The following is also my latest MediaPost Spin column…
Ignorant Customers Happier With Their Choices
February 29th, 2008 by Max Kalehoff
The less your customers know about what they bought, the happier they’ll be.
That’s according to researchers at the University of Iowa, who recently announced new research suggesting that people who have only a little information about a product are happier with that product than people who have more information. They dubbed this counterintuitive notion the Blissful Ignorance Effect.
Dhananjay Nayakankuppam, a UI marketing professor, said: “We found that once people commit to buying or consuming something, there’s a kind of wishful thinking that happens and they want to like what they’ve bought.”
He added: “The less you know about a product, the easier it is to engage in wishful thinking. But the more information you have, the harder it is to kid yourself. This can be contrasted with what happens before taking any action when people are trying to be accurate and would prefer getting more information to less.”
Nayakankuppam said that the Blissful Ignorance Effect demonstrates that people have a need to be happy with their choice, and will often engage in whatever distortion is needed to justify the purchase. That means playing up the positive aspects while downplaying the negatives. While people have a need to be accurate before taking some action, post-action it is the directional need to justify a conclusion that is more important.
There are some key implications when applying this insight from the theoretical garden of academia to the pragmatic streets of marketing.
First, it further underscores the emotional attachment people have with brands – especially after a purchase. Purchasing a product is an implicit definition and expression of who you are. When a prospect becomes a customer, don’t take it for granted. The stakes are higher and emotional involvement can lead to more significant impact when you perform well or poorly in fulfilling brand expectations. If customers have such an enormous need to be happy with their choice – enough to engage in wishful thinking – consider how much happier and loyal you could make them simply by delivering on your promise. Imagine if you occasionally delivered unexpected delight.
Second, Nayakankuppam suggests that less information enables wishful thinking and justification about a possibly bad or uninformed product decision. I accept that, but we should consider additional explanations in how information presence can affect product satisfaction post purchase. For example, we all know – as humans – that rational information can prevent imaginative or sensory experiences from coming through. If your product is heavily contingent on senses or imagination, then more information could dilute impact.
Finally, the insight that more information often leads to lower levels of post-purchase happiness underscores the merits of simplicity. Practical experience suggests that more, inefficient or excessive information surrounding a product – or information that’s embedded in a product – can create damaging complexity. While more information may aid some rational purchase decisions, resulting complexity after a purchase can distract from a brand’s core expectations. It can even erode utility by creating cognitive paralysis. To be sure, our interactive marketing industry is suffering from this.
As for business application, Blissful Ignorance would be dangerous as a sole marketing strategy, especially if your goal was to blatantly promote customer ignorance. However, it is an incredibly useful concept in understanding how information presence influences customer reasoning, satisfaction and loyalty.