How MSPs Can Use The ‘Baader Meinhof’ Illusion

The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon refers to the experience of encountering a concept or an object for the first time and then noticing it frequently afterwards.

It is a cognitive bias where after being exposed to something new or unfamiliar, that information suddenly seems to appear with a higher frequency in one’s surroundings.

The origin of the name actually stems from a militant West German terrorist group that operated during the 1970s.

The reason it’s been associated as a cognitive effect was because in 1994, a commenter coined the term “the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon” after coincidentally encountering two separate references to the  Baader-Meinhof group within a span of 24 hours, after they’d recently mentioned the terrorist group for the first time.

Other people also noticed the effect and so the name stuck. For completeness, the effect is also known as the ‘Frequency Illusion’ or ‘Recency Illusion’ as coined back in 2005 by Stanford Linguistics professor Arnold Zwicky.

The usual example that’s trotted out is if you or your partner get a new type of car. Let’s say for example that it’s a blue Audi. Once you’ve got yours, you’ll start seeing Blue Audis everywhere – even though they were there all the time. The part of the brain responsible for this is called the RAS – or Reticular Activation System – the reason it works is because your brain filters out everything that isn’t new or interesting or different, otherwise you’d become overwhelmed with everything and you couldn’t function.

So good, we’ve basically covered an effect which explains that you’re prone to noticing things a lot more when you’ve previously been exposed them if they’re new or unfamiliar.
What makes it so powerful and of special interest to MSP owners about this form of selective attention is that it always interacts with another effect called ‘Confirmation Bias’ and this is where things get interesting.

Confirmation bias refers to the tendency of individuals to seek, interpret, and remember information in a way that confirms their pre-existing beliefs or hypotheses, while disregarding or downplaying contradictory evidence. It is a cognitive bias that influences how people gather and process information, often leading to the reinforcement of existing beliefs or opinions.

For example, If you’re a left-wing person politically, you’ll tend to only see or hear evidence that confirms your left-wing beliefs. The same is true of course for someone with right-wing beliefs.

Confirmation bias is linked to the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon in the following way: Once someone becomes aware of a particular concept or object due to the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon, confirmation bias can come into play. People tend to actively seek out and selectively notice information that aligns with their newfound awareness, reinforcing their belief that the concept or object is indeed appearing more frequently.

For example, after learning about a new type of software, a person experiencing the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon might notice mentions about that software within news articles, conversations, or even see the logo of the software depicted in various websites. Confirmation bias causes them to place greater importance on these instances and overlook the fact that their increased awareness and attention may be playing a role in perceiving that software as more prevalent than it actually is.

In essence, confirmation bias and the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon can work together, with confirmation bias amplifying the perceived frequency or significance of the encountered information, further reinforcing the person’s belief in its increased presence.

The IT world is changing all the time which means that this can be used to your advantage.

Let’s say for example that there’s a new type of threat that has materialised in the business world from a specific threat-actor, let’s say a specific country. If that’s in the news and people have seen it, then if you mention it within your marketing collateral, you’ll have more a response because of these combined effects. In other words – you’ll have to spend less money to get the same effect.

Now, you can supercharge this with something like Google or Facebook Remarketing.  For instance, someone might see that topic about that particular and novel threat which you’ve written about on your website or blog and then because of Google’s Remarketing technology – Google can display your company logo and details on other websites that the users visits. You’ll doubtless have seen this yourself when you’ve been interested in buying a holiday for example but perhaps you didn’t finish your purchase. All of a sudden you’ll see very adverts for very specific holiday destinations all over the internet

You can leverage this for your MSP business and it makes you seem a lot bigger than you are because your clients are seeing you all over the place and most people will just think you have an enormous advertising budget and are advertising everywhere. Of course, remarketing means that you can get this effect with a very low budget and that’s just remarketing in general.

Where this frequency illusion really compounds is when they’ve seen the problem (in this case the specific IT threat) and then it’s given much more prominence in their mind both because of the frequency illusion and then the confirmation bias … all of which means not only is the issue magnified in their mind but also their exposure to your services.

Obviously, this effect can also be leveraged when you produce regular marketing colleteral that your prospects and clients are exposed to via your social media, emails and blogs and other channels.

Lastly and as always, you should know about this effect (or in this case this combination of effects) if nothing else because you will be exposed to it and so will your team and family and it’s always useful to know of your own biases when you see or hear things so that you can make better judgements in life as well as just business.


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Mike Knight