Perhaps his most popular work is the book “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion”. In that book, he lists six principles of influence. One of those principles is consistency.
Like many of the weapons of influence Cialdini describes, the persuasive power of consistency occurs deep within our subconscious, quietly wielding power over our decision making.
The concept of consistency refers to a persons desire to make future decisions that are consistent with past decisions.
For example, if you are a fitness trainer constantly proclaiming the benefits of exercise and nutrition, the decision to purchase a book called The 300 Calorie Cookbook would be consistent with your past decisions.
It’s a very obvious concept in human psychology, and a very powerful one.
How can we use the concept of consistency to market a business online?
#1 – Start by Asking for Something Small
In Cialdini’s examples, consistency is more persuasive when you ask for something small first – like asking them to sign a petition – before you make a bigger commitment, such as a donation.
Here are some examples of how businesses can use this technique online:
Limited no-obligation free trials. Many online businesses, especially those offering subscriptions, memberships, or software as a service, let their visitors try their products for free within a limited time.
Email opt-ins. Rather than asking for a sale up front, many businesses ask their site visitors to opt-in to an email campaign first. Then, they follow this up with an autoresponder sequence that may eventually lead to a sale.
Social sharing. If a business prefers to gain brand awareness rather than leads, they may request their visitors to share their content or product pages via social media, rather than asking them to opt in. The simple act of voicing support for a company can lead to a sale down the road due to the power of consistency.
#2 – Reaffirm Your Customer’s Values
Another way to use consistency is by restating and reaffirming your customers’ attitudes and values as they accomplish your small request.
This gives them the feeling that they have reasserted who they are just by following through on your suggested action. In one study, this approach proved to lessen a person’s resistance to new information and persuasive messages.
Here’s an example of value reaffirmation from Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign (via WebProfits.com.au). After a visitor signs up for his mailing list, they see this thank you page:
You get a boost from the phrase “Supporters like you have built the largest grassroots movement in the history of presidential politics.” This makes you feel part of a large movement, and if you’re politically inclined this reaffirms your political values.
But value affirmations don’t always need to be serious. MailChimp, an email marketing service, is known for its mascot and humor. They “try to make email marketing a little fun”, and this approach is part of the secret to their success.
One manifestation of this sense of fun is their mascot, Freddie. When you start using the app, his image is near the header. He shares personalized jokes, links to funny videos, and shows users how the people behind the company are approachable. This helps users build a stronger, emotional bond with the product.
So what happens when, after you sign up, you decide you don’t like this approachable, fun, humorous approach to email marketing, even if it is one of MailChimp’s unique features?
It’s simple. You can turn the “personality” feature off – but doing so makes you a party pooper.
Party poopers probably aren’t a great fit for MailChimp. Odds are, those who don’t like MailChimp’s informal image won’t sign up for the service in the first place. In case they do, “Party Pooper Mode” is there to show them that they may be more likely to identify with the other formal email marketing tools out there.
#3 – Remind Them of Similar Things They Did or Bought
Implementing consistency elements in your marketing works better if you mention the other similar things your customers have bought or done.
You are reviewing their history of complying with similar requests, reminding them that they are the type of person to take the action you suggested. As a result, when they act on your larger requests – such as sending in a donation, subscribing to a service, or buying a product – these actions would merely be consistent with their previous behavior.
Amazon does this really well using their follow-up emails. After I browsed for a biography of Theodore Roosevelt, they sent me an email with a list of recommendations – all relevant to the topic.
Amazon’s email recommendations come in a variety of formats, all referring to your history in buying and browsing similar items.
Still, the effectiveness of this “similarity effect” is dependent on the customer’s culture. In another study by Cialdini, they found that reminding a subject of their own history of compliance was more effective in individualistic cultures (such as the US). Collectivistic cultures, on the other hand, are better persuaded if you remind them of how their peers complied with similar requests.
Use these tactics ethically
The concept of consistency is a powerful one and should not be used to manipulate prospects. However, making offers to people that are consistent with their past decisions is smart marketing.
In what ways have you seen the concept of consistency used in marketing?