Theory Meets the Road


It is a good day when I can dig back into my textbooks (or refresh myself with Wikipedia review) and pull out a timely reference to one of those theories I studied in school. One theory in particular seems to be coming up for me quite regularly nowadays. The theory of cognitive dissonance was originally proposed by social psychologist Leon Festinger (1919 – 1989). It states that we as individuals have a motivational drive to reduce the dissonance caused by conflicting ideas.

This applies to marketing in several ways. Whenever the stakes are high such as when we are signing the documents to purchase a new home, buy a new car, or decide to move across country for a new job there will be dissonance. Decisions of this type typically require us to commit significant financial resources, or accept a change in lifestyle. Although we stand to gain from the comfort of a new vehicle, home, or new position we have to give up something in return. This causes dissonance in part because it means we have to make a decision.

Marketers can minimize the impact of ‘CD’ by reinforcing the positive aspects of the decision. This is why auto makers and their dealers inundate you with post-purchase communications reminding you that you chose wisely. If you are in an industry where there is a significant time interval between purchase and the actual delivery of the goods or services then a timed communication stream is critical minimize CD.

As researchers we can assess the impact of cognitive dissonance on our customers via survey. Post-purchase surveys often incorporate questions on the effectiveness of customer-directed communications and their ability to reduce any tensions related to the purchase decision. If you are at the stage where your company is developing post-purchase communication programs then I recommend testing variations to see if one program has a greater impact at reducing dissonance.


About the Author

Greg TimpanySince 1988 Greg has delved into the world of marketing, analytics and strategy. His expertise bridges the space between the structured world of IT and the creative, customer-centric needs of marketing. His thought leadership is sought out by executives in B2B, B2C and the public sector. Currently he directs the research efforts for Cary, NC based Global Knowledge. In addition he is a contributing author to the Cvent Survey blog; an instructor for Meredith College and Research Rockstar. As an entrepreneur he is co-founder of Anova Market Research. Past engagements have included working with The Los Angeles Times, Guitar Center and Wilkin Guge Marketing. He can be followed at: and all posts by Greg Timpany →