Imagine you own a used cars dealership. You have a square filled with cars with prospective clients wandering around them. You probably are interested in how they are picking the car they want to take a closer look at, aren’t you?

Some things are obvious — the cars on your site must be clean, and “pimped” to some extent. Other things are obvious only to those who have watched buyers at such a dealership. Do you know how your customers convince themselves that this particular car is worth taking into consideration? They kick the tire. If something squeaks or rings within the car, it means they should skip it.

Common sense might be telling you that this is a stupid behavior. Kicking the tire has nothing to do with checking the actual quality of the car. But is it really the actual checking we’re most interested in? Or let me put it this way: perhaps the less reliable (and effortless) quality check is equally rewarding for the consumer? It turns out to be exactly the case. In his great book “Thinking. Fast And Slow” Daniel Kahneman describes so-called substitution mechanism, which slightly distorts our perception of reality. When faced with a difficult question (e.g. “Should I buy Ford’s shares?”) to which our brain cannot find an easy answer, it substitutes an easier question (e.g. “Do I like Ford’s cars?”) and suggests that the answer to the later question is also the answer to the former one.

This cognitive bias (or intuitive heuristic, as Kahneman calls it) has always been with us. When our friend John asks us to lend him some money, we don’t analyze his financial situation. We might think we do, but in fact we are asking ourselves whether we like John or whether we know him well enough. It is more probable that you will lend money to a friend than to a complete stranger, right? And how does it compare to their ability to pay the loan? Nohow.

Brands have been using this mechanism for a long time. Take a hair salon. Do you know how people — in a completely rational manner — assess its quality? One of the most important criteria is the tidiness of the salon itself, sterility of the tools. But how do I know whether a comb or scissors are sterile? I would have to do some research. So a hairdresser makes it easy for me by… putting on a show. When I take my seat, my hairdresser pulls out a new comb of a cellophane bag. He could of course do it in the back and bring it to me unpacked, but then I would have to think, whether it’s sterile or not. The same applies to spraying the scissors with disinfectant — also in front of my eyes. Oh yeah, and how do I know this disinfectant is really effective? The smell should leave no doubt — the sharper, the better.

Car mechanic in grease-smeared bib pants is better than the one in pristine white coat, right? It’s the other way around with a doctor. Ask yourself: do the clothes they wear have anything to do with their competences?

Now think: what kind of show can you put on for your customers so they think better of you?