“Click to like!”
“Like to enter!”
“Join and get two for free!”
“Enter and redeem your coupon!”
I’m all for sales, and social media is no exception. After all, business is business.
But this doesn’t mean your brand should sell itself short by being too aggressive.
Especially not in social media.
Every time a social media user is faced with your brand, they face your brand with a set of pre-determined cognitions about it.
What then happens, how the user reacts to your messaging, was described in 1957 by Leon Festinger in A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance.
How a user reacts to your message, depends greatly on the message of course, but also on what the user know about the world already.
As human beings we tend to seek out messages that reinforces our world views—and we tend to ignore messages who tells us otherwise.
This is however not the full story of Festinger’s theory.
Because the trouble with manifesting messages is that they don’t suggest change (“if the user is perfect, why take any action?”, and as online marketers, we’re in the game for breaking that status quo.
In online marketing, we do need to ask for a behavioural pattern disruption, a CTA (call-to-action).
According to professor Daniel J. O’Keefe, expert in persuasion techniques, this is also why ‘forced compliance’ has inspired the most research efforts within the field of persuasion studies.
How Hardcore Online Sales Hurt You
Let’s use a made-up example:
Imagine how a user enters a website.
For the sake of argument, let’s guess that this individual is searching for specific information, maybe researching a potential purchase?
At the website, you aggressively offers the user an offer that is almost too good to be true.
Maybe offering the product at a 50% discount and free shipping combined with aggressive value propositions, “we promise to make your life better”.
This will most likely increase sales and, given that you have good enough margins to run occasional campaigns like this, it will also increase profits through sheer volume.
This is potential hazardous data for the brand.
A/B testing of the website will favour the more aggressive “giveaway” approach.
And, on a larger scale, one could argue that this effect in fact has created the sizeable online public bargain hunters.
But what’s wrong with this picture?
The Dissonance Effect
The problem with aggressive forced compliance is that the greater the incentive to comply, the less dissonance is created by the purchase.
Say I don’t like a specific brand all that much. However, they offer me chance to win a trip to Hawaii on Facebook. I’ve never been to Hawaii, but I’m dreaming of going there some time.
Plus, the contest is about creating a new slogan—and I like to think of myself as a witty person!
It’ll be against my better judgement to like their Facebook Page to enter, but the plausible incentive is just too good.
So, I enter and the brand gets their social media shares and their digital spread and I might just win a trip to Hawaii.
But what happens with my attitude towards the brand?
Do I now think more favourably about the brand for offering me a chance to fulfil my fantasy of a dreamy vacation on Hawaii?
Since the action taken by me was induced so aggressively, I might even think less of the brand for making me take action against my own precognitions of the brand.
Back in 1969, a group of researchers did a series of field experiments:
For a chain of retail stores, they introduced a series of common household products as “house brands”.
In some of the stores, they offered these products at aggressively reduced prices for a short period of time.
The low-price offers had the expected effects, and resulted in sales increases.
However, and this is the kicker:
When prices went back to normal, subsequent sales were higher at the stores who never offered the discounts.
Low introductory prices proved harmful to long-term sales—and this is the cognitive dissonance theory in full effect.
Focus On Relationships
What can we take away from all of this in online sales?
1. If you have to persuade your social media visitors too aggressively, using overwhelming incentives to get them to comply will in only hurt long-term sales..
2. Instead of forcing their compliance, you need to a) either change the type of traffic you’re getting to acquire a crowd that has more positive attitudes towards your brand, or b) work on your brand image.
3. The goal is to have people strengthening their attitudes towards your brand with every purchase. This is why the concepts of ‘brand’ and ‘sales’ never should be separated in marketing in general!