We’re going to talk about the framing effect, what it is, and how it’s used by savvy brands.
Is the glass half-full or half-empty? Do you like frozen yogurt that is 90% fat-free or one with only 10% fat in it? Would you invest in something with a 10% risk—or are you more willing to invest if it had a 90% chance of earning money?
What is the framing effect?
It is a cognitive bias (aka an error in thinking) that leads us to decide on something based on the connotation presented. If an option bears a negative connotation, like “20% risk of loss” or “20% trans-fat,” you’ll likely decide to stay away from this option. But if it bears a positive connotation, like “80% chance of winning” or “80% fat-free,” you’re more likely to choose this option.
It matters what you say and how you say it. It matters how you frame it.
The study of the framing effect began in 1981 with psychologists Tversky and Kahneman. They ran an experiment where participants had to decide between two treatment plans for 600 people who contracted a fatal disease. Treatment A would end 400 lives, and Treatment B had a 33% chance of ending no lives but a 66% of ending all 600 lives. When framed as saving 200 lives, 72% of participants supported Treatment A. However, when framed as ending 400 lives, only 22% of participants were in favor.
People’s choices are influenced by the way the options are framed.
The information itself is often irrelevant.
We put more focus on how the information is given rather than the information itself.
Behavioral economics has us pegged as irrational decision-makers, remember?
We despise risk and loss, both of which are associated with negative connotations. If you want to sell a product, don’t try to use a characteristic that could be perceived as negative. We’re programmed to avoid loss, so we’ll respond better when positive benefits are highlighted.
Making decisions is hard, so we tend to pull on the most readily available information to help us with the task. Rather than take the time and energy to try and process, evaluate, and understand information, the framing effect gives us a mental shortcut.
It also appeals to our emotions, another huge factor in making choices.
Let’s look at the framing effect in action.
You go to the store to buy hand sanitizer, as one often does during a pandemic. You find two completely identical options. However, one claims to kill 98% of bacteria, while the other claims to only let 2% of bacteria survive. What is the single most important benefit of hand sanitizer? The fact that it kills bacteria. Therefore, you’re going to pick the first one because it highlights the one thing that hand sanitizer should do. You don’t want to be reminded that 2% of bacteria are left to roam around.
It’s nacho night, and you’ve been tasked with the grocery shopping. When you get to the meat section, you choose the package that defines the contents as 75% lean meat. Would you feel as good about buying this meat if it was identified as 25% fat meat? Nope, that sounds a bit gross. Is there a possibility you wouldn’t even buy it and just get more cheese for your nachos instead? Absolutely.
There’s a new show on Netflix that everyone has been talking about, and you want to watch it, but you don’t want to pay $8.99 just to be in on the latest binge-watching trend. One more look at their website couldn’t hurt though, maybe they’re having a promotion. To your surprise, a new number catches your eye: “Just 30 Cents Per Day!”. They must be running some once-in-a-lifetime special! Everything suddenly seems more than worth it, and you start to get excited about all the other shows and movies you’ll have access to as well.
It’s almost tax season, and you’re starting to realize you need some help. You begin researching free finance tracking software and find one that’s recommended by 7 out of 10 professional accountants. If the same software exclaimed that only 3 out of 10 accountants would oppose it, you would keep looking for something with a more positive spin.
Home Depot is having a sale on vacuum cleaners. Which promotion do you think would sell more? A $75 discount on a $500 vacuum cleaner or a 15% discount on the same $500 vacuum cleaner? People are more likely to be attracted to a $75 discount because it sounds like a better deal than a 15% discount—even if it’s the same amount (15% of $500 is $75). Most people don’t like to do math problems anyway—and the brain easily recognizes a large number.
How can small businesses use the framing effect to their advantage?
Delve into your target audience and gather as much information as you can about who they are, what they do, and what they seek. You could theoretically be framing something in a successful way, but if the characteristics presented don’t appeal to your audience, you’re at a loss. There’s a better chance of them buying your product if you frame it with positive attributes, but you need to know which attributes to present to make them care.
As we tend to avoid loss, we actively seek out positivity.
There are countless ways to persuasively guide your customers to make a purchase, just be careful not to cross over into misleading them. Focus on positive influence and pure intentions, and you’ll end up making their lives easier.
So, the next time you’re offering a new product or selling something at a discount, remember that framing is important. Communicate the positives and remember that sometimes, giving a dollar discount is better than a % discount. It’s all about how you frame it.
How about you? How do you make choice-making easy for your customers? Got a question? Don’t forget to COMMENT below and SHARE your thoughts.