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Using the consistency principle of persuasion in customer communications

Using the consistency principle of persuasion in customer communications

In our fourth article on the principles of persuasion, we’re looking at how our human need for consistency might help you connect with your customers.

If you’re catching up with this series, you might want to read the previous articles about…

And if you want to explore this topic in more detail, we recommend you pick up Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini. It's packed with examples and references to the studies that support these principles.

People need to be authentic

If you’re a Liverpool fan, I would be very surprised if I saw you wearing a Manchester United shirt.

I might ask if you were feeling okay, or wonder privately if you were a liar – or just confused.

The issue at stake is authenticity.

If we portray ourselves as something (vegan, cyclist, base jumper, CEO etc) we usually desire to maintain that image, providing something fundamental doesn’t change.

People need to remain consistent with the stories they tell about themselves.

When people are inconsistent, our trust in them is diminished.

We use consistency as a marker of reliability and trustworthiness.

So it’s hardly surprising that most of us want to be consistent – and be seen to be consistent.

Our position in society depends, in part, on how well we are trusted. So you can see that consistency connects with our basic human needs. It's a motivating force that we're often unaware of - even when we're changing our behaviour because of it.

The billboard experiment

In a famous experiment detailed in Influence, researchers found that very few people were willing to have an ugly billboard erected in their garden to promote a safe driving campaign. But when researchers made the same request in a nearby neighbourhood, 400% more people accepted the request.

Why the huge increase?

It’s all because researchers had visited the second neighbourhood a few days earlier and asked people to display a small postcard to promote the same campaign.

The people who accepted this request made a small commitment to support the safe driving campaign. They identified themselves as being interested in promoting road safety and in supporting the campaign. 

So when the second, larger request was made, those people could either continue to support the campaign, and remain consistent with their established position, or they could refuse. Refusing the request would bring with it a loss of consistency – and may people preferred to accept the billboard than to lose consistency.

Start with small requests

In marketing and communications, it’s crucial that any request to customers is proportionate and reasonable. We all know from experience that it can be difficult to get customers engaged – even when there is a clear reward on offer.

Starting with a small request may improve your results. If you can get customers to make a small commitment, something easy that has little impact and no risk, then you may get more people agreeing to a larger request.

This might be as simple as ticking a box - as long as it involves the customer making a statement (either implied or explicit) about their preferences, tastes, attitudes or beliefs.

You can then try to build on this small request with something more time-consuming or costly. 

Get a ‘yes’

Salespeople know the power of ‘yes’.

‘Yes’ is the word you want to hear when you deliver your proposal or pitch.

To improve the odds of hearing ‘yes’ (or getting someone to register or buy online) then try to get the customer to agree to smaller things along the way. If the customer is saying ‘yes’ (either aloud or in their mind) then they are more likely to feel positive about your offer, and more inclined to say yes to your proposal.

You might do this by posing questions in your copy. Just make sure they are questions that most customers will agree with.


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