Do you find that it is not just music that can become a sort of ‘ear worm’ but also words? A while ago the phrase’ Cognitive Dissonance’ popped into my head unannounced and refused to go away. I remembered that it was  a phrase a boss of mine in my Wedgwood international brand management days was fond of using.

Its origins are in a Psychological theory developed by American Social Psychologist Leon Festinger in the 1950’s. Later it was seized upon by marketeers interested in consumer behaviours as an explanation for why they may reject an otherwise sound and attractive product or service.

In the realm of Psychology it is to do with the feeling of uncomfortable tension which comes from holding two conflicting thoughts in mind at the same time. In the world of Marketing it is more to do with consumer communications of any type that convey conflicting messages or images that create uncertainty, unease or doubt in the observer. If the consumer is expecting that ‘ the ducks are all in a row’ and finds that one of them is clearly an Armadillo the inconsistency is enough to choose another offering a more coherent message.

Such ‘dissonance’ can range across many things such as – inappropriate tone of communication or imagery, unsuitable media, inconsistent product and/or brand messages and even incongruous choices of typeface and colour palette. It may well be that the increasingly sophisticated consumer of the 21st century has evolved a sensitivity to mixed messages and will therefore tend to pick the consistent as ‘safe’ versus one that raises questions or uncertainty and is deemed ‘less safe’.

So what does this tell you? It tells you to be what you are in all channels of communication. If you are a bargain based business look as if you are the sort of place you will find bargains. Equally, if you are providing premium goods and services make sure that every way in which consumers can relate to you reflects this, from customer service to point of sale, social media and advertising. A poorly handwritten ‘ Sale’ notice in a high end store window does not support the desired perception of care and attention that should be the consumer expectation.

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