Heuristics: Types, Theories & Impact on Marketing

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  • 0:04 Heuristics
  • 2:12 Heuristic Models
  • 5:49 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Beth Hendricks

Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.

Heuristics subconsciously help us make decisions about brands and influence our buying behaviors. In this lesson, you'll learn more about types of heuristics and how they impact the way a business markets a product or service.


Quick, think back to the last purchase you made. What compelled you to buy it? Was it a need or a want? How long did you stand in the store considering one brand over another? Did you think back to a positive memory or a product or a funny commercial you saw?

You were a victim of heuristics. Wait, before you become alarmed, that's not a bad thing. It's simply a result of how our brains work, and it's a tool that savvy marketers can use to influence purchasing decisions.

A heuristic is how we approach solving a problem or making a decision quickly and efficiently. It's sort of like taking a shortcut on a long journey. You're trying to arrive at your location in a simple and effective way. Heuristics help us fast-forward on decisions ranging from what to wear in the morning to which brand of toothpaste to buy. Heuristics allow us to shorten the time it takes us to make a decision and keeps us rolling along, without remaining in a constant state of dwelling on a decision or struggling to determine our next action.

Subconsciously, we use heuristics all the time. Think of all the information in the world, yet our brains are only able to handle a certain amount of that information at one time. If you were purchasing a car, you couldn't possibly inspect or research every single make and model before making a purchasing decision. That's where heuristics swoop in and save the day. That mental shortcut allows you to think quickly through options and arrive at a solution.

As human beings, we often make decisions based on heuristic models rather than strict logic. Heuristics allow for past experiences, educated guesses, intuition, and common sense. They also take into account psychological, social, and emotional factors. We are, after all, human. Often, a decision based on strict logic would require an exhaustive process of research and learning and processing and researching again. With heuristics, we're able to arrive quickly at a decision that is good enough, without being bogged down.

Heuristic Models

Heuristics come in many forms, including several of popular theories.

1. Availability

This occurs when individuals make decisions based on easy-to-remember or easily accessible information, such as something that happened recently.

Marketers make use of the availability heuristic every day, with repeated advertisements on television and social media. If you're bombarded with a brand, you're more likely to remember it at the time of a purchase.

2. Representativeness

Representativeness helps us formulate a decision based on comparing a current situation to a representative example. If we watch television and see a suave gentleman drinking a certain type of beverage at a bar, surrounded by plush surroundings and beautiful women, we relate that brand of beverage with a high-class lifestyle.

Marketers use representativeness to convince us that objects or products are representative of an idea or concept we might have. For example, the suave man drinking a certain beverage with all the ladies leads us to believe that by drinking that beverage we are more likely to be suave and interesting. That is certainly not always the case.

3. Attribute substitution

Attribute substitution happens when you're searching for an answer to a difficult question and, instead, substitute it for a question that's easier to answer. For example, instead of asking, 'Which brand of computer is best for me,' which would require a detailed understanding of the various components, you might ask, 'Which brand do I like best?'

Marketers often rely on communicating to our emotions or leading with the benefits of a product or service when explaining everything in detail would be too complicated, such as the detailed components of a laptop. Instead, they may talk to us about how fast a computer is or how a certain laptop would be a great choice for a child going off to college.

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