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Only Use This Tip For Good. I Mean It.

Here’s the dialogue in a scene from one of my favorite movies.

See if you can spot what bugs me about it:


Kathleen: Do you want the West Side to become one gigantic strip mall?

Crowd: No!

Kathleen: Do you want to get off the subway at 72nd and Broadway, and not even know you’re in New York City?

Crowd: No!

Kathleen:  Can we save The Shop Around The Corner?

Crowd: Yes!


(If you recognized the movie immediately, we should probably be friends.  If you didn’t, we can still be friends, but seriously, you should go watch You’ve Got Mail.)

Here’s what led to the scene:  Kathleen Kelly runs a small, independent bookstore.  Joe Fox is opening up a Fox Books, a giant chain store that threatens to run Kathleen out of business.  So she organizes a protest.

Here’s what’s REALLY going on in the scene:  Kathleen is using the psychological principle of “consistency” to her advantage.

Consistency is what it sounds like:  Our minds want to feel that our ideas and actions are consistent.  That our actions follow our words.  When they don’t, most people feel a strong inner tension that demands resolving.  Especially if we’ve made statements in public.  If we loudly proclaim, “Animals deserve our help!  We need to support our local rescues!” – we don’t want to be caught never having donated or done anything for animal rescues.  That mismatch brings social and personal shame and is a strong internal motivator.

So Kathleen is saying in the movie scene – Do you want your neighborhood to be a monoculture of superstores?  No?  Will you do this instead?  The answer can only be “Yes!”

Fundraisers and salespeople have been using “consistency” to dramatically increase donation and sales rates for a long time.  You may get some donations by saying:

“Will you donate to cancer research?”

but you will get dramatically more if you asked people to elaborate on their thoughts first:

“Do you know anyone who has ever had cancer?  How did that make you feel?  Do you think cancer is important?”

THEN asked:  “Will you donate to cancer research?”

When you get people to think through and state their position on something, and THEN follow up with a specific request, you’re more likely to see them agree to the request.

This makes sense:  If I just said that I think cancer research is vital to me and people I love, and then I refuse to donate, there’s a psychological tension that I (and most people) would find extremely uncomfortable.

By asking specific questions, the fundraiser makes the person’s own views extremely clear and present.  Sure, someone might walk around with a vague idea of cancer research being important in general, but when confronted with a request they might still say no, thinking “Oh I’ll donate some other time, not today, I have other priorities.”

Asking someone to articulate their view right before a request makes them feel the immediacy and importance of their own view strongly.  So it would be deeply satisfying to say – “Yes, I will donate!” – and deeply squirm-inducing to say anything else.

So here’s what bugs me about the movie scene: 

Kathleen’s “ask” at the end is too vague.  She has built up great momentum asking people to state (publicly!) their values.  But then trips at the finish line:  Can we “save” The Shop Around The Corner?  Sure, that’s a nice sentiment.  But she’s not asking people to do anything concrete.  The crowd could resolve their mental tension merely by saying “I’m here at the protest, aren’t I?  This is helping ‘save’ the store.  I’m good.”  But the store didn’t need “saving” it needed people to keep buying.

If Kathleen had been more psychology savvy, she would have used the consistency momentum to elicit direct action:  “Will you buy a book from The Shop Around the Corner today?”

Offering a specific action to resolve that uncomfortable tension would have given her a better cash infusion.  Just saying.

Anyway, movie aside:  The Consistency principle is incredibly useful in business.

And I hardly ever see creative people using it.

Usually it’s just internet marketers who specialize in split-testing a thousand tiny tweaks to increase conversion rates.  Creative people tend to not obsess over such things, which I get – you’re busy. But you can still steal the best techniques and be assured that the data is on your side – more people viewing/inquiring will book if you evoke consistency.

It’s simple, free, and powerful.

Here are two ways you can apply “consistency” this season:

1) Alter what you post *before* a marketing campaign.

Say you’re about to run a fall promotion on your Facebook page to fill your calendar.  In the weeks leading up to it, instead of just posting as usual, you might ask some open-ended but strategic questions:

  • What favorite family fall activities do you most want to remember?
  • What is something your kids do right now that you never want to forget?
  • What do you love most about your kids at this stage they’re in?
  • If you were to ever move away from the area, what things would make you say later “Oh, I miss fall in (name of your town/area)?”

(Reply admiringly to every comment you get, and you’ll probably get more replies.)

Watch as people tell you how important leaf-raking and cookie-making are to them, how they make up their best memories and they never want their kids to forget either.  How they love the way their youngest giggles while throwing leaves and they never want that to fade.

In other words – THEY are busy making all the same points YOU would make in a marketing campaign.  They are making the arguments for you of why photos are important.

Guess what’s going to happen when you then run your campaign for fall photos, talking about preserving memories people already told you they want to keep?  Yep.  There will be that key bit of tension that motivates them more to action.  They just said how important it was.

And it will be more real and immediate to them than if you bring your campaign up cold.

Bonus Tip:  If you have posted questions before and no one has replied, you could message a few fans specifically if they will reply to your post to get things going.  Nothing unethical about sparking a general discussion by inviting people specifically to comment.  But what it does is set some social proof that answering is cool/ok/not socially awkward, and you’re more likely to get others to jump in on the momentum of the thread.

You could also take consistency one step further:

Before your campaign, you could run a contest asking people to send you their favorite fall childhood photo and say briefly why photos like this are important to them.  (Perhaps you could come up with some high-value low-cost prize to give to a winner, or even to each participant.  Perhaps even just the same offer you would have made for your promotion anyway, like a complimentary ____ with booking.)

Then you can turn around and send a gentle 1:1 pitch to anyone who sent in a photo – “I love this image!  I especially liked that you said ______, and laughed/teared up when I read _____.  Will you let me create an image just as beloved for your family right now?  These are the last dates available:  _______”

That would be harder to resist than if you just put up an offer.  Publicly and clearly articulating your own stance pushes you further to take action.

Consistency research has also found that if someone complies with a small request (like sending in a photo) they’re more likely to comply with a larger request, even if that larger one is significantly more involved and maybe only tangentially related.  That’s why this technique takes it one step further.

Here’s another way you can use consistency, besides priming your audience for marketing campaigns:

2) On your contact form, ask one targeted question.

Generally speaking, I’m not in favor of lengthy contact forms, since the more work someone has to do to inquire, the fewer inquiries you’ll get. You may or may not want that.

But it may be worth your time to test adding a single question like:

  • “Why is having family photos important to you right now?”
  • “What wonderful things are happening that you’re thinking about hiring a photographer right now?”
  • “What did you see in this website that made you want to send a note?”

Again, they are now giving YOU the reasons why they’re thinking of hiring you.  And you can turn around and say “Oh yes, I know what you mean, ______ is so wonderful.  I had a client just last week say she was glad I took this photo (insert image) because _______, and it sounds like you feel the same way.  What do you say we get a date on the calendar for you?”

Bring up and connect with the reason they give you, and you’re automatically making a more alluring follow-up offer.

Any point you want to make will be more compelling if THEY made it first.

Asking people to be consistent with their own opinions is more powerful than asking them to absorb and act on a message that comes from you.

What other ways can you think of to use consistency?

Try them out!  Let me know how it goes.

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  1. Mark Hazelton on September 27, 2017 at 10:03 am

    I think I have fallen for this tactic myself. I would love to try this. Trying to think of how I could use this in my field of photography. I do headshots for real estate agents and other business people and can’t think of what I would say. I’ll have to brainstorm this some more. And thanks Jenika for the post.

    • Jenika on September 27, 2017 at 3:35 pm

      Hey Mark! A simple way for real estate agents might be to say, over the phone – “do you think that great photos get more buyers in the door on a property they are selling?” To which they would have to say yes (there is data backing that up). And then you could say “what about photos helps, do you think?” and let them talk. And then say “do you think a good photo of yourself could have the same effect?” Real estate agents of all people should have deep convictions and life experience on the power of good photos + first impressions!! 🙂

    • Lindsey Slattery on September 27, 2017 at 4:02 pm

      What about if you did something like a comparison w/ a non-professional / selfie shot vs. one of yours and ask a question about who someone would want to hire/trust with their home buying process?

      • Jenika on September 27, 2017 at 4:07 pm

        Great idea Lindsey – comparison shots are ALWAYS a strong argument! In this case you could precede it with a comparison shot of a house and ask them which more buyers would be interested in + get a better first impression of, and then a comparison shot of the headshot and ask which one people would trust more + have a better first impression of? Doubling it with something they’re already familiar with brings in their expertise and makes the consistency clear.

  2. Kim Bova on September 27, 2017 at 11:04 am

    Brilliant, thanks.

    • Jenika on September 27, 2017 at 3:35 pm

      Thanks Kim!

  3. Maggie on September 27, 2017 at 11:07 am

    Thank you so much for this. First question is posted on my Facebook page, and I’ll be changing up my website contact form… and perhaps some of the text! I’ll also try this technique in my next email.

    • Jenika on September 27, 2017 at 3:35 pm

      Oooh, I love it when people jump in right away. Yay!! Let me know how it goes!

  4. Valerie on September 27, 2017 at 11:12 am

    great info. thanks for sharing. it was almost so easy, i missed it then i kept reading. i will try some of these very soon.

    • Jenika on September 27, 2017 at 3:36 pm

      Yay! My pleasure – thanks for reading. Hope you find the techniques useful!

  5. Jennifer on September 27, 2017 at 2:54 pm

    Great information! It’s so true as I thought thru my own interactions with other businesses. Thanks for sharing in such a great way, and BTW love the movie 🙂

    • Jenika on September 27, 2017 at 3:38 pm

      It’s neat when you have a label for something and can suddenly see it everywhere in my life. I LOVE that, it feels like magic, like I’m ‘in’ on something. Anyway, I hope that you find a fun way to put this into practice. And yes – amazing movie! The script is truly a masterclass in the art of writing short, short stories. I talk about one part of it in Irresistible Words too, and I’m sure I’ll reference it again. 🙂 Thanks for your note, Jennifer!

  6. Marie on September 27, 2017 at 3:58 pm

    Gosh, I always love the insights you share. I will have to spend some time mulling over how to use this for good. Thank you, Jenika!

    • Jenika on September 28, 2017 at 2:58 pm

      Thanks Marie!! I appreciate your comment and kindness, as always!

  7. Tracy on September 27, 2017 at 4:12 pm

    This makes so much sense! I am wanting to do more pet photography sessions so I’m going to think of how I can apply it to that purpose. Thanks!

    • Jenika on September 27, 2017 at 7:35 pm

      Awesome! I hope you get more shoots! Pets are a great one to use this for because most pet owners would do anything for their pets, so framing hiring you as consistent with the level of care, love, and meaning they have with their pets would probably have positive results. I know for sure that people regret not having more photos of pets so I hope you help many people on that front.

  8. Paul Smith on September 27, 2017 at 4:56 pm

    Great article Jenika, as so many of yours are. I would love to apply this to a marketing campaign myself but unsure how to apply it to Logo design/Graphic design services. I’m sure theres a way though, thanks for giving me something to think about 🙂

    • Jenika on September 27, 2017 at 7:33 pm

      Hey Paul! I bet there are lots of ways you could apply it. A simple one might be to give site visitors a “quiz” and say something like “which company would you trust?” and have side by side comparisons of pro logos and bad/less refined logos. And then at the end make the point – you chose all the pro logos, so why not take yours pro? And have a book now button. So the principle is, a series of decisions that is consistent with hiring you. Just one example. Hope it helps you brainstorm.

      • Paul Smith on September 28, 2017 at 6:43 pm

        Hi Jenika,

        Thanks for your response, that’s a great idea. I’ll brainstorm with my team along those ideas and see what we can come up with, thanks very much 🙂

  9. Heather on September 27, 2017 at 6:51 pm

    When you were helping me with my website copy, you had me add a question to my contact form asking potential clients about a recent family adventure (which fits my brand perfectly). I love it so much! It gives me a better understanding of who they are and gives me a way to connect personally. People seem to really like that question because they go into great detail. I’ve never thought of the psychology behind it, but now i’m curious to see if the longer answers relate to higher bookings 🙂

    • Jenika on September 27, 2017 at 7:39 pm

      Yes! Elaborating on personal experiences connects them to you for many reasons including this one. I would also be curious how longer or more thoughtful answers related to bookings. The best measure would be how deeply they thought about their values which you can’t measure exactly but quality of response could be a decent enough proxy to look at. Anyway, I love what you do! If I ever come to Hawaii you will be my first call.

  10. Weatherly on September 27, 2017 at 7:37 pm

    So I’m torn about this strategy. Maybe because I have seen it used plenty of times and it makes me hestitant to answer questions. For instance, a friend asked if anyone had a specific genetic marker. I answered thinking she had just been diagnosed, but nope, it was a ploy to sell a multivitamin that could “help” with it. It felt cheap. Now it makes me leary to respond to questions like this or even ask them myself because I don’t want to come across as disingenuous. Any pointers?

    • Jenika on September 28, 2017 at 2:54 pm

      Great question. The first step to not being disingenuous is to genuinely not be. I mean that seriously. You can use ANY concept in a disingenuous way – it’s not the nature of the concept it’s the way it used.
      The second thing is to pay attention to where you’re using it. If you’re using it on your branded FB page, on your company website, it’s going to be clear to any visitor that this relates to your business in some way. If you posted questions like this on your personal page and then sprung a pitch on people, that could feel icky because people thought they were answering a friend. That is, my guess, why your friend’s tactic felt cheap – you thought you were answering a friend as relates to her, but it turned out to be a business thing. Thinking something is one thing and it turning out to be another is a major source of negative dissatisfaction (I’ve blogged about that before – it’s always something to pay close attention to in business). If you only use it in branded channels there is no bait and switch. If MailChimp or or the local salon asks me a question like this on their FB page or email sign-up, I might not know where they’re headed with it, but I always know that their goal is ultimately to stay in business and it will, somehow, relate to that goal.
      Beyond that, things like not getting overly personal with questions and never sharing their answers further without permission are basic courtesies that go a long way. Asking someone what they love about their kids right now could be personal but can also be funny or simply sweet, it’s really up to the person and they get to be the judge of how much or whether to share – you’re not probing deeply there or requiring anything, so I have no qualms asking it. I would not ask for genetic marker information on something that would stay public though, for example. Or ask people to delve into their last marital fight or something (<-- that would make no sense in a photography setting, but it might if I were a marriage counselor selling courses about how to fix different relationship problems. In that case, anyone coming across the sign-up was probably already coming with that problem in mind, so asking gently about it in an email sign-up scenario where they then received solutions tailored to their issue would not be a bait-and-switch). Point being: Anything you do should match the tone of your overall site and presence. Hope these ideas help!

  11. Steph+Tim on September 28, 2017 at 1:42 pm

    BRILLIANT. yes and yes

    • Jenika on September 28, 2017 at 2:54 pm

      Thanks for reading! 🙂

    • Miriam on September 29, 2017 at 7:00 pm

      Good response. It makes total sense. I nearly always share my business posts to my personal Facebook wall because I have way more “reach” that way. This reminds me that I need to be clear about my purpose when I ask questions. I am going to try this idea right now!

  12. Oahu Photographers on December 5, 2020 at 9:34 pm

    Great article. Congrats.

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