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Principles of Influence Part 5: Consistency — Doubling Down on Decisions

Note: This is the fifth in a series of six blog posts being featured based on principles found in Dr. Robert Cialdini’s seminal psychology book entitled Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. It is essential reading for any marketer. Previous blog posts in this series can be located by clicking on the author’s name.

The principle of consistency suggests that once someone makes a decision, they will tend to make similar, complimentary choices that reinforce their original decision. To prove the point, Dr. Cialdini sites a study where homeowners were asked if they would be willing to put a sign in their front lawn asking drivers passing by to “Drive Safely.” Few complied. However, those who agreed to put a small postcard in their window featuring the same admonition, were later asked to erect the aforementioned sign after they had agreed to the similar, smaller message that adorned their window. The result? A 400% increase in homeowners’ willingness to plant the larger sign on their front yard.

What motivates this tendency on the part of individuals to double down on decisions? Is it a desire to reinforce the idea that they have made the “right” decision? A wish to avoid contradiction or perhaps appear hypocritical? Whatever the motivation, according to Cialdini, consistency is activated by “looking for, and asking for small initial commitments that can be made.” One example of how this is manifested in terms of marketing is in a telemarketing setting. Veteran call center guru Lee Swanson once told me, “If we can get three ‘yesses’ during a consultative selling process, our close rates increase significantly.” During the scripting process then, the telesales operator guides the prospect through an exchange whereby the operator attempts to extract such agreements. So, for example, the telemarketer might say, “If I told you could have 90 days to experience the product without risk, would you be willing to give it a try?” Each “yes” creates a shift in thinking in the form of compliance, and pushes the lead further down the sales funnel, with many converting into a sale. After all, nobody wants to hear, “But, I thought you said…”

The concept of consistency then creates both a unique challenge and opportunity for marketers by virtue of its sheer power. Amazon certainly understands this as they continue to expand their tribe of Prime members who now rely on the retailer for the majority of their product research. Consumers now exercise this habit with profound consistency, a behavior that no doubt powers much of the online behemoth’s sales. Even the number of reviews a given product represents is a form of consistency that influences consumers. In a study published by the Association for Psychological Science, researchers found that when consumers made a choice between two like products, the product with the larger volume of reviews was consistently selected, even though this bias did not reflect upon the product’s superiority. In fact, in many instances the product with the larger number of reviews was inferior.

Consistency is one of the reasons why creating lasting brand affinity is such a driver of success. Do you prefer Coke or Pepsi? Where do you gas up your car? How about your preferred news source? Once we give ourselves over to a consistent pattern of behavior, our interaction with brands and products often becomes habituated. This is yet another form of a shortcut, whereby decision making, amid a glut of everyday choices, is rendered effortless… because we’ve already made the decision previously. Want more proof of the power of consistency? Look no further than our political races. According to a PolitiFact article, despite having a dismal approval rating of about 14%, guess what percentage of Congressional incumbents were reelected in 2014? Approximately 95%! Call it the devil you know versus the one you don’t and take note: only three presidents in the past 80+ years have failed to win a second term when running: Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and George H.W. Bush. While some may perish the thought, in a world of so much uncertainty, the willingness of decision makers to consistently go back to the well from which they came is a notion upon which you can rely. The question now is: how to apply?

Rick Petry

Rick Petry

Author: Rick Petry is the CMO/EVP Client Services of DirectAvenue and a seasoned direct marketing professional and thought leader with experience spanning three decades. He has had a hand in campaigns generating over $1 billion in sales and is conversant in all facets of performance-based marketing including off-line and on-line media planning and buying, research, analytics, creative, production, and back-end management, Rick is the author of over 200 articles on direct marketing best practices, and is a past Chairman of the Board of the Electronic Retailing Association (ERA) and a recipient of ERA’s Volunteer of the Year award, as well as the Direct Response Marketing Alliance’ Member of the Year award as voted by his peers.