Sailing Past Biases
Anchors are important. They keep ships from drifting when the winds change or being swept away by unrelenting currents. Turns out, anchors are just as instrumental to brand. Brand anchors allow your audiences to recognize you time and time again and serve as a calling card. Or maybe anchoring cards?
Yeah, nevermind, that just doesn't roll off the tongue as well.
Regardless, let's keep on with this nautical theme, eh skipper? Brand anchors are critical to your customers' experiences with your brand. Think back to the last time you had an outstanding first impression of a brand that turned out to be something different than what you first experienced. Not bad, not good, just different. Was it easy to shake that first impression? Did it make a subsequent negative experience feel much more pronounced? Were there any actions taken by the brand to "right" the course? Was it better or worse?
In psychology, an anchor is part of a cognitive bias called “Anchoring Bias.” An “anchor,” in this sense, is an over-reliance on the first impression or bit of information to inform the rest of your experiences with a certain stimulus, for our intents and purposes, a brand. This over-reliance impacts the person’s ability to accurately assess a decision in front of them. This can be used intentionally like a salesperson overinflating a price initially to make their customer more comfortable with a “lowered” price, or unintentionally, like fumbling a first impression with a new prospect.
Anchors can either stabilize or sink your reputation. They inform your customers' perceptions and associations with your brand and strengthen or weaken their trust in you to meet their expectations. That can become a well-known symbol of trust between you and your customer or can cause their perceptions of you to flounder (as we’ve seen in a recent beer maker’s case). For this reason, it is vital that you are intentional about the anchors you set and test in order to discover what anchors you may be setting unintentionally.
In times of turbulence, the desire to do something– anything– can be overpowering. Is your first instinct in a storm to pull anchor and attempt to skirt the storm? Or was it to stay firmly anchored and weather the storm until a better opportunity for maneuvering presented itself? Most people want to skirt the storm entirely, preferring strong action rather than perceived passivity. This preference or bias toward quick action, called 'action bias,' can be fraught with problems and risks. What if you never get around the storm? What if the storm changes direction? Pivoting from your brand’s core values due to a temporary change in sales or other headwinds can cause your brand to lose steam altogether by watering down your value proposition and diluting your core message.
When navigating through a storm, you want your anchor to help provide a steadying tug from being overturned or swept away – you want it to help your ship slow down and make calculated moves. If you try to pull anchor and run to “safety” too quickly, it's possible that your anchor remains stuck in the mud while you take off without it– and your audience.
You always want to retain your brand's core values and attributes like tone of voice, personality, and reason for being, but something might need to evolve in the delivery, look and feel, or experience to make it out on the other side. In hoisting the sails and taking action too quickly, you become nimble and quick, but you can also lose the rope that ties you to your customers or brand equity. In the same way, throwing down more anchors could needlessly weigh you down, causing your ship to capsize and sink and your customers to become confused. Your brand goes the way of a lost treasure ship, fondly remembered in the past tense.
To have both an anchor and be adaptable is an art form and a balancing act. Imagine what it was like to make the decision at Netflix to move away from DVDs and change what the brand experience was built upon. X is making a similar dramatic change -- and dumped all their anchors to go somewhere else. This can be tied to the other end of the cognitive bias spectrum- “The Novelty Bias.” This is an over-reliance on new, novel, and different ideas to the detriment of everything else- your ship’s sails are at full mast, full speed at all times, and something is bound to tear without rest. The pace becomes untenable for both you and your audience.
The best plan is to have a flexible system of anchors and sails- anchors to keep you grounded in the storm and sails, like the novelty bias, to help maximize trade winds and maneuver through rough waters. FDR’s quote, “A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor,” is apt here, reminding us and the brands we serve that rougher waters are inevitable and can be more valuable than calm waters. Surround your brand with people who aren’t jumping at every splash of a wave, and instead, bring in thinkers, designers and strategists to help captain your brand to safety.