The Dark Side of “Filtering”

January 14, 2010by Ann Dencker

The dark side of “filtering”

Humans are pre-programmed to filter. It’s a coping mechanism. If we get bombarded with too much information, we end up remembering very little. If we have too many choices of TV channels, we watch our favorites. If we’re fortunate enough to have a “Favorites” button on our remote, we might even use that to save us from the barrage of channels to surf.  (Okay, I know some of you are saying you love to channel-surf, but I’d still bet you have to be in the mood for it—in the mood for not filtering.)

As more and more communications try to reach us the consumers, we become more adept at blocking out what’s not relevant. It becomes harder for marketing messages to breakthrough–and in turn, harder to change someone’s mind or get them to think differently about a brand.

Take politics for example:  Politically, many of us are divided, and the filtering we do reinforces these divisions and helps us firm up our own beliefs. Odds are strong that we’ll find websites, news channels and print media that help reinforce our political ideals.

We do it because validation feels good. Having other people help us prove the rightness of our views gives us a sense of belonging and helps us feel a little smarter. What makes this a problem is that the more we listen to sources that show us our viewpoint is right, the harder it becomes to listen fairly and objectively to other sources. And the harder it becomes to change our minds.

It doesn’t matter if we’re talking politics, coffee or cleaning products–the filtering mechanism maintains its power.  There are groups and websites that will make us feel at home and feel justified in our beliefs—some of them may even be further cementing negative views of your brand.

If there is a lesson here, it is to stay vigilant and take action when negative perceptions are just starting to form. Acting before they can become cemented into a consumer’s belief set is critical.
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