Have you ever noticed how you get more sure of something the more time you put into it?
Or more convinced that a purchase was worth the money after you’ve bought it – to the extent that you defend your decision to those who question it?
A couple of Canadian psychologists (Knox and Inkster, 1968) discovered a fascinating fact about people at the racetrack: just after placing a bet, these people are more confident that their horse will win. Nothing has changed: the horse’s odds are still the same, the weather conditions are still the same, the track is still the same – but the act of placing the bet has made them more confident…
It’s all to do with our deep-seated need to be – and appear to be – consistent.
It’s an amazing phenomenon. It can be incredibly helpful.
It can also be very damaging. And, of course, it can be used to manipulate.
Let me give you an example of how it can be helpful.
I’m part of a great business mentoring group. It’s a considerable investment in money and time. I was reasonably confident that it would be A Good Thing before I signed up – but after I’d signed up, I was absolutely positive.
Now, nothing had changed. All I’d done was committed my time, money and effort. I hadn’t actually experiencedanything yet.
But I was absolutely convinced this would be a good thing.
So what happened?
I was falling for another of Cialdini’s six principles of persuasion.
His principle of commitment and consistency. You see we humans have an almost obsessive need to be and to appear consistent with what we’ve already done. Once we have made an initial commitment we are highly likely to behave in accordance with that commitment.
In my case, with my mentoring group, this was a very helpful pressure. It means that I give 100% because I’m committed not just in cash but in my desire to do well and help you to do well. Before I’d even done anything in the group, I was already committed to it – and determined to get as much as I could out of it.
But it can be damaging, too.
It’s why many failed businesses fail BIG TIME, with really damaging consequences to the people behind the businesses. Business owners are very emotionally invested in their companies and that causes them to hang onto things when they really should let go. They sink their personal cash into their business in a desperate attempt to save it.
Plus, these business owners feel the need to save face. Nobody ever wants to admit that something they’ve put time and money into isn’t working.
And it can be used to manipulate.
Toy companies do this all the time… if you’re a parent, you might be familiar with their dirty tricks. You promise your child the latest funky toy for Christmas – but when you get to the shops, they’re all sold out. Nothing. Nada. Then there’s the guilt at Christmas when you failed to be consistent and keep your promise, so you overcompensate with other gifts.
Then, in January, the shops miraculously have stocks of the wonder-gift again – so your child gets a bonus present after Christmas because you promised you would give it to them. And not only do you not want to break your promise to your child, you want to teach him that promises are to be kept.
This shortage of popular toys before Christmas, and the abundance afterwards, is not accidental. Toy companies understand very well the principle of commitment and consistency and they exploit parents shamelessly to make money.
However, the good news is that you can use this weapon of influence ethically!
Have you ever wondered why big companies use ‘testimonial contests’? You know the thing: tell us why you like our product in 100 words or fewer. They are getting you to write down why you buy their product, why you like them. It’s really clever, because you’re committing yourself to their brand on paper.
And once you’re committed, you’re more likely to stay committed – because it’s consistent with your past behaviour. That’s why it’s much easier to resist a sales technique at the very start of a relationship than later one.
You can do something similar. By offering a prize or incentive (and it should be something of real value), you can encourage your customers to tell you – and reaffirm to themselves – why they choose you. This commitment makes it more likely that they’ll continue to choose you in the future.
There are a number of ways to use this extremely powerful principle in marketing, and I go into the tools and techniques in a lot more detail in my book, Business For Superheroes, you can get your copy here…
PS You can use the commitment and consistency principle in your personal and business development too. Do you set yourself goals in your business? I’m sure you do – we all do. Do you write them down?
If not, I strongly suggest that you do. Because in writing them down, you’re much more likely to make them happen. Commitment and consistency, see. If you see your written goals staring at you every day, you’re more likely to live up to your promises to yourself.
Vicky Fraser is a copywriter, author, and entrepreneur. She really did run away with the circus… but when she’s not swinging from a trapeze, she’s showing other copywriters and small business owners how to work with better clients, make more money, and stop missing bathtimes, first words, and dinners with angry partners. In fact, she wrote the book on it. Get your copy here.