The Problem of Trust, the Power of Pain
How do you persuade people to trust you enough to buy from you? The people you want to influence are distracted. A million shiny things fight for their attention. How can you rise above the crowd, set yourself apart, prove yourself worthy of trust?
You could hire marketing consultants. You could buy advertising and saturate your target market with “irresistible” offers. You could hire expert copywriters and graphic artists and SEO gurus and bombard digital media to get the word out.
In short, you could do the same things everyone else does. It’s expensive. It’s risky. And it doesn’t leverage basic human emotion.
Cognitive dissonance is deeply painful
There is another way though, a way that doesn’t take a lot of money. A way that is neither sneaky nor subliminal. It’s just smart.
It is a way that leverages the power of pain.
Sit back and relax while I explain.
Emotion: The Birthplace of Persuasion
Have you ever seen someone “just lose it” or “snap”? In an instant, they change from a perfectly happy, reasonable human being to a snarly, angry, defensive beast. (Maybe you’ve done it yourself.)
Kinda the real-life version of the Incredible Hulk.
When you see a person instantly switch from being calm and reasonable to being wildly emotional, there’s a simple explanation: cognitive dissonance.
Cognitive dissonance describes what happens inside you when you are confronted with something that contradicts your most cherished beliefs.
As soon as you are confronted with the conflict between the facts and your beliefs, your thoughts and emotions crash together in a painful, non-harmonious way.
It hurts. A lot.
You recoil from the idea that caused you pain. You deny. You get defensive. You deflect. Perhaps you even attack the messenger.
You can’t help it. It’s an instinctive reaction to the pain. It is a reflex. It’s no different than what happens when the doctor taps your knee with that little rubber mallet to test your motor reflexes.
Cognitive dissonance is no fun. But as Marcus Aurelius said, “what stands in the way becomes the way.” Cognitive dissonance – as painful as it may be – can be the pathway to fantastic loyalty.
Hang on for a sharp left turn. This story may seem like it doesn’t fit. Trust me, though. It will help you know how to create fanatical loyalty in your customers.
(The following story is true. I changed the names to protect the innocent.)
Mike is married to Chloe. They have a son, Adam. Adam was born with a serious and rare health condition. Mike and Chloe started an organization to research the causes of Adam’s rare condition and find a way to cure it.
Over the last 20 years, the organization grew under Mike’s care. The organization raised lots of money to fund research for a cure. It sponsors events around the world where scientists and sufferers alike gather and exchange stories. It a community of the scientists who study the disease, the sufferers and their families. All in all, it is an amazing story of hope and progress.
Also, Mike has been conducting a series of adulterous affairs for the last 20 years. In fact, for the last 7 years, he had an affair with one of the scientists in the organization. He has diverted funds from the organization to fly around the world for dalliances with his various girlfriends.
Until just a few weeks ago, neither Chloe, Adam, nor the board of the foundation knew about his affairs.
When Belief Collides with Facts
Mike believes himself to be a good man, a good husband and a good father. By any rational measure though, a man who cheats on his wife for years with lots of different women – and who uses gifts made to a charitable organization to fund his dalliances – is not a good man.
Mike’s belief about who he is – his fundamental self-identity – contradicts the facts. He has been able ignore the contradiction though. How? Because he wasn’t forced to confront the dissonance between his belief and the facts.
Then Chloe found out.
She confronted him with the conflict between his belief and his actions. And when that happened, he experienced a classic case of cognitive dissonance. He got angry. He denied. He deflected. He projected. He blamed Chloe for his affairs. He even complained about the unbearable pain Chloe caused him by forbidding contact with his long-time girlfriend.
An irrational response, right? Even Mike would agree. But very normal.
When your deepest beliefs and the facts contradict one another, it is unbearably painful. That pain is cognitive dissonance.
There are only two ways for Mike – or anyone else – to put an end to cognitive dissonance.
- He can change his actions to match his beliefs or
- He can change his beliefs to match his actions.
There is no other way out.
The Flight From Pain
We humans are wired to avoid pain and seek pleasure. Cognitive dissonance is a painful and highly unstable state.
A tiny percentage of people can tolerate such internal conflict without doing something to change it. These folks are rare.
A small minority of people can adjust their beliefs to align with their actions. They become more self-aware and less delusional about themselves.
Most people, however, are completely unable to change their beliefs. Those beliefs form the core of their identity. Anything that threatens their identity feels like an existential threat. And existential threats must be attacked without mercy.
These people are can become your most fanatically loyal fans – no matter what you sell.
I’ll show you how.
An Answer to Every Question
Have you ever wondered what makes cults so powerful? I do. I’ve been studying cults since 1990.
(You may wonder, “when are you going to talk about creating loyal customers?” Hang in there, the answer is coming, but I have to lay the groundwork for you.)
A cult has an answer for every question.
For the person suffering from cognitive dissonance, that quality is incredibly attractive. The cult promises an end to their pain, at a price, of course. TANSTAAFL.
And that price is steep: they have to trade the cult’s identity for their own.
Now that may sound extreme, but for the person who feels the pain of cognitive dissonance, it is an exchange worth making.
This exchange of identities takes place when one comes under the thrall of the cult. And this is the source of the power and pull of cults.
Eric Hoffer, in his seminal book The True Believer, explained that the driving force behind every mass movement is a rejection of the self. We can see this force at work today in various political movements around the globe.
A cult offers a self-identity free from the pain of cognitive dissonance. That’s why people “buy” cults. That’s why people join mass movements.
And that force – that drive to exchange a painful self-identity for the cult’s identity – can be diverted in a much more positive direction: you can offer those sufferers something positive – your brand.
I’ll explain how in part 2.