Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive dissonance is a fancy word for a common problem. Most objections, and a lot of what keeps a visitor from converting into a customer, is just a symptom of cognitive dissonance you haven’t dealt with yet.

While cognitive dissonance drives objections, it lies beneath what people say.

For example, take a report for a “make money with your computer” product.

Despite the “Computers for Morons” franchise, as a general rule people dislike holding the idea they are unsmart or unsuccessful and the idea they’ll be paying you for revealing that fact.

I got around this with a little writing trick, right from the start of the headline with “Is Your Computer an Overpriced Under-Achiever?”

Now technical types will scoff, as this flies in the face of what the entire computer industry was built on. Take away all the “organize my recipes” potential, the consitently delivered user experience of the computer industry has been to make users feel stupid.

Every technical person knows garbage-in, garbage-out. Not one in ten thousand will apply that same philosophy to how computers are designed to produce the human-computer interaction we see all around us. The user is at fault – simply because holding the idea they aren’t isn’t compatible with other ideas prevalent in the technology industry. Human error jumping through technological hoops saves a lot a companies a lot of money.

Input from the user does have a lot to do with poor output from the computer. By letting the computer user off the hook, the desirability of your product increases exponentially.

Geeks love to chide Apple computer for products lacking in functionality. They’ll go on and on about Apple marketing. But Apple cheats at their marketing. At the core of Apple marketing you’ll find a little secret of letting the computer user off the hook.

The central myth is computer users are smart or they are stupid. And the stupid ones go for Apple. Not so. Computer users are very often too busy for computers that won’t meet them half way.

Not everything has to be easy to use. But the money is in computers you don’t have to drag kicking and screaming like a 4-year-old having a tantrum.

Cognitive dissonance is the dam holding back a lot of money. Not so objections.

People will give all sorts of objections for not dealing with your startup company. What it boils down to is allowing the decision maker to hold two ideas in their head, and have them make sense. Those two ideas are:

“I am a customer.” “The decision to buy is going to allow me to keep my job.”

IBM rests on the principle “Nobody Got Fired For Buying IBM.” It’s not price. It’s not the laundry list of objections you are handling. Many times in business sales people aren’t buying products and services; they are buying job security and excuses designed to keep a job.

Related:

When Interfaces Kill: What Really Happened to John Denver makes a cogent argument – that is going to bounce off the Teflon of human psychology behind building technology. You know, the industry where the design of technology is the output the user has to input on.

[I]Mistakes were made[/I] (but not by me) is not going to be a favorite read for military-industrial-congressional complexes or the technology industry – but it’s good for people who want to understand cognitive dissonance.

I know this was posted a few weeks back, but this is a great post.

I remember learning about cognitive dissonance in my marketing class a few years ago. It’s a very interesting topic and one I remember noting when I was thinking how I could apply this in my work.

I like how you suggest how essentially taking the blame off of the client they are more likely to purchase this product. It is very true. If you stop and think about two similar product, one which says “it works great if you were just knew how to use it” and one that says “it’d work great if we made it a little simpler”, most would probably go with the later (if I had made a better example, my wording was a little lame, implying an inferior product =p).

I’m beat right now, but I’m gonna save those links to read later when my brain is functioning… thanks. =)

I never heard of this word; but thanks for providing a good analysis of this term. Are we really talking about inferior products? or a customer who has a fear to try a product?

Are we really talking about inferior products? or a customer who has a fear to try a product?

No. We are talking about world view and sense-making.

Thanks for the amazing find, I knew of this effect but never understood it to this fine grained level, and the additional material that you find on it on the internet is even better, because your post is a bit hard to understand at parts.

I imagine most people know of this, but it’s better late than never!

learnt this term during my studies as a marketing student ;p

Idea one:

I am a person who will not spend any money on anything on the internet, and I love “how to” articles, they attract more attention

Idea two:

I am more likely to hire a professional who knows enough to teach other professionals

I am getting dissonance. Let me restate the point about how much people – who will not spend any money on anything on the internet – like these articles. Let me restate, when the goal is the attention of people who will spend money, the attention of people who won’t runs contrary to that goal.

You do raise one good point about article ideas. The “plumber’s plumber” is not a bad marketing positioning concept. Few-to-none use it, and there are some similar pitfalls, but it could be good. Most of these kind of articles are directed at newbies – remedial to basic 101 level – not professionals.

What do you write? You can write how-to-hire articles. Premium marketing positioning could be the top ten “My sister’s kid does this stuff” web design mistakes.

Clients that hire plumbers want to know how to hire with no headaches. That is it.

Related:

Getting Real Marketing means people pay to read your About Us page. This is not about Ruby on Rails, how to do everything you could possibly hire us for without us, or any of the things most article writers write articles about. Basically, 37signals figured out enough About Us page material to fill a book, then got people to pay for it.

learnt this term during my studies as a marketing student

Ah yes. More than a few people slept through that class.

It’s really about ideas, and what would make sense and what wouldn’t.

For instance, one person recently talked about having plumbers write “how to” articles. Think about cognitive dissonance, or contradictory ideas and actions.

How to articles would, for those who paid attention in class, tend to naturally conflict with the notion of hiring someone to do something for you. However, DIYers would find these articles cognitively resonant.

How-to is not in conflict with do-it-yourself. So, how-to articles attract non customers – and repel likely prospects. Think about it. You get to a site to have something done, and you get how-to articles. One big marketing tip is one big bonus in hiring is avoid having to think about the intricacies of how it gets done.

And the more the person you’re trying to hire forces you to think about the how-to, the less attractive hiring becomes.

You instantly, subliminally, get the idea this is the wrong site. Even when other parts of the site explicity say otherwise. To the people attracted to how-to articles, the pages offering to do something for you conflict with the idea of doing it yourself. Should a few DIYers change course and hire, they are coming from a place where their initial idea was paying zero. So you do the marketing math to figure out why premium customers are scarce in this scenario.

How hard is it to get someone prepared and primed to pay zero to then pay anything close to full service pricing? The two ideas are in conflict.

That people fight through and resolve cognitive dissonance to become customers anyway is a tribute to those people. Not something the site marketer should pat themselves on the back for. Marketing should be about “greasing the skids” for customers, not developing customer repellent that isn’t quite 100% effective.

From the perpective of cognitive dissonance, how-to articles can be called “how to never do business” articles. (Unless that business is developing tutorials, of course). Once again, the topic of this thread is not “well, some prospects are eager enough to overcome any obstacle thrown their way to do business.” That’s fine. And when the topic is weeding out customers, that’s an ideal contribution. Not a great marketing contribution, but still fine.

I imagine most people know of this, but it’s better late than never!

Most people know of cognitive dissonance. That is not the same thing as knowing how cognitive dissonance applies to, for instance, business.

The worst at this: Branders. They might have attended class that day. They just didn’t understand the concept. And branding is all about reduction or elimination of cognitive dissonance.

Now I’m not sure how off-track this is, but reading this, I’m thinking about a site I recently ran into: schrijvenvoorinternet.nl (writing for internet) by a usability and marketing guy, Aarjan van Erkel.

Sorry, his site is in Dutch (which is great for me, because now I have a source of articles I can send to my bosses, who would rather not struggle through reading English web usability and writing technical articles), but this one is the one I was thinking of:
Copywriting-tip 2 voor webformulieren: fluwelen foutmeldingen — Schrijven voor internet

It’s about not berating your stupid customers and telling them their input (in a form) is “incorrect”, “bad”, “malformed” or whatever. And to be nice about the fact that you need the input in a certain format.

So the Hyundai first example has some form error messages :
“Name is not (correctly) filled in”
“First letters are not (correctly) filled in”
“Postal code is not (correctly) filled in”

The “fixed” one reads
“Sorry! We still need the red-marked fields from you! Please fill them in”
(what sucks about it is, it doesn’t say why the input you’re putting in isn’t good enough. But, if I forgot to fill my name in, I’m a moron and I know it… but I don’t want some sleazy company’s robot telling me to my face that I am!)

Instead of telling the customer “You filled in your post code wrong” you can tell them “Sorry, we need your postal code in this format: 1234AA”
Which does the same thing, without telling them they’re morons for doing it wrong. Which brings in the cognative dissonance… feeling stupid about ordering something will get you thinking about not ordering it at all… looking at Yuri’s example with the two groups of children being told they’d get punished if they played with a nice toy, which led those children to tell themselves “I didn’t want that toy anyway”.

While maybe the bulk of the article is more how to turn the things that may block a customer from fulfilling a purchase into another way to bring them closer to you, the initial point I got from it was
Don’t let your error messages make the client feel stupid. Bad error messages are a great way to make the customer give up.

Like, I can’t freaking seem to fill this stupid form in. Arg! I didn’t really want that I :heart: HTML mug anyway…

There are the rare people that don’t lie to themselves, the question is, is it good not to lie to yourself?

Now back to the “how to” articles
For example me, I am a person who will not spend any money on anything on the internet, and I love “how to” articles, they attract more attention than “buy this articles”
which are otherwise called “ad’s”, and no one likes those…

I see how to articles as ad’s of the persons understanding of a topic, I am more likely to hire a professional who knows enough to teach other professionals than just one who says they know it all.

so what is the alternative to “how to” articles that does bring in customers?

Off Topic:

I :heart: HTML xD :weyes:

For example me, I am a person who will not spend any money on anything on the internet, and I love “how to” articles, they attract more attention than “buy this articles”

But, don’t put those how-to articles on your
Come To Joe’s Plumbing Solutions Today!
site. Put them elsewhere.

So people looking for Joe’s Plumbing Solutions gets a plumber (instead of being told “hey you can do this yourself, it’s easy!”), and let those looking for “how to fix an exploding toilet” find the how-to’s elsewhere… since at the very least, they weren’t intending to be your customers, while those searching for a plumber are.

I see how to articles as ad’s of the persons understanding of a topic, I am more likely to hire a professional who knows enough to teach other professionals than just one who says they know it all.

Hm, when I’m looking for someone, I look to see if others in that profession would use them : )
We’re getting our kitchen redone, and we ask those we know who do kitchens “would you hire this guy?”. Still checking the knowledge, but in a different way.

so what is the alternative to “how to” articles that does bring in customers?

Great question!

Don’t let your error messages make the client feel stupid. Bad error messages are a great way to make the customer give up.

It is not off topic. However, to the people who like to use words like cognitive dissonance, the relevance might escape them.

The idea held is programming for the Dümster Anzunehmender User or “stupidest user ever imagined.”

What give me cognitive dissonance is hold the idea this is the twenty-first century and any other idea about web development.

Let’s try turning a form around to look at what programming can do for users. (The goal - repeat goal - is to never have a user error code.)

Users in error when trying to buy something is cognitively dissonance with completing the transaction. (Something the shopping cart abandonment industry should look into.)

Example one: Password field. A very nice AJAXian thing to do is a password strength indicator, as you type.

As soon as “the passwords don’t match,” hey AJAX proponents – make the little dot-mask RED.

Example Two: Unbounded message fields in contact forms can have a nice little “help me help you - here’s what I’m looking for” blurb on hover. I find this reduces beating around the bush.

Hints on hover is proactive. Error codes are reactive. Going back to the basic implications of this topic – proactive programming ideas are in conflict with reactive programming techique.

If you’re invested your whole life in one set of ideas, this precludes the probability of coming up with cogntively dissonant ideas when trying to solve a problem. Possible. Not probable.

Google does this. Type in a misspelled query, Google does not take you to an error page or popup, and also does not take you to a page of results with that mispelling. Top of serp they have "Showing results for …[corrected spelling] with a second line to show results for the misspelling as an option.

Preemptive. Not reactive.

Clients that hire plumbers want to know how to hire with no headaches. That is it.

And I, like so many others, still have no clue how to hire a plumber in spain via the internet!
Am I supposed to google? no, that brings up the results of how-to articles, those that are popular amongst the non customers, because customers are far fever in numbers than readers.

Google.es is broken?

contratar a un plomero not pulling up good results?

Am I supposed to google? no, that brings up the results of how-to articles, those that are popular amongst the non customers, because customers are far fever in numbers than readers.

Yeah, but not only the original how-to articles, but thousands of content-mill repeats. It’s nice to know some search engines (cough but not google cough) remove that garbage.
But changing your search terms a bit would help. Not “fix my exploding toilet” but “cityname/areaname plumbing services”. You know every plumbing business online is going to have your city or region in their contact pages and likely their main page, whereas how-to’s don’t.

Example one: Password field. A very nice AJAXian thing to do is a password strength indicator, as you type.

As soon as “the passwords don’t match,” hey AJAX proponents – make the little dot-mask RED.

Better yet, let people see their damned passwords while they type. Type=password is seen as a worse usability blunder than anything gained in “security”.
But yes, let us know the MOMENT we screw up, so we don’t keep filling everything else in expecting it to go through only to see ERROR try again.

Example Two: Unbounded message fields in contact forms can have a nice little “help me help you - here’s what I’m looking for” blurb on hover. I find this reduces beating around the bush.

Hints on hover is proactive. Error codes are reactive. Going back to the basic implications of this topic – proactive programming ideas are in conflict with reactive programming techique.

Hints on hover is proactive.

And good labels are proactive-er. Now whether people use certain devices (mice) matters less.

Date of Birth (dd-mm-yyyy): ______________________

I know at a glance how to fill that in.

But if I still get it wrong:

proactive programming ideas are in conflict with reactive programming techique.

They must work together, because you need BOTH. Because while the marketer wants the customer to be able to be as free as possible when filling information in or interacting with the site selling the product, the programmer does not trust the client. Programmers call what customers type in “taint”.
So I typed in my birth date. I did it right, I swear! I know when I was born!
But I used slashes:
01/01/1932
Yes it said in the label example “-” but I didn’t think that mattered, I thought the order and number of digits mattered!

The back end can be proactive by allowing more and converting to what’s necessary in the back. Turn my /'s into -'s without me even knowing, and I’ll never see that error message…
and my brand new Plumber In A Can (“Just add water!”) will be at my doorstep within a day! Yay!

Technology is in play here as much as psychology. I’m not really a big fan of the whole HTML5 stuff, but the original reason it was started at all (improving form controls) is part of the Good Parts. People ask,
“why do we need new input types and attributes? You can’t trust anything on the front end anyway; you still need server-side validation, so what’s the point?”

The answer is: they can help people fill in the RIGHT information in the RIGHT field the FIRST time. The less time I’m wasting getting errors, the quicker my money gets to you.


I was trying to get a quote for some scooter insurance (yeah, just testing a competitor). I chose full insurance because it was a brand new scooter. I listed the price as it’s listed on the seller’s site in the price section.
Repeatedly, I got an error telling me the price was wrong. How was it wrong? What didn’t I do right? I tried fake prices, low prices, high prices, prices with and without commas and euro signs…
the only way to make the form work at all was to remove the full-insurance part (leaving me uninsured for damage I get, only covers the other party!).

The fact that I’m still thinking about that stupid form says something. I still want to know what the hell was wrong with my price. WHY!?!

Actually, not sure what the dissonance is there. The page is offering to tell me how much their product would cost. It couldn’t tell me that. Even if it could, I’m not an automatic customer. But because they couldn’t, I’m absolutely definitely NOT a customer.

nope, absolutely nothing good.

@Stomme poes
Excellent idea with adding the specific address, it did help with the search, a bit… because it seems there are general spanish organizations for helping people find people which don’t have an address and are below the "how-to"s in the search results, and what’s worse they have outdated information, making finding a service into a separate job.

So, I’ll come back with the question I’m interested in… what is the alternative to how-to articles? if there is any, because so far the internet seems to be organized like an encyclopedia, which is why wikipedia always scores so high.

I’m asking this because I get a lot of people asking me about their business websites, they for example sell products, yet have no way to become reasonably visible on the internet, at least not as visible as the social/how-to websites.

How can we use cognitive dissonance to get the visitor turn into a consumer if we don’t have visitors.

[FONT=“Georgia”]That’s a good point. Need to remember that one.

That and the error messages that give people heart attacks like ERROR 404!!!

[/FONT]

That and the error messages that give people heart attacks like ERROR 404!!!

404 the musical
404’s aren’t nearly as bad as form errors, because clicking a link was so much less work.

Except when the previous page told you had to click there to do something you need to do, and then it’s 404. Then the hair loss begins.

The article I linked to called form errors (or whenever a form can’t be submitted) “crisis moments”. These are the times that make or break; decides if the visitor is a customer or just leaving.

I just sent an email to our web department to see if they want to add that to our 404 page.