Influence in direct marketing: commitment and consistency

Just like people tend to do what other people do, people also tend to do what they themselves have done in the past.

Emerson said famously that “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.”  Of course, that’s probably what he always said.

Our mind is wired to think we were right more often than we actually were.  Moreover, we have cognitive dissonance as a tool to help us justify these feelings.  So if we are right all the time, then why wouldn’t we keep doing what we are doing?

This is especially true for older supporters.  A study called “Evidence of a Positive Relationship between Age and Preference for Consistency” (with Cialdini as a co-author – he shows up a lot of different places) found that as we get older, we tend to want to have consistent thoughts, people in our lives, and patterns.  Since a large portion of most nonprofit direct marketing audiences skew older, this is particularly salient for us.

There are four key ways that consistency can work well for you in your direct marketing efforts:

  1. Getting your foot in the door. A small act toward your cause can cause a person to believe that they are the type of person who supports your cause.  This can be an email to their legislator putting up a sign of support, or downloading your materials.  Any small step can be referenced in asks for further, difference, and more valuable asks.  One of the executives I’ve had the honor of working with and for says “if you want to get money, ask for advice; if you want to get advice, ask for money.”There is a concern among some that so-called slactivism – taking on issues online by the least time-consuming means possible hurts “real” efforts.  I would argue that not only have well-run online campaigns changed hearts, minds, and/or votes, but also that these campaigns lend themselves to commitment-based follow-ups with language like “you’ve stood with us before; will you stand with us again” that uses commitment tactics.
  2. Flattery.  This should be easy, in that your donors and supporters are the people who make your valuable mission possible.  Telling them that, however, is not done often enough.  There was a recent quality study that looked at how recalling good deeds affected giving.  They found that when the study subjects primed themselves by recalling their past good deeds and perceive themselves as strongly moral people, they gave twice as many charitable donations as participants who recalled bad deeds.
  3. Playing back consistency. This can be as simple as variable copy letting the person know you know how long they have been giving.  After all, if you are told that “for 14 years, you have stood alongside poor suffering discarded stuffed animals,” who can resist a 15th year?
  4. Honoring consistency. Sending a communication on the anniversary of someone’s initiation with an organization not only gives them a nice feeling, it also reinforces that they are the type of person who gives to organizations like you.  Similarly, published donor rolls are both a great recognition tool and an advertisement on behalf of that’s person’s donation to you.

You should not rest exclusively on consistency’s laurels – expecting someone to give to you just because they have always given is a fool’s errand.  However, you probably noticed that many of the above techniques mix the reminder of the consistency with a reminder of the impact that someone is having or how good it feels to give.  That’s a good way to mix consistency with liking, which is what we’ll talk about tomorrow.

Influence in direct marketing: commitment and consistency

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