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Post Purchase Cognitive Dissonance and Publishing

April 12, 2012
Man thinking

Empty thoughts? How can your product range engage the customer and avoid the consequences of post purchase cognitive dissonance?

We’ve discussed Post Purchase Cognitive Dissonance (PPCD) before on A Brand Day Out but with the ever-burgeoning growth of digital solutions, e-books and e-publishing in general, it’s worth looking at this topic again. Because profits are lost when products underperform and reputations are sullied.

PPCD is really “the morning after the night before”. The fun’s been had, now you’re taking the consequences. Marketing has delivered the promise but now reality creeps in: does it stack up? This is where branding and communications meets the cold sweat of a new dawn…

What might marketing promise?

PPCD is where the consumer now, via personal experience, measures up delivery against what he/she had concluded was the marketing message. In Jonah Lehrer’s classic book, “How we Decide“, Lehrer describes the process of choosing a breakfast cereal (more fibre? more fruit? I like the cartoons on the packaging etc). He states that “the particular ensemble of brain cells that win the argument determine what you eat for breakfast“. So what messages do publishers use to inform choice?

There are two significant scenarios in any purchasing arena. Is the customer new to the brand? Is the customer a repeat purchaser? Here are some marketing issues which publishers need to confront in determining decision-making:

Repeat purchaser buying scenario

  • Does the customer have another book/product by the same author/authors?
  • What was delivered to the customer by that product?
  • What did other people (social media, press, reviews) say about that product?
  • What price was the other product by the same author?
  • Did the same author write for another publisher?
  • What was the price from the other publisher?
  • What is the price of this product?
  • What does price mean to the buyer?
  • What quality was delivered by the other publisher?
  • What quality was delivered by your own company (if you were the publisher)?
  • How do we determine quality (i.e. what are your own quality ethics in product delivery)?
  • How do you convey quality and demonstrate it?
  • Does the customer care about quality?
  • Do you have a reputation in a given publishing area?
  • What is your reputation?
  • How do you convey reputation in marketing collateral?
  • How do you convey reputation in service delivery?
  • How do you convey reputation in product delvery?
  • What is the likely emotional response to your company and your products to existing customers?
  • Why do you think they care about you and why should they (what have you done about that)?
  • Have you abused the customer via customer service, price methodology or underperformance?
  • How have you corrected these errors?
  • What is the marketing, advertising and promotional material saying?
  • Is the message inherently true?
  • Why should someone buy from you and not somebody else?

As can be appreciated, all these questions are being answered in the head of an existing customer before he/she decides to buy from you again. So marketing message and product delivery are particularly crucial to existing customer scenarios.

It can be appreciated that, for repeat customers, product and service delivery are as much a part of marketing as any marketing collateral itself.

New purchaser buying scenario

We have considered the repeat buyer. All the textbooks tell us that the repeat buyer is where to target your marketing budget. But to get repeat buyers, you first need new buyers. How then does the new customer decide? Especially if they are the repeat customer of somebody else? Many of the questions are, not withstanding, the same (or similar) but others are different and fundamental to decision-making:

  • Does the customer have another book/product by the same author/authors from another publisher?
  • What was delivered to the customer by that product?
  • What did other people (social media, press, reviews) say about that product?
  • What price was the other product?
  • What is the price of this product?
  • What does price mean to the buyer?
  • What quality was delivered by the other publisher?
  • What quality was delivered by your own company (if you are now the publisher)?
  • Why should people buy this product from you?
  • Is there an alternative and why should people buy the alternative?
  • What quality do you offer?
  • How do you convey quality and demonstrate it?
  • Does the customer care about quality?
  • Does the customer care about your quality offer?
  • Do you have a reputation in a given publishing area?
  • What is your reputation?
  • How do you convey reputation in marketing collateral?
  • How do you convey reputation in service delivery?
  • How do you convey reputation in product delivery?
  • Are others saying things about your company or your product which could be detrimental to new customers coming on board?
  • How have you corrected these errors?
  • Answer this question again – but this time honestly…
  • What is the marketing, advertising and promotional material saying?
  • Is the message inherently true?

Post purchase mentality

There are many other questions a company should ask of itself and its products before going to market but the questions above highlight a whole rash of issues which can go through a customer’s head much more quickly than it takes to ask the questions. This is because the brain is powerful and emotions are not necessarily logical.

After purchase, post purchase cognitive dissonance comes into play hugely. Did I want this? Could I have got it cheaper elsewhere? The typeface is terrible and unreadable. The layout is appalling. It says it will do (a),(b) and (c) but in fact it only does (a) and not very well. The daily e-mail alerts are just not helpful. This e-reader format is vile. This archive is difficult to use…

The issues go on. In financial services, customers are offered a “cooling off period” when they can confront their emotions – their PPCD – and match their emotional pre-purchase state to their gibbering post-purchase condition. But in publishing, this is not available.

Some publishers may argue that the price paid for a book or a service may either be (a) too low or (b) part of a company purchase and so issues of PPCD don’t come into play. But they do. Here’s how:

  • Customers will not buy from the same author again
  • Customers won’t buy from the same publisher again
  • Renewals will go down (subscription product)
  • Cancellations will increase (subscription product)
  • Marketing costs will increase as new customers need to be acquired

Some publishers will argue that publishing is in fact a simple business and that these issues are not really relevant to them. I’d argue differently. Publishers thinking about print runs, renewal rates, advertising revenues, digitisation costs, and the predictability of income need now, more than ever before, to think about – and respond to – customer interaction.

Post purchase cognitive dissonance is the dormant cancer in every product offering. Know your market, your customers and your quality and your chances of survival will be considerably enhanced.

Let Red Page Consulting help you with your marketing. Find out here about:

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