An effective and evolving company is always striving to understand their consumers more. Advanced analytics, focus groups, and surveys keep strategy, content, and marketing teams up-to-date on the comings, goings, demographics, psychographics, and pretty much everything else about their audience. This is best practice for any sustainable business.
But, there’s more to be done to ensure that you are framing your product or service in a way that speaks to the right people.
Companies who invest in further psychological, sociological, and anthropological research and understanding of people have a distinct advantage over those who don’t. Not only are they reacting to the visible, audible, known needs of their target market, but also speaking to the unconscious and physiological needs and tendencies of their audience.
Cognitive Dissonance Theory
This theory is fairly well-known among marketers but is an essential theory to understanding how to appeal to people in the decision-making process. Cognitive dissonance is the uncomfortable feeling that is brought on when our behavior doesn’t reflect our attitudes, values, and beliefs. The classic example is when someone knows that smoking causes cancer, but still chooses to smoke — the incompatible information causes that person to become uneasy.
When we feel cognitive dissonance, we seek to reduce it. There are three ways we do this.
- Reduce the importance of our beliefs (usually through rationalizing our actions)
- Change our attitudes, values, or beliefs so that they match our actions
- Seek out information that confirms our attitudes, beliefs, or actions
Very rarely will someone change their behavior to fit their belief (it is the more difficult route to eliminate dissonance). Most often people will seek to affirm information.
We always want to avoid this feeling, so we will always avoid information that causes us to be reminded of it. We will seek out information to validate our attitudes and actions.
You need to reduce any dissonance people feel about your business.
Even if you don’t believe many people have reason to feel dissonance about your product, it’s likely they are.
Many people feel dissonance about the shopping experience itself, feeling that they are responsible with money, a saver, or that they shouldn’t use money outside of necessities. Other regular dissonance factors include health, environmental concerns, and morality.
If you cannot be sure there will not be any dissonance, you must be mindful of what dissonance consumers may feel and produce messaging that reduces that feeling. You must become the source of affirming information.
If you provide lawn services, remind people how busy they are (so that they don’t feel dissonance around being lazy). If you sell expensive face oil, justify it’s cost directly to avoid consumers feel post-purchase regret. If you’re opening a restaurant, focus on marketing the foods people can’t make at home so they don’t feel guilty they aren’t saving money cooking it.
Elaboration Likelihood Model
The Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM) delves deep into how we can persuade people — a key function of marketing. We craft arguments through our messaging and advertising efforts to persuade consumers to act.
ELM fleshes out 2 different road maps to persuading individuals, the central route and the peripheral route.
In addressing skeptical consumers, you need to use methods of persuasion that are relevant to the ROI you get from a costumer.
The central route is more relevant to more expensive or niche products and services that are a more involved decision for consumers. It is almost the only way to persuade people who are invested and informed in what you are selling. These people will care more about what you have to say and they’ll be ready to pull apart any argument that isn’t solid.
You must use the tenets of a good persuasive argument to get people who take the central route — strong ethos (credibility), logos (logic/data/objective truths), and pathos (emotions) in your appeals and arguments.
The peripheral route is likely better suited to cheaper, one-off products and services that have high levels of competition. It’s used by people who don’t have motivation or ability to think about the argument. There is a low level of investment in the decision.
Users in the peripheral route are convinced by people who appear to know what they are talking about, non-expert celebrity endorsements, or good packaging. This is a low-level, quick decision made my a consumer based on factors outside the arguments you are making.
Confirmation Bias Theory
This has similar roots to cognitive dissonance, although a much broader application. Confirmation Bias Theory asserts that people will only accept information that confirms what they already believe to be true — and often they will morph information so that it fits their values.
An example of how this happens exists in most controversial issues. A hot topic of today is gun control. When acts of violence occur using guns, people on both sides of the issue find information to confirm their biases, wether it be an argument for stricter gun control due to the number of deaths that have occurred or in support of guns supported by information on how many people have been saved by guns.
Once people have an idea of where they stand, it takes less affirming messaging to convince them than negative messaging to sway them. And once they accept their hypothesis, it becomes even more difficult to sway.
People will not often seek objective facts once they are set in their way, only affirming ones.
You need to be ready for where people are in their views of your company and products.
If you’re a new player and people do not have developed opinions yet, you need to be ready to tell people what they think.
Put a hypothesis in front of them and build positive messaging that is easily accessible to confirm these thoughts and feelings. People are going to seek out and share affirming information once they accept your messaging — be authentic and honest about it, though. It has to be believable. And today, to be believable, you have to be true.
Established businesses need to maintain reputation by providing facts, messaging, and statistics that supports the perception consumers have of you, as much as possible.
This isn’t always going to be positive messaging.
If you run into a scandal, when people perceived you as an open and honest , it’s going to hurt. Maintaining that image (and being the right kind of company) is going to mean admitting to a fault and mistake and owning it. And changing your behavior to make sure it doesn’t happen again (that’s the only honest form of apology).
Some people will be willing to forgive you if you’re real about it, but they will never believe you’re an honest company again if you try to cover it up. And that means they won’t trust you (or patron you again).
Narrative paradigm asserts that stories can be more persuasive than facts. It’s an objective truth explored in human studies disciplines that storytelling is a tenet of human communication that shapes societal values, beliefs and behaviors. Stories conjure meaning for us and are inherent to our existence — we have been telling stories since we lived in caves.
There are two things that people assess narratives on — coherence and fidelity.
Coherence revolves around how much a story makes sense. Is it easy to follow? Are the characters believable? Are there any contradictions? Consistency and clarity are the key characteristics of coherence.
Fidelity is all about credibility, reason, and values. The story must be true to have a high degree of fidelity. Usually, this means that the narrative must fit into past experiences and not defy them.
We should tell stories about our businesses that sound coherent, true, and fit the needs of our consumers?
Ultimately, you cannot only rely on logical facts for all of your messaging. Narrative stories are an important center of how humans understand the world and how they fit into it.
Make sure you are telling stories in your messaging that fit the current societal narrative and that are true and believable to your brand — it will build credibility with your consumers and position you in a place where you are trusted and can better persuade your audience.
Genderlect theory asserts that there are two types of personality in communication — feminine and masculine (originally assigned to the two defined sexes, respectively).
Feminine communicators engage in order to create rapport and build relationships. This favors emotional conversation and intimate storytelling.
Masculine communicators interact in search of status and power. Masculine communicators are likely to use and listen to objective facts.
Make your messaging fit your target audience — what are their communication goals and how does your product help them achieve it?
To utilize this well, you have to know how your audiences communicate. Search term research, focus groups, and regular customer interactions are all great ways to better understand how this works.
If you haven’t launched your business yet, this is a key trait you want to identify in your target audiences. How do they communicate? What kind of messaging will be effective in persuading them?
Also, make sure your product/service match your expected customers. Luxury products nearly always attract masculine communicators, because those products stand as status symbols. On the other end, most experiences will market well to feminine communicators, who are always seeking ways to build connection.
Persuade power-seekers with direct language, objective data points, and the promise or association with some bigger pay-off — a big promotion, dominance, or power. Build a narrative around how your product helps them achieve these concepts.
Tell an empowering, personal story if your audience leans towards the feminine communication style. This is about building a connection and making them feel like they are truly a part of something.
And finally, be genuine and real
These theories can be applied in an inauthentic way, but they shouldn’t be. If you are not honest about who you are a company, in today’s infotech world, you will not last.
More than anything, people always seek what they think is the truth. And the actual truth always comes out in some way. The current generation’s ultimate truth is that they are true to their values — many of which include honesty, ethical behavior, and kindness.
That is the confirmation bias they are always going to choose.