Post-Action Dissonance

You may have heard of this concept as Post-Purchase Dissonance, an area where more research has been done, but the fact is that many actions other than purchase create dissonance.

This area of  Psychology is more generally referred to as Cognitive Dissonance.  Along with Norms of Reciprocity, Dissonance is one of the most important pieces of Psychology for today’s Marketing folks to understand.   This is doubly true if you are serious about using a two-way Social model in Marketing.

Here’s why:  The Social sword has two edges.  If you are going to use a two-way Relationship Marketing approach, you will create higher expectations with those who Engage.  If you fail to perform, or just act like an Advertiser would, then you will end up creating more damage than if you had simply ignored the two-way idea.

For Marketing, the important idea to understand is the human brain always questions actions taken, however briefly, and tries to resolve conflict.  Any unresolved conflicts tend to taint the action, they create Friction, and drive down the Potential Value of the experience.

The important action item for Marketers is to know this will happen beforehand, and take steps to counteract the Dissonance.  The result will be customers who have generally better experiences, and you know what that means, right?

In other words, by planning for Post-Action Dissonance you are using a Prediction that increases Profits or cuts Costs down the road.

For example, in the early shopping carts, there was rarely any “confirmation” of a successful transaction.  Merchants found over time this made customers uncomfortable and caused additional customer service load.  When the confirmation was added, a lot of these service problems went away and satisfaction rose.

A “discovery” of sorts, but totally Predictable, if you understood the concept of Post-Action Dissonance and planned for it.  Other examples from the Lab Store, including the increased Profitability that comes from Predicting Dissonace, can be found here and here.

In fact, think about this: many of the online “discoveries” that have to do with Marketing usability and performance – use of headlines, copy treatments, landing pages, pathing / navigation, button layouts, location signaling, all of it – are rooted in the Psychology of Post-Action Dissonance.  And the web is full of these opportunities, because it’s a remote environment, often lacking a feedback loop.

Post-Action Dissonance tells you these lessons can be applied offline as well.  It’s not about the channel, it’s about the receiver – humans.

Humans must, they have a drive to resolve the outcome of an action taken with their expectation of taking the action.  This is an incredibly powerful idea to know.  Next time you are designing a Campaign, Interface, or System, keep Post-Action Dissonance in mind.  Why?

Just think about how much proft will be lost when Post-Action Dissonance has to be “Discovered” rather than being Predicted.


7 thoughts on “Post-Action Dissonance

  1. Your post reminds us that, at its very root, “interactive” means “relational”, and that humans relations are ingrained in very basic social (and their psychological reflections) realities such as exchange and reciprocity (gift giving, marital structures, trade, etc).

    I give you a cow, you give me a chicken. Imbalance in social exchange, reflected in powerful emotions of being insulted, cheated, dissonance, etc. You could have known well before, since you were in the same social exchange system, that you would piss me off by giving me a chicken for my cow.

    Applying this metaphor to Web marketing, one can see how risky the whole proposition can be if one does not take into acount the Post-Action Dissonance phenomenon you describe: decrease in profits (increased support costs), disengagement, disloyalty, etc.

  2. Hah, I love this. Cognitive Dissonance is one of too few usable things to come out of psychology (disillusioned psych major speaking here). I’d like to see more talk like this.

  3. Hey wait a minute, is there a pattern here?

    Chris Grant, Bryan Eisenberg, Jim Novo, Jacques Warren all have backgrounds that include the study of Psychology / Sociology. Hmmm…

    Any other readers who stumbled into analytics from the soft sciences?

    Do you think it’s possible analysts might pick up an edge from the study of human and societal behavior?

    Chris, I bet you’re using your Psych major subconsciously…

  4. Well, Jim, you’re right. Web Analytics do not exist yet as a discipline, I believe, because its paradigm, methodologies, in short, its entire epistemological framework hasn’t been established yet. But one can ask the question if WA could do it by itself, and come up with new, hard evidence that would add to the corpus of knowledge of the behavioral sciences.

    I believe that if we seriously started borrowing heavily from the soft sciences (Namely Psycho / Socio as you point out), WA could realize an important jump that would bring us further than the world of opinions we live in (blogosphere, etc).

    We could start with much more evidence (i.e *data*) based research before we start pontificating…

  5. Here’s what’s interesting to me.

    If you look at a journal like Marketing Science, about 1/3 to 1/2 of the articles are about the web, and by definition, all of them involve web analytics in some way. NONE of these academics are “web analysts” as commonly defined, yet they are putting out work that absolutely blows away anything you have ever seen out of a web analyst. These folks are light years ahead of what most people talk about.

    This, even though the journal crowd follows the SAME scientifc method for testing that web analysts use. The biggest difference?

    The journal crowd doesn’t ignore history.

    In fact, the very nature of their work *requires* them to drag in citations of previous papers in Marketing, as well as from all of the other social sciences, so they are always building on what has been proven before.

    That’s why they are so far ahead of the “industry”, which tends to view absolutely every Marketing “best practice” as a new discovery, when most of the time it’s just a rehash of what somebody discovered (and documented) 10, 20, 50 years ago.

    The big difference on the journal side is the web provides tons of behavioral data nobody had access to before. They’re building whole new models of human behavior.

    In fact, I bet for every question the social blogosphere continues to examine it’s collective navel on a proof has been *already published* on the academic side.

    How do we know what we know, indeed.

  6. Pingback: Dissonant Noise

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