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The Foot In The Door Technique

In a famous experiment conducted at Stanford in 1966, residents of a certain Californian neighborhood were asked to place a big sign on their lawns alerting passersby to the perils of reckless driving. Some said yes, many said no.

In the adjacent neighborhood, the same request was made, but many more residents were willing to place the big sign on their lawns.


The difference?


For the residents of the adjacent neighborhood, this was not the first request. Two weeks prior, volunteers had knocked on the same doors and had asked the residents to place small postcards carrying a message about the perils of reckless driving on their windowsills. Many said, “sure, why not?” They reasoned that it was a small sign for a good cause.

The thing is that once they said yes to a small request (the postcard), their chances of saying yes to a bigger request (the lawn sign) grew by… wait for it… 400 percent!




What makes it work 


“The foot-in-the-door technique is a compliance tactic that assumes agreeing to a small request increases the likelihood of agreeing to a second, larger request. So, initially, you make a small request and once the person agrees to this, they find it more difficult to refuse a bigger one.” (Freedman & Fraser, 1966)


It works on the principle of consistency. People prefer not to contradict themselves in both actions and beliefs. This means that as long as the larger request is consistent with or similar in nature to the original small request, the technique will work (Petrova et al., 2007).” (source)


I find the same consistency principle applies in any human interaction. Take trust, for instance. Someone shares a small secret with his/her friend; that friend then feels compelled to share a small secret of his/her own. A bond is formed. Bigger secrets are coming…


This technique has been tested over and over again, showing similar behaviors and it embedded into some known procedures. For example: When was the last time you were approached by salespeople in the mall or airport? They don’t start pitching right away (big request). Instead, they start small by asking: “Can I get a minute of your time?” (small request) 




Applying the principle


Here’s how you can apply the foot-in-the-door technique to your next marketing or sales effort to engage consumers:


In UX: Ask users to complete a simple survey question (“rate from 1 to 5”) before asking them to subscribe.


In sales: Before sending a price offer, ask, “Shall I send a price offer?” – It may sound redundant, but it’s not.


In philanthropy: Ask people to sign a petition before asking for a donation.


You get the gist.



*All illustrations are from https://undraw.co/