How To Use the Authority Bias to Influence Consumption

In neuroscience, the Authority Bias refers to the tendency to attribute ‘greater accuracy to the opinion of an authority figure (unrelated to its content) and be more influenced by that opinion’ than others with less perceived authority, according to Wikipedia.

We tend to trust a referral from a friend or family member over anything else. Hence, many businesses rely on referrals.

However, services like Real Self, Google, Yelp, and Amazon are making it increasingly hard to compete on authority alone. These services trigger several other cognitive biases like the social proof bias, bandwagon effect, and primacy/recency effect.

The White Coat vs. The Black Sheep

With so many triggers, they’re turning cashing-out on modern users and our need for convenience. Companies like Planned Parenthood doesn’t target the demographic that’s “planning” for parenthood. If you’ve ever seen a Planned Parenthood advertisement, they aren’t targeting the consumers who plan to get pregnant.

Most people know that to get someone’s attention, you have to be likable. You should appeal to your audience’s beliefs & desires, rather than make them feel like crap. It’s marketing 101.

However, the rabbit hole gets deeper.

Gentle Persuasion or Greed & Manipulation?

A study by Johns Hopkins University recorded that cartoon characters play a key role in getting children to request certain foods. An interesting study showed that young children think food packaging with cartoon characters is better. Another study made it clear that if you wrap carrots in McDonald’s packaging, kids actually say that the carrots taste better.

Consequently, as technology gets more sophisticated, it’s increasingly challenging to discern true authority online.

Online vs. Offline Authority

Credentials don’t mean as much as they did at one point in time.

Politicians aren’t expected to be seniors with a ton of political experience, just look at 29-year old Alexandria OcasioCortez. She was bartending and waiting tables in 2017. In less than a year, she defeated the likely next Speaker of the House, who also had a two-decade political career, and became the youngest woman ever elected to Congress.

Today, employers are more apt to hire a person with experience, than a person with a degree.

  • Americans trust Tony Robbins more than their psychiatrist.
  • We trust vegan bloggers more than the FDA.
  • We trust sites like WebMD more than our family physician.

Why Patients Trust Google

Have you ever Googled a symptom, and spent hours filtering through the interwebs?

Without realizing it, you suddenly had all the answers you were looking for at your fingertips. And you’re not alone. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of people around the world are dealing with the same situation. Isn’t that relieving. And it only took 20 minutes to feel relief.

Maybe you’re scheduled to see a doctor 2 weeks from now, but you decide to cancel your appointment and try a few natural remedies you found online. This is what the modern medical industry is dealing with.

The primary resource at hand is human emotion.

If a company can get you to become emotional about their product or service, or your problems, they’ve got you. Google offers consumers a free and immediate information repository that targets the driving forces behind human nature. This is like giving crack to an addict.

A quick Google search provides an emotional buffet for its users, a buffet no business in the world can compete with. They attract users for free and then re-target content that continues this seductive process without resolve.

Fighting for Your Attention

Rather than avoiding the absolutely terrifying state of humanity in relation to artificial intelligence, we should embrace it as an opportunity to stay ahead of the game. The negative impact is undeniable at this point.

Humans are losing the free will to think and act, autonomously.

We aren’t thinking about what’s between the lines or going on behind the scenes. We watch the Kardashians display their lives across social media, and once a week on E! and we emotionally invest and ego-identify with the characters we relate to.

We watch the new, and trust that the stories are real and accurate accounts of current events. We’re completely unaware that the news is a production, and most anchors are actors reading lines from a teleprompter.

Modern brands are fighting for one thing: your attention.

A Shift in Perception

This shift in perceived authority is an interesting scenario unfolding in our era. We cannot deny that as technology is evolving, the way we view authority is also changing. At one point, a black or female doctor held no credibility in the public eye.

This will eventually be physicians who aren’t active online.

The first heading in this piece was titled “The White Coat vs. The Black Sheep.”

In this case, the white coat is the old meaning of authority and the black sheep is the new, authority.

The Neuroscience Behind Authority

If you think the millions of people with smartphones are going to stop searching their symptoms on Google, you’re wrong.

T-mobile made $4.5 billion in 2017, with over 33 million subscribers. And that’s just scratching the surface.

According to CNBC, Microsoft is valued at more than $753 billion, while Alphabet (Google’s parent company) is valued at $739 billion. Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, has a net worth of $157.8 billion.

Do you see where this is going?

The only way to avoid being left behind in this rapidly evolving technological era – is to join in.

Obscurity is the enemy of modern business. Today, the most successful companies appear frequently and seductively in front of their target demographic. Marketing is more challenging than ever because modern consumers are bombarded day and night by advertisers, fighting for their attention. It takes much longer to break through than ever before.

However, we have access to more user data than ever before. We can create custom, highly-relatable content and place it exactly where users are searching.

To put it simply, if you’re not in front of your audience on a daily basis, you’re planning to fail.

When it comes to the authority bias, your ability to be consistent & persistent online will have a greater impact than all the licenses, credentials, and hours studying combined.