Cognitive dissonance in marketing is commonly known as buyer's remorse. It refers to natural feelings of guilt or doubt that people typically feel after making an expensive purchase. An important part of marketing is helping customers easily recognize the benefits of your product or service to gain more confidence in a purchase decision.
Along with the expense of a product, the level of involvement in the purchase and the number of close alternatives contribute to higher levels of dissonance. A customer buying collectible items, for instance, may have more of emotional involvement in the decision than he would with a basic household purchase. A customer who purchases cold and flu medicine likely feels stronger dissonance if he has 10 options to choose from.
Cognitive dissonance occurs during the final step of the consumer decision-making process. This begins when a customer recognizes a need. He then searches for information and compares retailer and product options. Next, he makes a purchase. Following the purchase, he evaluates whether the product exceeded or fell short of meeting his needs. Dissonance generally causes the customer to have a stronger feeling of doubt about whether he got the best deal. If he thinks a better option was available, he is less likely to repeat his purchase.
The way you communicate with customers through marketing helps prevent dissonance and protect against its negative consequences. The more you set your brand apart, based on better quality or services, added-value features, social responsibility or convenience, the less apt customers are to consider alternatives. Once you capture a customer, turning repeat visits into the emotional attachment of loyalty fortifies your hold on him. Loyalty programs and frequency programs offer incentives to customers to build and maintain a loyal relationship. Over time, reinforcing a consistent brand message makes it easier for customers to remember why he buys from you.
The opposite of dissonance is cognitive consonance. In marketing, this occurs when a buyer makes a purchase and feels strongly that the provider and product closely align with his beliefs, interests and needs. For marketers, this emphasizes the importance of target the right customers and emphasizing your benefits that are most appealing. Honesty is important as well, because customers make a purchase with expectations established in part by your marketing messages. Consistently delivering on the quality you promise strengthens the feeling of consonance and likelihood of repeat purchases.