Inclusive Communication By Design

Originally published September 29, 2006.



Your company is looking at a lot of late night local cable availability, and thinking that a 30-minute infomercial might be appropriate.

The boss has just found out that companies which specialize in infomercial marketing will charge tens of thousands of dollars to produce your program.

He wants to know why you can’t do it “in house.”

Can’t you just put a talent in front of a camera and let him persuade those late night visitors to buy?


DIY Infomercial?

I wouldn’t.

Too many dollars would stay on the table.

In addition to the obvious differences in production quality that an infomercial specialist brings to the table, there is the difference in strategy. The pros know you can’t treat all potential customers alike.

You see, some people want you to just cut to the bottom line and tell them what your product will do for them.

Some want to read the fine print.

Some want to know if other people have successfully used your product to solve their problems.

And then there’s the group that wants to know a whole lot more about your company before they consider doing business with you.

The right thing to say to one is exactly the wrong thing to say to the others.

What’s an aspiring infomercial producer to do?

According to Dr. Richard Grant, you should make a specific appeal to each of the eight different Meyers-Briggs communication styles in our offers. He calls the process Inclusive Communication by design.

It only makes sense that if we talk to people about their concerns, in a style that makes them comfortable, and address the questions that are important to them, that we’ll persuade more of them to do business with us.

Here is my assessment of the approach we need to take with each of the Meyers-Briggs “types” for your new 30-minute infomercial.

E – needs a good verbal presentation. Cover the major points at a fast pace without too much detail.
I – needs time to reflect. Will buy, but not before deliberating.
S – begin with facts, and build to “big picture.”
N – begin with “big picture” and fill in the facts.
T – emphasize soundness, reliability, and statistics.
F – support with first-hand testimonials
J – no surprises. Appear to stay organized.
P – diplomatically remind that a decision must be made within certain time constraints

Here’s how I would organize a program.

In Practical Application

Minutes 1-3
Introduce the show, and summarize the next thirty minutes for the “Js”. Make the overall claims for the product quickly for the “Ns”. Then, for both the “Ns” and the “Ss,” start building your facts. For the “Ss,” build to your conclusion and restate the claims for the product.

Minutes 4-8
For the “Ts” support the claims with science. For the “Fs” bring in the testimonials. Keep it fun and fast paced for the “Es”. Explain the dependability of your staff/call center for the “Js” and the fun people will have interacting with them for “Es.” Remind the “Ps” that this special offer is only good during this program.

Make your first call to action.

Minutes 9-17
Repeat your overall claims in summary form for the “Ns.” Build your facts, and re-state your conclusions for the “Ss.” Amplify and expand on the science for the “Ts.” Refer the “Is” to your web site. Reassure the “Js” that everything you’ve promised will happen right on schedule with no surprises. Consider using recorded testimonials from other customers, and use them now for the “Fs.” Again, remind the “Ps” that this special offer is only good during this program.

Make your second call to action.

Minutes 18-29
Have the interviewer “put you on the ropes” and make you defend the claims for the “Ss” and the “Js.” Keep it logical for the “Ts” but light-hearted for the “Es.” Pull out the science in deeper detail, and discuss the manufacturing process for the “Js” and “Ns.”

Talk about the company, and your commitments to quality and customer satisfaction for the “Ns,” “Ss,” and “Is.” Consider a :40 second interview with one of the call center operators as entertainment for the “Es” and reassurance for the “Js.” Restate that your customers get exactly what they expect on the timetable you’ve committed.

Remind the “Ps” that it’s time to place an order, if they want to take advantage of this special offer.

Make your final call to action, and wrap up.

Cast a Wider Net

Each personality type is more comfortable with information presented in a particular style. Incorporating all styles into your presentation effectively multiplies the bait when you’re fishing for customers.

Your Guide,
Chuck McKay

Marketing consultant Chuck McKayYour Fishing for Customers guide, Chuck McKay, gets people to buy more of what you sell.

Got questions about articulating your value, and making sure people know it? Drop Chuck a note at [email protected]. Or call him at 304-208-7654.

If you’re interested in learning more about persona-based marketing, I recommend Waiting for Your Cat to Bark by Bryan Eisenberg, Jeffrey Eisenberg, and Lisa T. Davis. They make simple what could be a confusing subject. That’s probably why the book hit all 4 bestseller lists: New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today and BusinessWeek.

In the event that you find yourself considering the services of an infomercial professional, you owe it to yourself to talk to Wizard of Ads ® partner Adam Deatherage at ADco Video Productions.

Adam is not expensive. Additionally he knows every way to stretch your marketing dollar, including making long-form video, :30 and :60 second television ads from the same footage. Call him for a quote on your next video project at (940) 636-0089.

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Pattern Recognition and the People Meter.

Rush Limbaugh

Rush Limbaugh

Pattern recognition is quite likely a survival mechanism.  As human beings, we naturally look for cause/effect relationships in the things which surround us. “Ogg teased the mastodon. It snatched him up with its trunk and crushed him. I don’t want to die. Therefore, I’m never going to tease a mastodon. At least, not up close.”

Of course, sometimes we make mistakes.  Though we try to assign one, not every effect has an obvious cause. “Ogg ate the frazzlesnatch berries after dark, and got a tummyache. I don’t want a tummyache. Therefore, I’m never going to eat the frazzlesnatch berries after dark.” This particular effect (the tummyache) seems silly now that germ theory provides an easily testable alternate cause (germs).

We have a deeply rooted need to understand, which produces an equally powerful “want” to believe. We look so hard for reasons that we accept hazy evidence, questionable schemes, and even false reports. We want to believe we have the answers. We just can’t help it.

Back to germ theory.

Pasteur uncovers germs. Creates vaccine for rabies, and for anthrax. Invents a method to prevent milk from making people sick. Do people immediately abandon the “don’t eat frazzleberries after dark” theory? Don’t count on it.

As each of us gains experience with the world, the frazzleberry ideas, combined with the mastodon ideas, and other ideas, become intertwined into our belief systems. And sometimes, accepting the evidence of germs means, not only abandoning the frazzleberry theory, but also calling into question dozens, maybe hundreds of other observations and conclusions.

This is painful. First, because thinking is hard. Second, because admitting that we’re wrong is harder.

So, other doctors in the early 1860s snorted at “Nutty Louey’s” germ ideas, refused to wash their hands, and spread disease from patient to patient. And when finally confronted with overwhelming evidence? Cognitive dissonance kicks in.

And yes, this does have advertising applications.

Obliquely, we’re discussing belief systems.

But in reality, we’re talking about testable evidence.

We can easily test for germs. We can’t so easily test for the existence of UFOs, the Tri-Lateral Commission, or the exact date of the Rapture.

Every day we’re presented with change. And each of those days, we try to make sense of those changes.

Here’s one change. According to a report from the Arbitron ratings service, Rush Limbaugh’s ratings have dropped 33 percent since October. Sean Hannity’s are down 28 percent in that same period.

Premiere Radio, which distributes both shows, has said the ratings slippage doesn’t worry them, since Limbaugh and Hannity are still the two biggest talk shows in America. Don’t believe them. About the worry part, I mean. Do believe that even with the ratings reduction Limbaugh and Hannity are still numbers one and two.

Progressive leaning pundits suggest the new ratings numbers are public backlash against right-wing opposition to anything Obama. Conservative Pundits talk about short-term ratings bounces being temporary, and point out that Limbaugh is still Number One.

They are all mistaken.  You and I, Dear Reader, will discuss the real reason those ratings have changed.

Those listeners never existed.

Since its inception in the late 1960s, Arbitron has tabulated written diaries in which survey participants recorded the stations and programs they watched or listened to. Since its inception, the listening diary has been flawed. It was designed to record TV viewing in the days before remote controls.

Let me describe the process.  A person got up off the couch and actually walked to the TV to change the channel between ABC, CBS, and NBC. Leaving the open diary on top of the set was simple.

Step one: Actively consider program choices.
Step two: Pick one from the three available networks.
Step three: Write choice in viewing diary.

Rinse and repeat half an hour later.1

But, for as long as there have been winners and losers in the ratings battles, there have been questions about the validity of the diary methodology – ranging from Bolton Research‘s Study of Arbitron Ratings in the early 1980s to Arbitron’s own Non Participant studies.

I remember watching one of Ted Bolton’s presentations in which he played videotapes of diary keepers saying such things as “I usually listen to the rock station, but I felt guilty about supporting them so I listened to the Christian station all week.” Another interviewee said, “I filled out the diary for the whole week the day I got it, ‘cause I had already decided who I’d be listening to.”

We’ve long suspected that people are concerned about what we think of them. Even anonymous people. Now, with PPM data, we have evidence.

Portable People Meter

Portable People Meter

For the last couple of years, Arbitron has been phasing out the paper diary, replacing it with the Portable People Meter. Instead of asking people to describe their behavior, Arbitron is measuring their actual radio listening.

The first national PPM results were measured in September, 2010, and released in October. (Humm. October. Beginning of new methodology).

What is this new data telling us? Diary keepers over-report familiar stations, heritage stations, and those which have simply used the same call letters longer.

We used to believe the average listener listened to 3.2 stations per week. Now, the evidence is that they listen to double that number.

Based on diary keeping we used to believe people listened more (and more intently) in the morning. Now, we know listening is pretty much the same in each major daypart.

And formats? Not surprisingly, the stations which do best are the mass appeal stations. Quite surprisingly, light rock and adult contemporary stations have significantly more men listening than previously thought. (It’s harder to claim you’re a major sports radio fan when the meter catches you listening to Céline Dionne).

Other winning formats are oldies, news, and country.

The biggest losers under PPM measurement? Smooth jazz, some Spanish-language stations, and talk radio in general.  Limbaugh and Hannity listeners, specifically.

Now what?

Now, we adjust.

Electronic measurement has no bias. As Irwin Ephron has stated so well, “There is no “Truth” in audience measurement. There is only validity, bias, sample-size, economics and judgment.

Science ultimately affects opinion, and advertising dollars always flow to where the listeners are.

I don’t expect Harley dealerships to start advertising on the “lite” stations, but I predict you will soon notice more car dealers advertising on the soft rockers.  And Rush Limbaugh’s advertising rates will decrease as station owners, disappointed that the audience they believed listened to their radio stations is only two-thirds as big, begin a slow shift away from conservative talk.

What about you? Will your advertising choices be affected by the new PPM information? Perhaps they should be, if you’re going to successfully fish for customers.

Your Guide,
Chuck McKay

Marketing consultant Chuck McKay

Chuck McKay

Your Fishing for Customers guide, Chuck McKay, gets people to buy more of what you sell.

Questions about interpreting the new ratings data may be directed to [email protected].  Or call Chuck at 304-208-7654.

1 Then there’s the whole issue of keeping an accurate diary when one listens in the car. Did we ever really believe a rush hour commuter kept a diary open, and pulled to the side of the road to write down each time she punched the station button?

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A Marketing Lesson from American Idol

American Idol logo

American Idol opening logo

Roughly 20 minutes into the Nashville auditions for American Idol, the Lovely Mrs McKay turned to me and said, “These people MUST know how awful they are.” “They don’t have a clue,” I sighed.

Have you noticed how often incompetent people are supremely confident? Not just auditioning for American Idol, but throughout life?

Professor Justin Kruger and graduate student David Dunning of Cornell University studied this effect in their 1999 paper, Unskilled and Unaware of It. Their conclusion: those who knew the least rated themselves most knowledgeable, and those who actually understood the topic were far less sure of themselves.

This result has been confirmed in multiple follow-up studies involving several skills and fields of expertise. It is known as the Dunning-Kruger effect.

Which begs the question: why does this happen?

Answer: the basic skills and awareness needed for competency are exactly the same skills necessary to evaluate the competency.

Their lack of knowledge (incompetence) prevents them from recognizing their lack of knowledge (incompetence). People don’t know what they don’t know. They don’t even know where to look or how to look at it.

And it doesn’t dawn on them that skilled performers DO know this stuff, until they’re exposed, dramatically to their own ignorance. Until then, they delude their incompetent selves into illusions of confident competency.

If you’ve ever wondered how:

  • people who can’t articulate the issues, still feel confident casting their vote (or making inflammatory statements);
  • how people with no experience teaching, know exactly what’s wrong with our education system; and
  • how those who have never studied investing, can blithely plow their life savings into the real estate market

Incompetence leads people to make poor choices. Incompetence prevents them from realizing they make poor choices. This is the Dunning-Kruger Effect (DK). On the other end of the DK continuum, competent people tend to rate themselves lower than they should. Their internal voices seem to say, “Hey, everyone knows this.”

The dumb get confident; the intelligent get doubtful. And to a greater or lesser degree we’re all guilty.

How Biased Feedback Makes it Even Worse

Imagine a typical Friday nite in any typical neighborhood watering hole. The regular crowd shuffles in. One of them, Miss Karaoke Singer, is recognized by the rest as being the “best” in the club.

What kind of feedback does she get?

Do any of the other contestants tell her that her breath control is bad, her vibrato unnatural, or mention the odd affectation she’s developed? Hardly. They don’t know anything about nuanced performance. Since the only feedback she gets is positive, she thinks she’s good.

Good? No, FANTASTIC! The Dunning-Kruger effect helps her to believe she’s ready for American Idol!

Then comes the audition.

The judges tell her she’s a poor singer. Her own incompetence prevents her from understanding what they’re telling her. These judges must be stupid. After all, she just gave a great performance.

Se gets angry. Tells off the judges. Not because she’s defending herself. Not because she’s trying not to look bad in front of her supporters. But because she’s completely incapable of understanding just how bad she is.

Advertising That Doesn’t Work Probably Has More to Do With Dunning-Kruger Than Advertising

Much like our karaoke singer, every city has an advertiser who, rather than admit his advertising strategy and execution are flawed, convinces himself that advertising doesn’t work.

Does anyone in Mr. Businessman’s entourage tell him his ads have nothing substantive to say? That they don’t speak to the buyer in natural language, and instead just spew out ad clichés like “fast, friendly, service?” Does anyone tell him that putting his kid and his dog in the ad won’t convince anyone to buy things from him?

Or more technically, does anyone tell our businessman that his ads don’t have enough frequency to make an impact? That he’s using the wrong medium? That his competition has effectively co-opted his position?

No. His friends get a kick out of seeing him on TV, or in the paper, or on radio, and the only feedback Mr. Businessman gets is positive. He thinks he’s good.

Until he sees his sales figures. Plummeting or flat-lined sales force a confrontation with reality, and it’s the rare businessman indeed who doesn’t address his frustration and anger at advertising medium – or on advertising in general. Hence, the near-ubiquitous refrain of: “I tried advertising and it didn’t work.”

Unfortunately for Mr. Businessman, if he doesn’t want to follow Miss Karaoke Singer back to waiting tables, he still needs to get more customers. And fast!

How Small Clients Can Get the Best Ads And Grow to Become Big Companies

The thing about big fish / small pond business owners is, they often believe their success in one field translates to competency in almost everything else. Rather than leveraging the expertise of their ad man, they’ll bully him until they get the kind of ads they want – ads full of Dunning-Kruger-esque

But sometimes business owners who are genuinely good at what they do manage to overcome the Dunning-Kruger effect. They find a professional to bring to them the same hard-won competency and expertise they offer to their own customers.

Its much like what happens when a truly talented singer gets on American Idol: with the right direction and promotion, some dreams do come true.

What about you?

Are you an average karaoke singer? Or a true star in search of the right stage and the right spotlight?

Knowing which is critical when you’re fishing for customers.

Your Guide,
Chuck McKay

Marketing consultant Chuck McKayYour Fishing for Customers guide, Chuck McKay, gets people to buy more of what you sell.

Questions about finding your own right spotlight may be directed to [email protected]. Or, call him at 304-523-0163.

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Reticular Activation – How the Human Anatomy Prevents Ads from Reaching "Everyone."

Tax TimeOne of the things guaranteed to make copywriters (and to a lesser extent media salespeople) groan is an advertiser who claims he needs to reach “everybody.”

No ad can possibly reach everybody. The human anatomy prevents it. If you have a minute, I shall happily explain why.

The Shoppers Mindset

Amazingly, most people are not poised in front of their television sets breathlessly waiting to hear of an opportunity to dump the cash from their purses into Mr. Advertiser’s cash register.

Nope. Most people are instead attempting to ignore thousands of radio ads, e-mails, product placements, signs, newspaper and television ads, billboards, matchbook covers, calendars, and the odd Rubik’s Cube with some company’s logo on it.

Out of self defense, human brains are physiologically prevented from paying attention to things that don’t directly apply to them. And truthfully, most of what they see doesn’t apply.

What does apply to most people? Their kids, plans for the weekend, the empty box of corn flakes, remembering to program the TIVO, getting to the game on time, the in-laws coming to dinner, filing for an extension on the tax return, running late for work, or getting home before “Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader?”

They’re eager to find information which will solve their problems, and yet, they’re not paying attention. They see and hear advertising with their eyes and ears, but they don’t consciously notice those ads.

That’s because the human brain won’t let them. Again, let me explain.

Four Sets of Brain Waves

The synapses of the human brain fire at different rates during four different mental states. They are:

1) Delta – 0.5Hz to 4 Hz – Deep Sleep.
brain_wavesDelta waves trigger release of growth hormone, which helps the body to heal. This is one reason sleep is critical to the healing process.

2) Theta – 4 Hz to 7 Hz – Drowsiness.
Theta states most frequently occur fleetingly as people pass from higher consciousness to deep sleep, or return from it. Theta waves occur during meditation, and have been linked to visual and emotional creativity.

3) Alpha – 8 Hz to 13 Hz – Relaxed.
The alpha state is a highly creative condition of relaxed consciousness. People in alpha state tend to recognize non-obvious relationships. Interestingly, it’s also the resonant frequency of the earth’s electromagnetic field.

4) Beta – 14 Hz to 30 Hz – Alert and focused.
The beta state is associated with peak concentration, heightened alertness, improved hand/eye coordination, and better visual acuity. During beta state new ideas and solutions to problems literally flash through the mind.

Degrees of Consciousness

The higher frequencies represent more brain activity, and require greater energy consumption. Like every other part of the body, brain activity kicks into higher performance only as necessary. The more familiar the activity a person is engaged in, the less conscious activity is necessary.

Most of us have driven to work only to note upon arrival that we have no conscious memory of the trip. Individuals who drive a lot of highway miles frequently find themselves coming up with good ideas as they drive. Daydreaming while driving is an example of the brain in theta state. It’s easily induced by the hypnotic sameness of road markings and sounds.

As long as there are no surprises on the trip, driving to work can also easily produce an alpha state. The driver is relaxed, and the familiarity of the surroundings allow the driver to sing along with the radio, or listen to conversation without planning to respond.

But imagine the car in front of our driver slamming on the brakes. Our driver immediately transitions into a state of heightened awareness, faster reflexes, and instantaneous decision making. This is clearly a beta state of peak concentration.

The Reticular Activator

Brain Cross SectionAt the top of the brain stem, between the medulla oblongata and the midbrain is a collection of nerve fibers known as the ascending reticular formation. Activation of this reticular system is necessary for higher states of brain activity. Think of the reticular activating system as a sentry constantly looking out for conditions which require a conscious response. Anything important or relevant snaps the brain into higher states of consciousness, even from deep sleep.

Anyone who’s moved to a home near the railroad tracks has been awakened by a train passing late at night… for the first few nights. While the loud noise is unusual and potentially threatening, the reticular system jerks the brain from deep delta sleep to beta wide awake consciousness. After a few days, when the experience becomes commonplace, the reticular system doesn’t even bother to activate, and the resident sleeps through the night.

Mothers recognize their child’s cry even in a room full of children. The reticular system catches the familiar tones of the child’s voice, activating a beta state in the mother.

And most of us have heard someone call our name in a crowd, only to discover that the caller was trying to catch the attention of someone else with the same name. The reticular system activates a beta state at recognition of the name, and de-activates for the brain to return to alpha mode once the mistake is obvious.

Newspaper readership increases with the addition of a photo, especially when it’s a picture of people. Why? Because the reticular activating system zeros in on other people, to see if they’re familiar.

Familiar is only one of the conditions the reticular system watches for. It is also ready to draw our attention to unusual, problematic, or threatening conditions. Any of these which appear to be important or relevant activate a beta state. If the conscious mind dismisses this “false beta” as not relevant, the brain returns to a lowered state of consciousness.

Can we plant a reticular activator to trigger a beta mode state at a later time? Yes, we can.

Embed a specific sound and get your listener to recall a whole series of emotions. Law and Order’s “Doink Doink” sound when the next scene starts. The sound of Pac Man wilting at the end of play. Duracell’s three tone logo. “You’ve got mail.”

Or embed a visual cue. Since 1997 Liberty Tax Service has done no advertising other than to place people in Statue of Liberty costumes on the street in front of the franchise. From roughly the first of the year until April 15th the Statue of Liberty costume serves as an activator, reinforcing Liberty’s function, as well as this location.


Here’s an interesting fact: the effect of advertising is greatest closest to the purchase. And if you think about it, that makes sense. Remember, a purchaser only buys when she feels the gap between what she has and what she wants. If she has an empty box of cornflakes, she’ll want more corn flakes. Once she’s become aware of her need for more flakes (by pouring the last of the old flakes from the box) she will also become more aware of corn flake advertising.

What a great time to present your message. Advertise your brand on television, or send her a letter, or show her a point of purchase display. Give her a compelling reason to choose your brand while her reticular system is most likely to bring your message to her conscious attention.

But how can you predict when that metaphorical box of flakes will go empty? Unless your business is seasonal, you can’t. And that pretty much means you need a constant presence in the marketplace.

How Shoppers Use Media

corn_flake_ad_v3We read from left to right, from top to bottom. The eye is drawn first to photographs and headlines, seeking, finding, and sorting through the information on the page. The reader scans in alpha state for anything familiar, unusual, problematic, or threatening. When one of those conditions is noted, the reticular activator pulls the readers attention to the words or pictures, and in beta state the conscious mind weighs the evidence.

It makes no difference whether the reader is considering news stories or advertising. If further examination reinforces the condition, the reader is engaged and stays in beta state. When the content has been read, the scan through the paper continues with the reader back in alpha mode, ignoring most of what he sees.

And though the consumption pattern may differ from left to right, top to bottom, this is how we use all media. People watching TV, listening to radio, or driving past outdoor ads will switch from alpha to beta modes and back as the content triggers the reticular activating system, and is accepted or rejected by the conscious mind.

Your corn flake ad will scream for the attention of someone who’s out of corn flakes. The rest of the readers / listeners / viewers (those who don’t have an empty box, as well as those who just do not like corn flakes) will either note the ad and quickly return to alpha state, or ignore it all together.

Got it? You’ll never reach everyone with any ad. We don’t all run out of cornflakes at the same time.

Whether it’s corn flakes, or worms, we want to keep the bait relevent when we’re fishing for customers.
Your Guide,
Chuck McKay

Marketing consultant Chuck McKayYour Fishing for Customers guide, Chuck McKay, gets people to buy more of what you sell.

Got questions about moving your shoppers into a beta state?  Drop Chuck a note at [email protected]. Or call him at 760-813-5474.

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Can You Use Cognitive Dissonance to Create More Successful Advertising

A couple of decades ago I sat on the invisible side of a two-way mirror and studied the members of a focus group as they watched some television ads my company was testing.

One of my company’s most vocal supporters watched an ad that positioned our product as quite similar to our major competitor’s product. He immediately lambasted our competitor.

Did you catch that? He saw a test ad in which our product claimed the same marketing position as our major competitor, and immediately assumed that the ad had been produced by that competitor, and promoted the competing product.

Was he easily confused? I think the answer is much more interesting: he suffered an episode of cognitive dissonance.

Cognitive dissonance is a psychological term.

The term was coined in 1957 by social scientist Leon Feistinger to describe the uncomfortable tension which results from a person having two conflicting thoughts at the same time. Feistinger theorized that when the mind is presented with evidence which contradicts strongly held beliefs, the mind acquires or invents new information in order to justify the belief.

Our supporter in the focus group was presented with evidence that one company (ours – his favorite) was claiming attributes of a company he actively disliked. His reaction? It must be the OTHER company making these claims. To admit otherwise would be to admit that his favorite product had THOSE characteristics.

Selective observation is another manifestation of cognitive dissonance. We see this in each of the Presidential debates. Viewers accept those statements which reinforce their current beliefs (justification), and ignore those which contradict (denial). You can accurately gauge the politics of each network commentator by noting which of the candidates the commentator proclaims to be the winner.

How does cognitive dissonance affect advertising?

In general, people tend to be optimistic. They believe themselves to be virtuous, to be intelligent, to be successful. And pointing out the difference between people’s self images and the reality of their current situations can be a valid advertising strategy. The resulting cognitive dissonance can create an incomplete feeling in the customer who doesn’t own whatever the advertiser is selling.

Does it work on everyone? Of course not. But, it can work on enough customers to be a valid strategy.

  • John thinks of himself as successful, but he drives a 5-year-old car. Mr. Car Dealer reminds John that the new precision driving machine only appeals to those with discerning tastes, and that being seen in a performance car will telegraph to the world that John is someone to be reckoned with.

  • Jim loves his wife. Mr. Jeweler suggests that if he really loved her, Jim would show it with jewelry as precious as she is. Mr. Jeweler suggests that two months salary is the appropriate amount to consider spending to tell her he’d marry her all over again.

  • Jake is a young professional, at the beginning of his career. Jake has been advised to look successful in order to appear to management to be ready for promotion. Jake’s friends drink one of the mass advertised domestic beers. Jake has been affected by the advertising of an import positioned as higher quality.
  • Most advertising delivers images of what people say they want. Most advertising emotionally connects the those images things the advertisers sell. Cognitive dissonance adds the elements of guilt, regret, anxiety, or dereliction.

    Am I recommending the application of cognitive dissonance in your advertising?

    Maybe. Do you sell a premium product or service? For some premium products it’s a valid strategy. For most, it’s not.

    The stronger your position, the more likely you are to be noticed by high-probability prospects. It simultaneously eliminates the low-probability prospects. The stronger the dissonance, the better this strategy will work, if implemented properly. Taken too far the customer can be made to feel like a failure, and won’t buy at all.

    Of course, there are consequences to no image, too. Serious consequences.

    What’s your image? How strong is that image? The stronger your image, the better the bait, when you’re fishing for customers.

    Your Guide,
    Chuck McKay

    Marketing consultant Chuck McKay

    Chuck McKay.

    Your Fishing for Customers guide, Chuck McKay, gets people to buy more of what you sell.

    Questions about creating your professional image may be directed to [email protected]. Or call Chuck at 304-208-7654.


    If you know someone who would find this article useful, please share it.

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    Will A Doomsday Cult Buy A New Dishwasher?

    Cognitive dissonance.

    It’s the discomfort caused by two conflicting thoughts.

    It’s the pain of learning something new, which contradicts what’s already accepted as true. And it’s often strongest when a person believes something about himself, but acts in a contradictory fashion.

    Dr. Leon Festinger, then of the University of Minnesota, first proposed the theory of cognitive dissonance after studying a doomsday cult lead by a suburban Minneapolis housewife.

    Marion Keech was convinced that aliens would rescue her and her followers before a massive flood occured at midnight, December 20, 1954. Many of the cult members waiting for the end of the world quit their jobs, sold their homes, and gave away their belongings and savings.

    What does a cult follower do when faced with incontrovertible evidence that his beliefs are wrong? Right. He rationalizes. And interestingly, his belief becomes even stronger.

    Rather than admit they had changed their lives on an invalid premise (and rather than risk being laughed at), Keech’s followers chose to believe their faith had persuaded the aliens to save the world.

    Dr. Festinger explained that the more important conflicting ideas are to a person the greater the cognitive dissonance they cause. The discomfort also increases when accepting the validity of one idea requires the complete denunciation of the other. If a person can’t rationalize, or explain away the discrepancy, he suffers.

    And according to Festinger, when learning the new information forces people to compromise their self-image, they will not learn from their mistakes. Instead of admitting their own fallibility, they’ll continue making the same bad choices. (This denial of the evidence also contributes to confirmation bias, in which an individual picks and chooses among the “facts” he’ll accept as true.)

    When it comes to marketing surveys?

    One of the least reliable methods of predicting consumer behavior is to ask consumers what they intend to do. And yet, companies keep using “intent to purchase” surveys to determine the course of their business.

    Do you intend to purchase a hard drive? A dishwasher? A case of Cabernet Sauvignon? A new home?

    Do people really know what they’re going to buy?

    In the next year will you buy a digital camera? Shares of stock? An iPhone? A timeshare? A second vehicle?

    Does anyone know?

    Some do. Most don’t.

    Why is that?

    When the ideal of “what I want” collides with the reality of “what I can afford,” cognitive dissonance is the likely outcome. We’re a nation of optimists. We all want to believe that next year will be better than this one. It’s painful to admit that we don’t have the power to create the lives we want, even when we only have to admit it to ourselves.

    So we deny. We rationalize. We hope. And we don’t tell the researchers what we suspect to be true. We don’t even tell them what we think they want to hear.

    We tell them how we see ourselves.

    What can you expect when you ask what people want?

    You can expect them not to care that you want to know.

    You can expect them not to want to do any mental work to help you get to your answers.

    You can expect the vast majority to refuse to answer. They don’t have time.

    And expect that most don’t truly know what they want. By definition, any of these folks who take your survey are giving an inaccurate description of their preferences.

    Those who know what they want, and complete your survey, often provide incomplete answers.

    And in those very few cases where your survey does compile a complete and accurate description of your customer’s preferences, what you have is a static picture of a constantly moving target. Over time, those preferences will become stale and less accurate.

    And there’s still the question of what you’re measuring. When you ask about intent to purchase, are you measuring stated preferences? Behavioral preferences? Predictive behavior? Are they the same? If not, how do they differ?

    Be very careful with intentions.

    Frankly, the only reliable data tracks behaviors. Actual purchases. Not what people want, but what they’ve actually paid for.

    A recent study of automobile shoppers indicates that 58 percent of those who bought, drove off in a car other than the one they came looking for. And when questioned, a full 42 percent arrived at the lot without having made a clear choice between a new vehicle and a used one. Maybe what they were “just looking” for was a good salesperson.

    Regardless, you can easily see that surveying intention to purchase provides pretty much useless data.

    Information is moving faster than ever. The rate of change keeps accelerating. And it’s unfortunate that in some industries, by the time changes in customer behavior have become obvious, its too late to adjust and stay competitive.

    How can you predict what people will buy?

    Even people who don’t know what they want can usually rank their preferences.

    Ask them to choose between options.

    Ask them for trade offs.

    Help them to the decision point. Help them to choose which products, or even features and benefits are worth more to them.

    Would they like a cell phone that can give them directions to the nearest Italian restaurant? Sure. Who wouldn’t?

    Would they pay an extra $100 for it? Ehhhhhh, maybe not.

    If there was only one extra feature beyond basic telephone service, would they give up the ability to play MP3s in order to have those restaurant directions? Absolutely not.

    Would they give up the four function calculator? OK, perhaps they would, but they still won’t pay extra for the directions.

    Ah, now you have a way to uncover some truly meaningful information about market demand.

    In the absence of actual sales data, identifying the important trade offs they’ll pay for is critical when you’re fishing for customers.

    Your Guide,
    Chuck McKay

    Marketing consultant Chuck McKay

    Chuck McKay.

    Your Fishing for Customers guide, Chuck McKay, gets people to buy more of what you sell.

    Questions about getting meaningful information from your customers may be directed to [email protected].  Or call Chuck at 304-208-7654.


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