptions about the market scenario, if you go by looks the market could take you for a ride.

• The theory of fundamental attribution error must be carefully considered to avoid significant misjudgements, after all it isn’t a personal affair, it is the company’s assets which are at risk.

• This error could also baffle customers, which sometimes explains the actual reason for decline of a product’s value in the market. In such cases it is very important for the marketers to clear the air with their customers and communicate the actual reason behind the decline rather than letting customers make their own version of the failure. A marketing plan is the best idea to deal with a situation like this.

• It is important to consider fundamental attribution error when we talk about social media marketing.

Let us consider the example of a fountain pen, a company launches its brand new line of expensive fountain pens and a loaded hillbilly living in extremely high altitudes buys the pen. His pen starts leaking as soon as he reaches his home back in the mountains. Owing to fundamental attribution error he believes that he has been ripped off by the company and the pen was worthless, whereas the pen could have started leaking because of the pressure difference which usually causes fountain pens to become leaky. Now, while narrating the performance of his newly bought pen he would not emphasize on the situational factor but would speak at length about the dispositional factor, which could tarnish the reputation of the company without any fault of its own or its product.

To avoid a situation like this we must understand what might be expected from the market and the role of fundamental attribution error in defining consumer behavior while formulating strategies.


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