You know that feeling? When you want to buy something you’re not sure you can afford or when you want to do something you can’t justify? You make your purchase, or you do that thing with your heart and then defend it with your brain.
The more you try to justify yourself, the easier it becomes.
That’s how Cialdini’s principle of consistency works. We need to be and to appear consistent with what we’ve already done. Once we’ve made an initial commitment, that’s how we’re likely to behave.
It’s even more valid if the commitment is in writing. Once people publicly commit to doing something, they are more committed to doing it.
In one study, a doctor’s surgery reduced no-shows by 18% by just asking patients to write down the details of the appointments rather than the staff doing so on the appointment card.
If you go into a car dealership, you’ll go for a test drive to see how you feel about a car. Then, you’ll go back to the showroom, and one of the first things you’ll be asked to do is write down the terms you want, or the salesperson will write them.
There’s nothing official at this point – the terms are likely to be written on a paper scrap – but they are there in black and white for all to see.
I have an accountability buddy. We talk once a week on a Monday morning at 8. It’s a pretty loose arrangement where we share our successes and frustrations and set ourselves tasks for the coming week. The next week, we rinse and repeat.
The result is that is that I get far more done than I would in any week because I’ve committed. Sarah’s not going to scream at me because I don’t meet my goal one week but I feel a sense of duty to fulfil my commitments to her. I’m driven by my desire to run a successful business but helped by her commitment to hold me to account.
It can go wrong. People can be pretty dogged sometimes. The ones that “always knew they’d be successful” can often go under trying by hanging on to a bad idea ruining not only their business but also their lives in the process.
They can’t let go or lose face.
It is possible, of course, to use this nefariously. The old trick of making this year’s must-have Christmas as rare as hen’s teeth in the run-up to the big day. It drives parents crazy trying to get their hands on one. Then, miraculously, a big shipment suddenly appears in January thereby giving kids an extra present as parents decide they have to make good on their commitment.
But you wouldn’t do that, would you?
You can ethically use this too.
If you offer a competition prize – a real bonus, not some shoddy knock off you got in a dodgy market – you can arrange something like a testimonials contest to ask your customers to tell you why they love you. It’ll make them more likely to choose you in the future.
And once they’re committed, you’re more likely to stay so – 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.
Interestingly enough, the older we get, the more we value consistency. It makes it harder for old people to make a change. It is also a reason why older people are more brand loyal than the young.