Cognitive Dissonance

Despite social proof casting doubt on their veracity, it seems that social scoring platforms continue to be popular in social media marketing.

We shouldn’t be surprised; these tools offer a quick, if not effective, means of identifying those who might help brand messages cut through the growing online noise.  Despite this, I’m still rather optimistic on the future of influence marketing. 

I’ve been pleased with the changes I’ve noted while presenting our book and its methodology to clients and general audiences at conferences this past year.

While slow, there’s definitely recognition that audience segmentation and customer decision-making processes are largely ignored by marketers and platforms seeking to use influence marketing as a key business development strategy.

The Next Level of Influence – Cognitive Dissonance

A premise that seems to resonate well with audiences exploring true influence marketing is the concept of cognitive dissonance, which social scientists explain as a feeling of discomfort that results from holding two conflicting beliefs.

In terms of influence marketing we can think of it this way: What transpires in the minds of potential consumers when a product recommendation offered by socially popular personalities or media outlets, conflicts with preconceived notations or previous experiences with that product?

Similarly, what occurs in the purchase decision process when online social recommendations conflict with the consumer’s social, political, or religious views?

Chesterfield Cigarette

A popular example is cigarette marketing during the 1960s, which positioned smoking as healthy when early medical evidence demonstrated a link between smoking and cancer.

This is a good example of cognitive dissonance: Through various media channels, celebrities were used to advocate the smoking of cigarettes, yet consumers were – often subconsciously – aware that cigarettes were bad for their health.  A conflict existed.

 Marlboro Baby

Similarly, we can look to those advocating boycotts of brands like Chic-fil-A for speaking out against gay rights. The desire to eat at the popular fast food establishment may conflict with moral, social, and political views in many.

Which conflicting side wins when consumers make a decision, and how do marketers use influence marketing to sway those decisions?

Creating Cognitive Dissonance

It’s important to note that often the dissonance that exists in consumers’ minds is created by conflicting social commentary or opposing recommendations. A prime example is the battle occurring between Android and iOS mobile operating systems.

Consumers are faced with conflicting messages from influencers, media, and advertising that promote one over the other. Consumers, whose personal preferences and experiences match those shared by a large online community, find their decision-making process conflicted when faced with overwhelming social advocacy for the alternative.

When marketers understand the logistics of cognitive dissonance, it can be used as an effective marketing strategy.

For example, Android-based mobile phone manufacturers can use monitoring software and natural language processing to discover online conversations that would indicate which groups of consumers are experiencing cognitive dissonance that would negatively affect purchase decisions to their favor.

From this base, marketers can realign both content marketing and influencer identification efforts to support those whose decision to buy an Android-based device is conflicted or to insert conflict into the decision-making process of those whose instinct is to purchase an iOS-based device.

Understanding the effects of cognitive dissonance on consumer behavior is a new frontier for influence marketing and can be used offensively as well as defensively.

Managing Existing Customers

Of course, this dissonance occurs post-purchase as well, and so it’s critical to apply this thinking to existing customers. Just as prospects experience cognitive dissonance when making a purchase decision, social science and psychology has proven the concept of “buyer’s remorse” in customers.

Most consumers experience some cognitive dissonance, even if just momentarily, after purchasing a product.

  • “Did I make the right decision?”
  • “Did I shop around enough?”
  • “Was there a better price available elsewhere?”

The existence of this conflict can be damaging towards a brand’s efforts to build repeat business and brand advocates. We discuss this in Influence Marketing:

Influence marketing is often relegated to customer acquisition efforts, yet the need to create advocates and social proof around a brand necessitates better engagement with existing customers. Identifying cognitive dissonance in existing customers allows marketers to pinpoint the micro-influencers that may help alleviate the tension and sway their belief towards a feeling of satisfaction with the purchase and possibly even advocacy. Left alone, consumers with these feelings may return the product, or worse, turn to social channels to complain about it. The returns and online negativity can be curbed when true influence marketing techniques are applied to this consumer segment.

Be it defensive or offensive sales strategy, or customer satisfaction efforts, the use of influence marketing to offset cognitive dissonance in prospects and customers is a science that marketers must quickly become adept at.