The Power of Dissonance

Cognitive Dissonance

Are you a fitness freak? 

What even qualifies us to be called fitness freaks? Going to the gym regularly, eating healthy, cutting?  I am only asking because I have been working out six days a week, every week without fail, for the past two years. So can I call myself a freak yet? I should probably add that I work out to make up for all the junk I keep eating. So am I still a member of the freak club?

All jokes aside, before I started to work out regularly, I used to eat away all the junk possible happily. However, these days when I reach out for those cup noodles or that pizza slice, I feel guilty. Guilty because a part of me feels terrible for all the time and effort my trainer and I put in every day. However, there is still a part of me that just wants to slurp all the noodles down. If this happens with you as well, then you are not alone, my friend. 

We all go through something called Cognitive Dissonance in life. Cognitive dissonance is when we avoid having conflicting beliefs and attitudes because it makes us feel uncomfortable. The clash is usually dealt with by rejecting, debunking, or avoiding new information. For example, I deal with my cognitive dissonance by buying wholewheat noodles or thin crust pizzaz to make myself feel better about the calorie count. 

Cognitive dissonance is a fundamental principle of psychology; however, today, we will talk about cognitive dissonance as a powerful driver of consumer behaviour. This is because cognitive dissonance reveals people’s deeply held beliefs — what they value, what they desire and fear, how they want to be perceived. A strong brand should be able to identify these subconscious drivers and narrow the gap between what people believe and what they do. This ability will help them acquire new customers pretty easily. 

Let’s break it down. To be able to understand these drivers, you need to understand what cognitive dissonance means for brands. Cognitive dissonance has been identified to be relevant to brands in two different ways - 

  1. In terms of the expectations consumers have for the brand.

  2. In terms of the value and beliefs of the individual consumer because it directly impacts how they use your product/services. 

Cognitive Dissonance in terms of what consumers expect from the brand - 

The first one is fairly simple. Your consumer’s expectations will depend on things like what your brand design looks like, features your product will have, or the language your brand uses in their marketing. So, for example, if you are selling a serious product like some medicine for a heart condition, your logo can’t be childish, and you can’t really use a humour-focused marketing strategy. Doing this would create cognitive dissonance for your consumers, and they will want to avoid your product because they will want to avoid the feeling of dissonance. 

Based on the product or service you offer, people have certain expectations around what brands should look and sound like. However, there are simple yet effective steps you can take to manage these expectations. First, make sure the colours and shapes you use are consistent throughout all your marketing strategies and match your initial brand guidelines. Second, be very careful while picking a logo design and font for your brand. If you choose a logo or a font in contrast with what you sell, it will fly in the face of what people expect. This will end up creating cognitive dissonance for people who encounter it. 

Even something as small as the tone of voice can be very significant. For example, if you are a comedy club but use a very serious tone of voice, it is bound to create some dissonance. 

The bottom line is before you start to narrow down various aspects of your brand design, narrow down on what your product/service is and what your brand stands for. A good practice is to always start with the answers to three questions - Why what, and how? 

Cognitive Dissonance in the values and beliefs of the customer -

The second one is not that simple. Here we deal with the consumer’s internal cognitive dissonance, the gap between their own beliefs and actions. 

One of the most significant manifestations of cognitive dissonance in consumers is Buyer’s remorse. It is nothing but guilt or regret over purchasing a product. For example, say you need to go to the stationery store to buy a refill for your pen; however, you end up buying many other items like cute pens, sticky notes and colours. What you might feel in this situation is buyer’s remorse. There are three ways you can deal with this remorse, either you can return all the extra items you bought, or you can tell yourself that buying stationery is self-care and who doesn’t want to invest in self-care? In other words, you can justify your purchase.

This part, where the consumer is trying to justify their purchase, is where the brands can help. Brands can leverage this type of cognitive dissonance and tap into a large market by helping consumers change the way they perceive their behaviour.

Now that you understand cognitive dissonance in brands a bit better, here are a few ways you can leverage the power of the dissonance - 

  1. Observe - When in your life do you experience cognitive dissonance? Try to observe the world through this lens for a while, and you’ll begin to notice the discomfort you feel when your actions don’t align with your values. By doing this sort of introspection, you’ll more easily see cognitive dissonance in others and for your brand.

  1. Customers come first - Why do users come to your brand? What gets them to become users or customers? What holds them back? What do they value? Identify their pain points and see if you can unearth any cognitive dissonance that underlies them.

  1. What is your approach - How will you lessen consumers’ cognitive dissonance? Will it be by changing their belief, changing/adapting their behaviour, or changing their perception of their behaviour? Again, you don’t have to opt for just one pathway here; changing more than one aspect can be even more effective.

The one thing that you have to keep in mind is that consumers want to feel good about their decisions. So, just like an ideal partner, if your brand can make people feel good about themselves, they will have no other option but to remain loyal to you! 

Some quick takeaways - 

  • Cognitive dissonance is when we avoid having conflicting beliefs and attitudes because it makes us feel uncomfortable.

  • The clash is usually dealt with by rejecting, debunking, or avoiding new information.

  • Cognitive dissonance is a fundamental principle of psychology and can be a powerful driver of consumer behaviour.

  • Cognitive dissonance has been identified as relevant to brands in two different ways, first in terms of consumers’ expectations with the brand and second in terms of their values and beliefs.