Definition: Heuristic

Marketers and advertisers often use heuristics to understand shopper behaviour and to influence the purchase decision of their target market.

This is because people instinctively make decisions based on heuristic techniques rather than strict logic. As a result, heuristics can help marketers strategically and effectively guide their target consumers through the steps of purchasing decisions.

Understanding heuristics is essential for marketers to understand shopper behaviour, both online and offline.


Heuristic Definition

A heuristic is a problem-solving technique that helps people make decisions quickly and efficiently through mental shortcuts.

For example, instead of thinking about which product is actually best a consumer might just think about which brand they like most. This mental substitution is a type of heuristic (see below).


What are the 4 types of heuristics?

1. Availability Heuristic

The availability heuristic is used when a person makes a decision based on the first information or example that comes to their mind. When an example comes to mind easily that information is believed to be important.

In marketing, the availability heuristic is used when an example of a product is given to a consumer to be familiarized with so they can recall it easily.

For instance, if you buying groceries when you are hungry and are given a free snack bar sample, you will probably find that it tastes exceptionally delicious! As a result the next time when you shop for snack bars, you will be able to recall the brand easily and might use that as your purchase decision.

(This is why more samples are given out just before lunch and dinner time.)


2. Representativeness Heuristic

This type of heuristic is used when a person compares information to an existing example in their mind. In marketing, the representativeness heuristic is often used to convince customers about an idea or a concept.

For instance, in a product launch campaign, the marketer highlights features of the new product that are similar to those of another popular product that the target customers like or have previously bought.


3. Anchoring and Adjustment Heuristic

This type of heuristic is used when a person relies on the first piece of information to make a decision. In marketing, brands use the anchoring and adjustment heuristic to strategically set a product’s price point.

For example, a real estate agent lists a house at a higher price than its fair value, and the potential buyer will use that price as an anchor to negotiate down until they reach the desired price.


4. Attribute Substitution Heuristic

Attribute substitution heuristic happens when a person has to make a complex judgment and instead, substitutes an easier attribute to make the decision faster and easier.

For example, when thinking about which laptop to buy, some customers avoid the technical questions (screen size, resolutions, battery life, key specs, etc) and instead they ask themselves, “Which brand do I like most?” and then make purchase decisions based on that question.



Heuristic Definition

Glossary Index

About Tiffany Liem

Tiffany Liem is a digital marketing specialist who creates effective digital marketing strategies that help businesses find new customers. She graduated from Southern Methodist University with an MS in Management and BBA in Marketing.