Assimilate or disintegrate: How your buyers respond to new information

Last week the Federal Minister for Health Tanya Plibersek condemned Imperial Tobacco’s move to introduce a form of stylised plain packaging ahead of the mandatory and uniform olive green, unbranded version.

It is no surprise that the tobacco companies are trying everything to secure their product in market. So, putting the ethics of tobacco products to one side, let’s consider a key behavioural lesson from this industry as it reacts to change.

Assimilate or disintegrate

When faced with new information, we seek to assimilate it with our existing view of the world, much like fitting a piece of a jigsaw puzzle.

We are motivated to maintain our internal narrative – how we explain the world to ourselves – and will actively seek to resolve what is known as cognitive dissonance; the unpleasant sense that something just doesn’t fit right.

What do we do to alleviate this feeling? Distort, refute or ignore the new information. Anyone who has been in a meeting when a stakeholder has flat out rejected new facts/research will know what dissonance looks like – it’s officially known as “information avoidance”.

In fact, just follow how the political parties respond to the release of studies to see reactions to dissonance writ large.

In adjusting its packaging ahead of the government changes, Imperial Tobacco was seeking to bridge the old and new worlds for its consumers with the hope of softening the reaction. They were assimilating the changes – on their terms – so that their consumers would be less likely to reject the new information.

For your business, consider how any new information – new product or service, pricing, conditions – will likely be received by your market. How are you helping to bridge the gap between old and new so that the change will be assimilated rather than disintegrated?

Bri Williams runs People Patterns Pty Ltd, a consultancy specialising in the application of behavioural economics to everyday business issues. Bri is a presenter, consultant and author who you can find out more about at, [email protected] or by following on Twitter @peoplepatterns. Bri’s book, “22 Minutes to a Better Business”, about how behavioural economics can help you tackle everyday business issues, is available through the Blurb bookstore.



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