What Does Dissonance Have to Do with Marketing?
That title kind of feels like a riddle, doesn’t it? It poses a question in such a way that it implies an affirmative answer. If you care about marketing enough or find the title even somewhat intriguing, you might pause and actually consider reading this article to get that answer.
So that title in itself got you to do something: it caught your attention...
So that title in itself got you to do something: it caught your attention; made you think a bit and led you to begin reading this article… that’s marketing and the power of dissonance at work.
How so? Before we answer that question, let’s first make sure we’re on the same page. By “dissonance,” I mean a combination of things that seemingly don’t go together. Since we initially assume they’re irreconcilable, they create a sense of disharmony or tension in us. That is what probably happened to you when you read the title of this article: dissonance and marketing? Together? What?
By “marketing,” I mean the general promotion of an organization, something I’m selling or even an idea. It is easy to confuse marketing and sales so a good analogy to distinguish the two, and show their relation, is fishing. Marketing, and market research, is figuring out where I think the fish will be, determining the best type of lines and lures to get a certain type of fish interested in my hook. Sales is the one-on-one engagement with a particular fish – jiggling the line to make the lure even more enticing, and then, hopefully, hooking and reeling the fish in.
Examining Our Assumptions
When you put anything out for public viewing, you do so based on assumptions about your audience. Sadly, you probably do so without realizing it. Did you create a nice video, graphics or web copy extolling all the amazing features of a new product or initiative? What does that assume about your audience? Probably that they are just as excited and interested about it as you are, but is that ever the case? Most likely not. Because it isn’t, we get frustrated with our marketing efforts. We might even wonder what’s wrong with everyone!
Your Audience's Spotlight
Your audience probably has a lot going on and a lot occupying its attention. Your audience’s own concerns, be it family, work or other personal issues, will preoccupy it most of the time. This creates what Alison Gopnik, in The Philosophical Baby (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009) calls “spotlight consciousness.” Each of us has their own set of beliefs and issues and a framework, or perspective of the world and ourselves in the world, which gives meaning and purpose to those beliefs and issues. Everything – and I mean everything – that we experience is processed and filtered through that perspective. This results in our actually disregarding that which doesn’t affirm that perspective.
If that is really the state of much of your audience, any marketing campaign that doesn’t account for it has a limited chance of success. If you can’t get into your audience’s spotlight, you can’t get its attention. If you can’t get your audience’s attention, you lose.
Poking holes in a worldview
Anything that pokes holes in that worldview, if it’s important enough to us, will grab our attention because it challenges our worldview ever so slightly. We don’t like that! We want a resolution and a return to a predictable, secure world.
That’s what dissonance does – create that gap.
That’s what dissonance does – create that gap. Wonderful you say – all my marketing woes are solved! Well, not so fast. Let me caution you that it is not a cure-all. It is but one more tool you should consider to reach, resonate and activate your audiences.
Remember that a proper use of dissonance, like a riddle, should lead to a broader worldview, a perspective that resolves the tension by showing how what was considered irreconcilable is reconciled. That’s what makes riddles so satisfying when you get the answer: there’s a moment of discovery, a Eureka moment, that is energizing.
If you think dissonance may prove effective for you, ask yourself how you “close” that gap and resolve that tension by providing a higher perspective for your audience.
How does this work for you? Can I give you some examples? If only there were a talk about this? Wait, I’ll be at the Outcomes Conference 2023 in Chicago leading a workshop on this very topic. What a relief. See you there!
Matt Frawley is Head of Partnerships for Polymath, a full service creative agency that is part of the Givington's network of services. He holds a PhD in philosophy and theology and talks way too much about Soren Kierkegaard.