What’s a marketer’s most powerful tool? Surprisingly, it’s regret!
Home 5 Blogs 5 What’s a marketer’s most powerful tool? Surprisingly, it’s regret!
What’s a marketer’s most powerful tool? Surprisingly, it’s regret!
Home 5 Blogs 5 What’s a marketer’s most powerful tool? Surprisingly, it’s regret!


Every time I turn my television on, I regret it.

Is it the programming? Is productivity wasted? Wistful feelings of stardom never pursued?

No. I regret buying my Sony TV. The menu system is not very intuitive. It’s slow. The settings seem to change without warning. This bloody thing drives me around the bend.

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This regret got me thinking about all the ways it affects an experience. Moreover, it made it clear that even though it seems counterintuitive, given the example of my regretting a purchase, regret is a powerful tool in your marketing toolbox.

Regret isn’t an emotion only for disappointed new customers. Regret happens even with superfans of your products. For example, I bought Sony products back in the day the way I buy Apple products today—which is to say, all the time and without comparison shopping. This TV was purchased during my superfan stage for Sony’s brand.

However, I don’t buy Sony anymore. I found that their brand degraded over time and was no longer the quality it had been when they earned my loyalty. My disappointment over several experiences eroded that loyalty and sent me looking for alternatives.

Not buying their stuff is bad enough, but I didn’t stop there. I took it to the next level. I campaign against the brand with my friends and family.

This example shows that once you introduce regret into your customer relationships, it can go downhill fast and to a bad place for your revenue.

The Power of Regret

Regret is a powerful force. It is an emotional response that influences a lot of human behavior. So, let’s dig into some of the theories of regret to determine why we feel it.

Psychologists say regret occurs when conflict exists between different versions of our self-image. To explain that, we must first realize that we have different versions of “selves.” One is the Actual Self, which is what we observe in our behavior and how we perform. Then, Ought Self is our obligations, the things we should or could do. Finally, there’s an Ideal Self, which we would love to see ourselves being. Regret is often a conflict between the actual self and the other two selves.

My regret regarding the TV purchase is a conflict between the Actual Self and the Ideal Self. As a tech-savvy person, I love electronics and pride myself on making excellent decisions. However, in this case, my electronic purchase decision wasn’t great, and I have to revisit this failure every time I turn the bloody thing on.

However, you can regret purchases you don’t make, too. I recently went to Disneyland Paris and regret not buying a Fastpass. It seemed like a good decision to skip the extra expense. However, you quickly learn in long lines that time is precious, especially at Disneyland. So, not buying the Fastpass caused me a great deal of regret over and over again.

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In the Disneyland example, my regret was that I hadn’t been more thoughtful about things, which is a common regret for people. My actual self was sad that it wasn’t my ideal self’s intelligence and foresight that would have seen that the extra expense was worth it. The good news is I had a lot of time in line to reflect on this inequity.

Here’s another example of regret in an experience. I recently missed a flight by five minutes, which I regretted a great deal. I looked back over my actions leading up to it and realized all the places where I squandered those five minutes, like the extra cup of coffee that morning or the security line I chose to stand in when I made it to the airport.

It’s interesting to note that research studies on similar situations determined that the regret one feels for missing a flight decreases as the time the flight was missed increases. In other words, you’re less prone to regret if you miss the flight by half an hour. I suppose that is because it’s harder to determine the precise moment in your choices where you were on a trajectory to miss the flight. Five minutes could be an extra cup of coffee or an unfortunate choice of security line, but half an hour? Not so much.

Sometimes, the regret we feel has to do with our feelings of responsibility. The missed flight was my fault. I shouldn’t have had that cup of coffee. I should have gotten into another queue.

However, the missed-flight regret differs from how I feel about the TV. While I decided to buy the Sony television, I don’t blame myself for not knowing what a mess it is to operate. Most of us don’t see how the menu will work when standing in the showroom. So, in the case of the TV, it is easier to blame Sony than myself for the decision to buy it. They tricked me into thinking it would be a good product because it bore the Sony logo.

Regret and the Customer Experience

So, what’s the impact of regret in a customer experience setting? Well, returns are a result of regret, as are subscription cancellations. These are straightforward results of regret that you can track easily.

Disappointment is another impact, albeit trickier to uncover. When a product, service, or experience doesn’t meet your expectations, you often feel regret for your buying decision or decisions. However, you don’t always jump right to returning or canceling. Sometimes, you live with the reality vs. the expectation.

As the organization provides the experience, acting before disappointment leads to regret becomes critical. Disappointment is one thing to your experience; regret is often an experience ender.

So, how do you overcome this? One way to respond to disappointment is for an organization to provide support. That doesn’t mean to say live support, although that could be an option. However, it could also be videos or FAQs on the website to help solve the issue.

Additional training is another way. Increasing familiarity with the working of a product can help a person get over feelings of frustration that can lead to disappointment and regret.

In terms of trying to help people overcome regret, that can be trickier. Research indicates that people feel regret differently in the short- and long-term. For example, in the short term, people regret their actions. However, in the long term, people tend to rue missed opportunities. Whether your regret is short- or long-term changes how you should respond to it.

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When the regret is from an action, the best way to address it is to focus on new activities that can mitigate it. For some, it might be a way to customize a feature to make it work for the customer. For others, it might be training or support, as I mentioned before. Whatever it is, the follow-up actions customers undertake help stave off or relieve feelings of regret. These additional actions will help people resolve the conflict between their actual and ideal selves.

Also, it is essential to remember that regret helps us learn. It’s often a powerful lesson, too. However, learning is something people value.

Therefore, an organization can also use customer feedback to admit you learned something, too, and their unmet expectations will result in changes to the product or service. Capitalizing on the sentiment that “we’re all learning together” can help repair the damage and mitigate people’s feelings of regret.

An essential element to responding properly is getting authentic customer feedback. Then, the next critical factor to getting the input is acting on it. As I have often said, if you receive customer feedback, particularly feedback that expresses dissatisfaction with your product or service, and do nothing with it, why gather it?

So…How Can Regret Be a Powerful Tool for You?

Regret doesn’t have many great effects on experiences, nor does its closely related cousin, disappointment. I promised you a powerful tool; primarily, what I have described is a powerful failure.

However, this is where framing can come in. As you will recall, framing is how you present information to elicit an expected response. For example, I mentioned earlier that when you miss a flight by five minutes, you frame that regret about your mistake made at some point in the activities that led up to that moment. But you don’t frame it that way when you miss a flight by more time. Then, you communicate that regret as “out of your hands” or something that doesn’t put you in control of the failure.

Marketers are masters at framing. Therefore, you can use past regret feedback to mitigate future regret. For example, my regret about not purchasing the Fastpass at Disneyland Paris can serve as the fodder for a marketing message about having time to make the memories you wanted with your day rather than standing in line regretting that you didn’t buy the Fastpass.

In other words, you can anticipate your customer’s regret (based on past customer experiences). Then, you can frame the offer in a way that helps customers decide to take action to avoid it.

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Customer Segmentation plays a role here, too. How one customer group regrets a purchase might differ from another group’s. Therefore, these messages might need some tweaking to elicit the proper action.

Recognize the causes of regret. Regret is often an internalized evaluation resulting from an unfavorable comparison to a core standard. These standards are different for different people. Therefore, understanding the internal standards for your target segments can help here.

If you think about it, our subscription economy means you want customers to carry on using your product or service. So, a Customer Success team might be a good addition. You have to invest in that training. Moreover, once you’ve identified a problem and can identify that through feedback from returns, you need to do something about it. For me, that’s changing the product, reframing, or redeveloping things differently.

Regret does not come up often in marketing and conversations, but it should. Regret can be a powerful tool. It’s an emotion that factors into a lot of what we do. You can use it as a sales tool by getting people to consider what they might regret later.

However, it is essential to remember it can be an anti-sales tool, too. Pushing people into a buying decision they will regret later will only lead to cancellations or returns and all the bad feelings accompanying them.

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If you have a business problem that you would like some help with, contact me on LinkedIn or submit your pickle here. We would be glad to hear from you and help you with your challenges.