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Post Purchase Cognitive Dissonance – avoiding disappointment requires honesty

May 10, 2010
Image of a Francis Barnett brochure from 1938

Honesty in marketing. A classic Francis-Barnett brochure from 1938 promises quality and reliability and didn't disappoint (author's collection).

Post Purchase Cognitive Dissonance is the phrase we give to the state of unease which exists in the customer’s mind after buying a product or service. You buy a car and then you think you paid too much for it? The jacket which looked great in the trendy boutique doesn’t look quite right for the romantic night out with the wife? The politicians you voted for aren’t delivering quite what you hoped for?

Whether you work in sales or marketing – or simply starting out on a romantic relationship – honesty from beginning to end creates loyalty. No one wants to buy a car and then find out that had they bought online they could have saved £3000. No one wants to chat up up the beautiful blonde or the tall dark and handsome guy only to find out later they have a string of children by several relationships and owe thousands in credit card debts. So it is that consistent truth delivers credibility and long-lasting – and profitable – loyalty.

The days of over-blown hype are over. Legislation restricts what you can say in any case but nonetheless, sales and marketing people can – through weasel words – get customers to think things even though they have not been told to think them. At the recent General Election in the UK, no-one mentioned VAT rises yet these are most certain to come. One of the parties said “no cuts this year” (but it is not spelt out which year they referred to). Truth is more important than sustaining a fiction. In politics and in business.

So to avoid post purchase cognitive dissonance (or PPCD), marketers need to concentrate on truths. What does the product do? How does it do it? Can you prove it does it? What do existing customers think? How will new customers be instantly rewarded by their purchase from you? What after-sales care do you provide? Is there an after-sales cost (if so, spell it out)? Do you have sufficient marketing to bolster your product in the customer’s mind after they have purchased (i.e. so they don’t feel a fool for buying a lemon)? What communications have you prepared to send to new customers so they feel happy in their own mind they bought the right thing? Crucially, will their peers and friends think they have made the right decision (or at least not a poor decision)?

Make people feel good about you before they buy, during purchase, and after purchase and they will reward you with loyalty. But let any of these crucial elements fail and customers will come to question themselves first but then you second. And if they have been made to feel a fool, they will blame you. Rewarding you with negative feedback, complaints to friends and significant long term damage to your business.

Whether its politicians, products or people, truth, honesty and credibility are crucial to love and loyalty. As Keats said in his Ode to a Grecian Urn, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty. That is all ye know on earth and all ye need to know”.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 11, 2013 11:39 am

    Excellent article – I’ve recommended it to my team. We sell specialist meat products at high prices. We sell based on quality and service. We need to be careful that we’ve comprehensively communicated to the customer at all stages of the transaction realistic expectations of our products and service both the positives and negatives- and to think through pricing accordingly. One area your article doesn’t really address is that pricing is crucial – if a customer feels over-charged they will not buy again and will ‘blame’ you for their change of views about you…

    • July 1, 2013 11:53 am

      Giles, you are totally correct in linking price to perception. Pricing psychology applies in a host of different ways (for example, volume purchase = a lower price; luxury products demand higher price; unique features support a particular price point). A customer will only ever feel over-charged if it is the case that perception is weakened to such an extent that your product or service becomes “commoditised” to some or all degree. Consequently, it is critical for all marketing to be honest, able to be subjected to rigorous consumer testing, and sustainable: what you do is what you say. If you achieve this, pricing should become irrelevant – by which I mean that the customer does not challenge the price you have charged. Marketing (branding) campaigns should never be about the short term but about what is consistently – and evidentially – so.

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