As marketers we often use psychology to get our clients more business. Robert Cialdini explains in his book Influence: Science and Practice that consistency is a fundamental principle underlying how people make decisions. Scientific studies have demonstrated time and time again that people tend to act in ways that reinforce their previous behaviors. Psychologists believe this is because people find it awkward to contradict themselves. People want to look consistent to appear legitimate and decisive to others. This may explain why it is so common for tight-knit, established institutions (such as the military and fraternities) to have new affiliates swear an oath in front of the group: to betray that oath makes one seem inconsistent, illegitimate, and indecisive. These commitment tactics can be used as powerful marketing, managing, and bargaining tools.
Say you want to sell someone a bike. Your prospective buyer is not sure she wants the bike, especially since your asking price is over her budget. In noticing that she’s undecided, you choose to employ a commitment tactic. If you can get her to verbally commit to the bike, she will be statistically more likely to buy it. You might have her test ride the bicycle before asking her what she likes about it, effectively getting her to (unconsciously) commit to the purchase by verbalizing what she thinks are the bike’s positive attributes. This first question can lead to others (see: foot-in-the-door tactic), building up a pattern of responses with which she will want to stay consistent. She will be that much more likely to buy the bike because you had her sell the bike’s strong points to herself, using her own words.
The strength of commitment tactics varies with setting. The effect is undoubtedly stronger in person, as it is rooted in peoples’ desire for social acceptance. Networking events, trade shows, hosted events and other marketing channels relying on in-person contact are all ideal settings for commitment tactics. While the effect is larger offline, commitment tactics can also work online. Some advertisers give users the option of making a selection or expressing a preference within online display ads. While the commitment effect can sometimes be seen with clicks, it is even stronger when users type something in. Contact forms are an additional online vehicle for securing prospect commitment. The act of filling out a form and submitting it is itself an act of commitment. If the form is easily accessible, brief, and inclusive of clever prompts to get prospects to commit to a product or service, then it can be a useful tool to increase lead generation using this psychological principal.
Want to learn more about persuasion? We recommend Cialdini’s book Influence as an excellent resource to improve your sales and marketing.