Is Cognitive Dissonance Good for Business?

Maybe. If you’re prepared to try a purpose-driven strategy.

A fairly pessimistic article titled ‘Are Brands Overvaluaing Authenticity and Social Purpose?‘ suggested, whilst consumers demand more authentic, sustainable and socially positive businesses, in the end, ‘purpose’ will not drive their decision making. Product and price weigh far heavier. But, it doesn’t account for an alternative impact of cognitive dissonance and ignores a critical factor in the marketing funnel, word-of -mouth.

Although, the article does raise a legitimate question and one that should be explored when companies are considering their values and mission. Purpose-driven marketing needs to be authentic and come from the organisation’s core, aligned with the value proposition or the ‘Why’. Starting a purpose-driven marketing strategy to generate business moves your purpose away from cause and closer to making money. People will sniff out inauthenticity instantly, and the organisation will suffer as a result.

Often described as an uncomfortable feeling created by conflicting attitudes, Cognitive Dissonance is a state where somebody contradicts their values in their behaviours.

To frame my argument on how cognitive dissonance can benefit business through purpose, we will develop a purchase behaviour case study. Meet Eric, our ‘conscious consumer’. Eric will take us on one possible journey through the purpose-marketing funnel. But, firstly, let’s investigate why Eric follows various ethical brands in the first place. The American Psychologist, Jerome Kagan suggests people are biologically driven for kindness, compassion and have an inbuilt moral sense. Humans sum total of goodness far outways their meanness. We are innately drawn to positive purpose-driven business.

Eric values sustainable-fashion and cares about the refugee crises in Europe. He really wants a nice t-shirt but is struggling with his cognitive dissonance. Although he can afford a new t-shirt, he understands refugees are struggling but is unable to afford the time or flight to volunteer. Eric is triggered by a brand he loves; a company that produces ethically sourced organic cotton clothes. Eric has been following this brand for its ‘buy-one-give-one’ initiative, providing free clothing for refugees. The brand solves a problem and tunes into Erics values. The result, an emotional brand connection and a cause/purpose that inspires loyalty. Furthermore, a brand that symbolises and communicates Erics values.

Ok, that was too easy. Let’s play devil’s advocate and say Eric cannot afford the quality organic cotton t-shirt that he values. Instead, Eric opts for a cheaper, fast-fashion alternative. The ethical company loses the sale only to be let down by price. Well, not quite.

Yes, ideally the ethical brand would have liked the sale, but Eric is still loyal and will continue to bring them up in conversation. We tend to buy from our networks’ recommendations and what they value. They want to be a part of them, be their friend, they look up to them. This normative social influence can help business tap into markets outside of their current channels through word of mouth.

Remember, people are biologically drawn to positive brands. By developing a purpose, your encouraging digital communications to flow offline and into conversations. Only 7% of online ‘word-of- mouth’ generates a sale, but the offline word of mouth can raise this conversion rate to 20%.

As a marketer hammering the same online channels, you could be talking to the same people that cannot afford to buy your t-shirts. Although you’re getting great engagement, sales may never increase. A strong purpose develops conversations about the product and gives it another dimension and a competitive advantage. If your product is clearly branded (visible to the public), you can leapfrog into different networks and generate new business through cause. So although the ethical company missed the first sale, there’s probably many within Eric’s social circles that will purchase the ethical t-shirt.

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