How to Use Cognitive Dissonance in Email Marketing

Cognitive dissonance is the theory that humans are uncomfortable holding two different thoughts or ideas that conflict with one another at the same time. 

In Aesop’s fables, the fox thought the grapes looked tasty, but he could not reach them, despite jumping for them repeatedly.  In order to rectify his conflicting ideas:  “The grapes look tasty” with “I can’t have them”, he created a different idea…”Those grapes are sour, and if I had some, I would not eat them.”  This allowed the fox to resolve the dissonance between his desire to have the grapes and his ability to have them.

In email marketing,  it is important to understand how people resolve cognitive dissonance, as well as the overall consumer thinking and buying process, which goes something like this:

  • Needs assessment.  What problem or need did your prospect become aware of?
  • Input.  What information are you providing in your email or on your website to respond to that need?  What other sources of information might they be receiving?
  • Consideration of Alternatives.  What alternatives have you presented, including information about competitors’ products.
  • Purchase.  Once all the alternatives have been considered, the identified need is filled — whether it be hunger or the purchase of a new car. 
  • Evaluation.  The customer goes through a post-purchase evaluation.  Even something as simple as buying the hamburger at Wendy’s may create a cognitive dissonance.  “I should have had the chicken or the fish sandwich” if the person is concerned about eating red meat.

Cognitive dissonance can be used effectively, and ethically, in email marketing, once a person has become aware of a problem or need

For example, early in the buying process, you can help your prospects develop a strong belief in why your product is the best product on the market to fill their need.  Then, to resolve their dissonance between whether they should spend the money on this product, you can ethically offer the product at a discount if they purchase it within a short period of time.  This resolves their need to have the product, with their need to be cost-effective.

Include information about competitors’ products, along with bullet points on additional comparative benefits they may receive from your product.  This will help them resolve any conflicting opinions they may hold about the worth of the competitors’ products over yours (if it’s not overdone), and relieve the cognitive dissonance thus associated with selection of the best product.

Once they have purchased your product, you will need to continue to address any potential “buyer’s remorse” by addressing their concerns that purchasing an alternative product or service might have been better.   Send follow-up emails that thank, congratulate the purchaser, and reassure them that your product is exactly what you promised, and that it will completely fill their needs and expectations…or you will give them their money back.  

We are all in a state of cognitive dissonance at some time…or…for many of us… most of the time.   For example, I like…no… make that I really like chocolate cake…and I don’t want to gain weight. There’s my cognitive dissonance.

 So, I believe, like the fox,  I shall create a different belief to cling to…”Chocolate cake is mostly white flour and sugar…unappetizing and bad for my health.  If I had a piece of chocolate cake right now, I wouldn’t eat it.”

Well…as long as I can’t “reach up” and grab that piece of chocolate cake…I’m…probably…OK.   You’ll notice, of course, that I didn’t mention the chocolate itself…there is no way I will ever let go of my belief that chocolate is good for me, it has antioxidants, and…in moderation…will not cause me to gain weight.  Those beliefs are consonant…they go together.  Right?

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