Consistency – do what you believe, and believe in what you do
For the next couple of weeks we’re going to be presenting a series of articles on Cialdini’s Six Principles of Persuasion as they relate to marketing, with a dash of the social science behind them. Stay with me, because this time it’s all about consistency.
Fickle. Erratic. Unreliable. Scattered. It doesn’t feel good to be described as inconsistent, or anything like it. We want to be seen as consistent, whole characters, who go through with our promises and stick to our views. It is this desire to be seen as consistent, to have the virtue of commitment, that qualifies it as a principle of persuasion.
If you can get someone to agree to a statement orally, then they are more likely to defend it later or behave in a way consistent with that statement. If you get it in writing, even better! This is because in committing to that statement, that person has made it a part of their expressed self-image. In other words, it is now a part of their identity. To subsequently act in a way that is incongruent with that statement would therefore be hypocritical. This feeling is known as cognitive dissonance and was first proposed by social psychologist Leon Festinger in 1957.
Cognitive dissonance is a ‘psychological discomfort’ which we experience when we have two conflicting thoughts, behaviours or emotions. For example, if someone is paid £20 to lie to another person, it is easy for them to maintain their internal belief that they are a fundamentally honest person – “I lied, but I was paid well, so I had a good reason to lie. I am otherwise honest.” If a person is paid £1 to lie on the other hand, they may find it difficult to justify a lie for such a small reward whilst maintaining their belief that they are honest. As they have already told the lie, they cannot take it back, and so they must justify it in a different way to maintain their self-belief – by subsequently believing the lie that they told was actually the truth. This was an early experiment carried out by Festinger to demonstrate cognitive dissonance and how we resolve it.
Cognitive dissonance and its relationship with consistency is fascinating as it suggests that, to a certain extent, we do not behave according to our beliefs – we believe according to how we behave. There are plenty of examples of how this has been used in marketing. Websites increasingly use tools like exit popups to sign users up to mailing lists when they’re about to bounce away from the site. Instead of simply having “yes please” and “no thank you” options, these popups can be used to force the user to commit to a statement, by replacing “yes please” with a positive statement (maybe offering a freebie a a reward) and “no thank you” with a negative statement (e.g. “no, I don’t want to benefit from great deals.”) Because users don’t want to agree with the negative statement, they are more likely to click the positive one.
Another way consistency is used is in the “foot-in-the-door” (FITD) technique. The reverse of the “door-in-the-face” technique (featured in our last blog “Cialdini’s Six Principles Of Persuasion: Reciprocity”), FITD involves getting customers to say “yes” to a small ask in order to get them to say “yes” later to a big ask. It is a way of achieving sales without being aggressive – a method of achieving “compliance without pressure”. Asking someone if they would consider wearing a free pin for a charity means they are more likely to donate to the charity later. Children are also pretty well-versed in it – asking your mum if you can go to your friend’s house for dinner means she is more likely to let you stay the night as well. The FITD works better if you pair it with requests that are socially desirable. For example, when experimenters asked people to sign a petition against drunk-driving, those who did were more likely to call a taxi rather than drive home after a night out. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves!
If you’d like to know more about Cialdini’s Six Principles of Persuasion, stay tuned for our next article on social proof.