The Complexity Bias: The Biggest Obstacle for CMOs?

I love marketing. I truly do. I love it for many, many reasons. I love the idea of strategizing ideas to then send off into the world and see what comes back, better known as the ROI.  

However, there is one pet peeve – ok there are many I have when it comes to marketing – but for today I am going to focus on one: We marketers have an incessant need to overcomplicate so many things.  

Yes, I know it is human nature to do this. There is a name for it: Complexity Bias, which is defined as “our tendency to prefer the complicated over the simple, whether we understand something or not.” 

Two (of many) Examples 

I want to share just two of many, I assure you, examples of why I believe complexity bias may be the single biggest obstacles for CMOs.  

First up, we have behavioral data. Like everything else under the sun there are no shortage of definitions.  

  • “Data generated by, or in response to, a customer’s engagement with a business.” 
  • “Describes interactions with customers, partners, applications and systems in granular detail.” 
  • “Provides information about a customer’s interaction with your business, collected and observed through customer engagement with a brand.” 

Lord knows there are more. Just Google “behavioral data definition” and choose your favorite among the over 900 million hits that come back.  

The other day I was reading an article on how brands such as Ford are using behavioral data to build brand affinity. The basic premise of the article is how brands are increasingly finding this kind of data vital to develop brand affinity in new, personalized ways.  

On the surface, this sounds quite exciting. I mean anytime you hear of a way to develop brand affinity in new, personalized ways, you should get excited! The author told of how Ford has “moved toward becoming more consumer-first and performance-driven, leaning into consumer insights around behaviors to craft messaging that resonates on an individual level, as well as drive specific parts of the business.” 

‘Ok, Steve, this all sounds great, what’s the problem? What does this have to do with complexity bias?’ 

The problem is, why did we have to create a term, behavioral data, to explain something we should already be doing in the first place?!  

Look, I’m not knocking the writer of the article or anyone who espouses the benefits of behavioral data. But, c’mon already. Why complicate things by naming this kind of data in the first place?  

Did we need a fancy name to tell us to lean into consumer insights around behavior to craft messaging that resonates on an individual level? Unless you’ve been living under that proverbial rock, the answer is a resounding no. Get yourself a good Customer Data Platform then go crazy.  

Yeah. It really is that easy.  

Don’t Guess. Test. 

Ok, my second example of the complexity bias being the biggest obstacle for CMOs is very self-serving. I say that because I work for a company that does the precise thing not enough CMOs and marketers do: Test.  

The savviest marketers test early, and they test often. Brands want to create new ads and ideas with confidence, but the only sure way to know is by asking consumers themselves. That’s where testing comes in.  

Testing helps to uncover whether your ad or idea is worth its salt. Most new innovations fail, and many ads don’t support long-term brand building. Both ads and innovation require brands to invest a lot of time and money, and testing can help determine which are worth pursuing.  

We do this by getting to the heart of how people FEEL about an ad or idea. As Daniel Kahneman puts it, “The answer to a simple question – how do I feel about it? – is an excellent proxy for the answer to a far more complex question – what do I think about it?” Emotion guides and simplifies our decisions.  

That’s why our testing is rooted in emotions. 

Speaking of salt, stay with me, when was the last time you went into a restaurant and ordered an expensive dish, having never tried it before? Or purchased a new sofa without sitting on it before? Or a pricey gadget without first holding it in your hands and seeing how its features work? Would you EVER do that? 

My assumption is no and for the simple – note this word is VERY apropos, keep things simple – reason that you would not risk spending a lot of money on something you may or may not like. 

So why then do so many CMOs, marketers, advertisers continue to roll out new ads, ideas, etc., without one ounce of testing?  

Hey, maybe you are one of those people who go to a restaurant, order something you’ve never had before and roll the proverbial dice. Good for you.  

But if you don’t have bottomless pockets, like most of us, you will want to “try it before you buy it.” The same principle applies to testing. Testing allows brands to try out their campaigns and innovations on consumers before launching them to predict their commercial impact and provide an opportunity to improve them. 

To complete my shameless self-promotion, click below to learn how System1 helps the biggest brands in the world avoid wasting money on an entrée consumers won’t ever eat again.