May 28, 2021
Big Bad Bias: Combating Bias in Ag Organizations & Marketing
One of the most powerful tools we have at our disposal as human beings in the business of marketing is our ability to experience, evaluate, and make good use of our emotions. It may also be our biggest downfall, especially when it comes to bias in the choices we make, the strategies we create, and the way we analyze data to draw insights.
The implications of unconcious bias can be found in most board rooms, Zoom meetings, or strategy decks, every day. They’re hiding in customer personas that are more stereotype than insight, in which channels are chosen over others, and even in the ways that marketing budgets are optimized.
It’s easy to think that if a marketing strategy is successful or if business goals are being met, that you and your team (both internal and external) don’t need to worry about whether bias is affecting your decision making. However, it’s also important that we as agrimarketing professionals take a stand to prevent the more insidious forms of bias that have long permeated the industry: gender bias, racial bias, economic bias, and more.
Types of Bias in Business Decision Making
It’s said that we are 99% unconscious – that is, the majority of the decisions we make are made unconsciously. We use personal experiences, preferences, and emotions to decide what our next steps should be. We assume that because we are consumers, that all consumers think the way we do, and we overvalue our own opinions. We may personally never sign up for email marketing, but research says that it’s a high performing tactic for B2B marketing.
Even before we make decisions about strategies and tactics, we’re making decisions about who is part of the team. Hiring practices can heavily influence bias.
Whether bias is having an impact on your bottom line or not, there are ways you can work to minimize its effects in your organization. But first, we must understand the various kinds of bias.
Affinity bias is our tendency to connect with, and have a positive response to, people who are similar to us. Even before we make decisions about strategies and tactics, we’re making decisions about who is part of the team. Hiring practices are often biased, especially when it comes to the concept of “culture fit”. In a world where we wish to minimize the effects of bias, we can’t continue to build teams based on who we want to hang out with after work.
Even in diverse teams, affinity bias can affect whose voice is considered most influential during brainstorming or evaluations. I’m sure we can all relate to being more drawn to the ideas of those we gel with at work, even when data or research may indicate it’s unlikely to be the best choice.
Another bias that can be found in diverse and non-diverse teams alike is groupthink. Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon in which the desire for harmony and conformity in a group leads to members of the group accepting shared ideas which may be irrational or even damaging. All team members need to feel that it’s safe and acceptable to challenge the status quo during the decision making process, rather than encouraged to go with the flow for the sake of the team.
Imagine that five years ago, you ran a print campaign that was a roaring success. Since then, you’ve always advocated for campaigns to include print, even after the data began to indicate that it wasn’t a good choice for the goals of your current campaigns. This is the halo effect – the tendency to feel positively about something that performed well in the past, even if the facts tell you it’s no longer high performing.
Perception bias is the tendency to stereotype or make assumptions about large groups of people. Stereotypes are, as a whole, incredibly damaging to the groups they generalize. The stereotype of the dutiful farm wife impacted agricultural census data for decades and continues to shape the ways in which women in farming identify themselves. Understanding how stereotypes influence our decisions may be one of the greatest forms of bias that the agriculture industry needs to overcome.
Most of us love to be right, which can be a problem when it comes to decision making. Confirmation bias can lead us to ignore evidence to the contrary of our beliefs, embracing only that which confirms our ideas.
Minimizing Bias in Agriculture Marketing
- Critically examine the data. Evaluate all decisions against available data. Look for data that disproves your assumptions as well as data that supports. In addition, be aware of possible biases that exist within the data collection itself. Sometimes, facts need to be questioned.
- Include a Devil’s Advocate. The Devil’s Advocate doesn’t need to be one person, but instead a frame of mind. All members of your team should be comfortable with challenging ideas that are largely embraced, especially when they see a different perspective or group that may be missing from decision making.
- Encourage all voices. This is especially important for those in positions of leadership. Allow others to be the first to share ideas or opinions, and then invite the ideas or opinions of those who may not be afforded the opportunity to speak. In groups where men outnumber women and even in those where the gender split is fairly equal, this is vital. Recent studies have shown that in groups of five, even when women have a majority of three, they speak 36 per cent less than their male counterparts.
- Bring in an outside challenger. Inviting an impartial party to evaluate the ideas and decisions of a group may be challenging in a work environment. However, having someone who is not as close to a project look over the decisions and offer challenges can help identify areas where bias may be lurking.
Make It Part of The Process
In all cases of bias, the work will be ongoing. Minimizing the effect of bias in your organization is not a task with an endpoint – you will always be working against it. Standardizing a process for examining decisions for possible bias can help you integrate it into your business practices. Ideally, everyone on your team should be a bias battling machine, seeking to challenge and evaluate decisions at every turn.