Cognitive Dissonance & Post-Purchase Process Video

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  • 0:07 Post-Purchase Feelings…
  • 1:01 Cognitive Dissonance
  • 1:36 High Involvement Purchases
  • 2:20 Post-Purchase Dissonance
  • 5:13 Avoiding Post-Purchase…
  • 6:09 Dissonance and…
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kelly Roach

Kelly earned her Master of Mass Communication from Arizona State and has taught consumer behavior and communication courses at the undergraduate level.

Have you ever second-guessed a major purchase? Watch this video to understand what cognitive dissonance is and how marketers can keep us from experiencing it.

Post-Purchase Feelings and Behavior

You might think that once a sale has been made, a marketer's job is done, and all of their goals have been accomplished. You're now slightly lighter in the pocket, and their sales figures for the month just went up. Really, it's not always that easy.

For some purchases, consumers go through a period of second-guessing their purchase decision, wondering if the choice they made was correct or if they should have chosen a different product to fulfill their unsatisfied need.

Sometimes consumers second-guess their purchase decisions.
Unsure About Purchase

Marketers must implement strategies to help combat these feelings and assure us we've made the right choice. You might recall that over time, the more positive experiences and feelings we associate with a brand, the more likely we are to develop brand loyalty, where that product becomes our go-to, number one choice. The more negative experiences we encounter, the more likely we are to develop some sort of brand rejection, where we refuse to make the same mistake and purchase the same brand again, lest we experience the same dissatisfaction.

Cognitive Dissonance

Most of us have experienced a form of this 'second-guessing' feeling when we're out at a restaurant. We order something thinking it's exactly what we're hungry for, only to look over at our dining companion's plate when the food arrives and suddenly wish we'd ordered what they're having.

This type of feeling is also known as cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance can be defined as the uncomfortable tension or feelings that occur when we hold conflicting thoughts, attitudes or beliefs. So, in our restaurant example, our belief that we made the best choice conflicts with the realization that there may have been a tastier dish we would have liked more.

High-Involvement Purchases

You might remember that with the many different types of consumer purchases, there are different levels of involvement, or how much time we spend considering alternatives before making a purchase. The level of involvement used to make a decision can be thought of like a continuum, ranging from virtually no thought to very high involvement, with points all along the line.

Although the menu mix-up situation I just described is a good example to understand the type of feeling associated with cognitive dissonance, actual cognitive dissonance is much more likely to occur in higher-involvement decisions, rather than more spur-of-the-moment, low-involvement decisions like a menu choice. The cognitive dissonance that occurs after high-involvement decision-making can also be called post-purchase dissonance.

Cognitive dissonance usually occurs with higher-involvement purchasing decisions.
Cognitive Dissonance

Post-Purchase Dissonance

By definition, post-purchase dissonance is the uncomfortable feeling we just described when it occurs following a high-involvement decision.

This dissonance occurs because choosing one alternative requires you to commit to its features and benefits, requiring you to give up the attractive features of other possible choices.

Because post-purchase dissonance is most often associated with high-involvement purchases, you can think of purchase dissonance almost like a scale - the likelihood you'll experience those feelings and the stronger they'll be are based on:

  1. The decision's permanence
  2. The cost of the decision
  3. The importance of the decision in your life
  4. The difficulty of choosing between options

These are all factors that characterize a high-involvement decision. Now that we've gone over the post-purchase dissonance parameters, let's evaluate a situation using the scale I just mentioned; we'll call it the dissonance-ometer, and see how it all works together.

Let's say for your 25th birthday, you want to do something special. You decide to go on some sort of birthday vacation celebration and go all out. Now, the only question is what you'll do and where you'll go. You find yourself choosing between a Caribbean cruise and a trip to Hawaii. Going back to our dissonance-ometer, let's see how this decision ranks.

Looking at the decision's permanence, there is some degree of dissonance. While you can always take another vacation and plan a second trip for some other time, you only turn 25 once. And, unless you're some sort of celebrity or billionaire, the chances of you being able to do both for your birthday are probably pretty slim.

So the fact that you can only choose one place to visit for your birthday celebration probably contributes significantly to the amount of dissonance you'll experience once you make your final choice. Let's give this factor an eight out of ten.

The cost of the trip might also make your dissonance-ometer spike. Again, unless you've got an unlimited or very large bank account, either one of these trips will probably cost you a pretty penny and require you to do some saving or cost-cutting in other areas.

Depending on how strenuous the trip is on your budget, your dissonance-ometer will rise even more. In your case, this trip is about a seven out of ten.

The importance of the decision in your life and choosing between options depend on each individual. An avid traveler might spend weeks agonizing over the choice. Someone who is more go-with-the-flow and had the idea for this trip almost randomly might not.

Because traveling is a true passion of yours, this trip ranks about a seven out of ten on the dissonance-ometer in these categories.

So, the dissonance-ometer ranks at an eight out of ten for permanence and a seven out of ten in the other categories. For you, making a purchase decision for your birthday getaway will cause a fairly high level of post-purchase dissonance. Keep in mind, for other purchases, or even for this same purchase for a different person, the different factors can be at all different levels. They don't all have to be sevens or eights, or even close together.

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