Committed Hearts and Minds

Blog Triggers

If you have kids (or have been a kid), and celebrate Christmas, you’ve likely witnessed an interesting phenomenon. Every year, there’s that one “it” toy. Starting way back in the mid-80s with the Cabbage Patch Kids, and followed by Beanie Babies, Furby and Tickle Me Elmo, there’s at least one crucial toy that every kid simply must unwrap on Christmas morning.

And every December, there’s never enough of “it” to go around. Why can’t the toy manufacturers properly anticipate demand after spending millions on advertising to create that mega-buzz?

Because they don’t want to.

Here’s how the toy industry works. Year-end is obviously the huge selling season, where practically all annual profits are realized. But the toy companies still need to sell toys in the first quarter of the next year, even though parents are tapped out and kids are glutted with toys thanks to Christmas.

So the toy companies over-advertise and under-supply the “it” toys. Frazzled parents who miss out are forced to buy other toys for Christmas morning, and usually over-compensate to offset the disappointment. Then, those parents end up buying the “it” toys too, in January or February.

Why? Because they said they would.

Commitment and Consistency

You might think that a parent following through on a promise to a child is a unique case. But it’s not, really. Psychologists know that the desire for consistency is a central motivator of human behavior, and the key to invoking consistency is obtaining an earlier commitment.Here are a few examples:

  • Researchers performed an experiment involving the staged theft of a radio on a crowded New York City beach. Bystanders where overwhelmingly more likely to risk harm to themselves by chasing down the thief if the owner of the radio asked them to “watch my stuff” than if they simply witnessed the theft without the request and agreement.
  • Canadian psychologists found that people at the racetrack are much more confident that their horse will win just after placing a bet.
  • Likewise, polling shows that voters are more confident that their chosen candidate will actually be elected after they cast a vote for him or her.

Also, as we saw in the Copywriting 101 tutorial, the principles of commitment and consistency make “no questions asked” money back guarantees a safer bet for sellers than one might expect. Even if buyer’s remorse creeps in, the purchase commitment and the hassle make it likely that the product sale will remain in place, unless the quality and characteristics have been misrepresented.

Public Commitments are the Most Powerful

What type of person do these words bring to mind?

Fickle, flighty, uncertain, scatterbrained, unstable.

Now, what about these words?

Integrity, rational, assured, trustworthy, sound.

It’s hardly surprising that people strive to appear consistent, especially in social, political and business contexts. A high degree of consistency is associated with intelligence and character.

Why did the 2004 Bush Campaign attack John Kerry as a “flip-flopper?” Because they knew, even well beyond the individual issues, that a perceived lack of consistency could damage Kerry with the American public. While we all may “flip-flop” in our own minds, once we make a public commitment, we try very hard to stay in line with it for fear of being perceived as flakey.

Trying to quit drinking or smoking? Join a support group, and your chances of success go way up. Even better, make personal commitments of abstinence to people you admire and respect. The thought of letting those people down will provide a great deal of encouragement when the going gets tough.

“Will you buy the car if I can get you this price?” asks the car salesman. “Write it down on this piece of paper and I’ll take it to my manager for approval.”

Bet you bought the car, even when the “manager” had a slight objection. As Leonardo Da Vinci said, “It’s easier to resist at the beginning than at the end.”

Blog Commitment

Due to the principles of commitment and consistency, the most important blog metric to track is not raw traffic, page views, or unique monthly visitors. The most important thing to build and track is your subscriber base.

A subscriber has made a commitment to you that a mere site visitor hasn’t. Something magical happens when someone raises their hand and says “please communicate with me on a regular basis.” This small commitment is the heart of permission marketing, a very powerful concept that seems to be getting lost in all the Web 2.0 hoopla.

A subscription not only increases the frequency and regularity of contacts with a prospect, it also changes the frame through which that prospect will view your eventual offer. The prospect’s world view may now be such that a purchase is more likely thanks to the subscription relationship.

Subscribers and participants in your blog comments can be your most loyal allies. They’ll tell their friends about you and rush to your defense in times of trouble.

Skeptical? Have you ever wondered what’s going on when a popular blogger makes a mistake, or even says something completely ridiculous, and yet a swarm of loyal readers rushes to their defense anyway? After months or even years of committing attention and perhaps even offering praise, any attack on that blogger is perceived to be an attack on the readers themselves.

Robert Cialdini calls this the “Foolish Fortress,” where we hide within the walls of consistency when faced with information that challenges our earlier assumptions. Your best bet to win big in business is to build a “fortress of fans” with your blog.

Striving relentlessly to build your subscriber base is the key.

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Comments

  1. Did Leonardo really say that? Good for him.

    I’ve found another site, http://www.micromotives.com, that has a great deal of interesting research on these and other phenomena that you talk about. It’s about time the scientists came out from behind their “foolish fortress” of copyright that so hampers the free flow of information.

    Again, a great post. Thanks.

  2. Yep, Da Vinci really said that, or else at least one book and
    77,700 websites are wrong
    . :)

    Thanks for the link. That blog looks great, and there are links to other sites referenced there that I need to check out as well.

  3. I’ve already made the commitment of a subscription to this blog. Not sure what prompted me to subscribe, but this post certainly puts to rest any subscriber’s regret.

    An excellent point, though. That it’s easy to forget your subscribers in pursuit page views.

    What methods are available to track blog subscriptions, by the way?

  4. Bravo!

    That is *so* perfectly put: Building a loyal subscriber base is the key.

    I am at a loss of words. I want to ruminate over this before I make any further committment on any side of the topic.

    That, in essence is the strength of the argument. Inch-perfect, if I might say so.

    Regards,
    Shri.

  5. Great point, Brian. It reassures us little bloggers out there, lost in the long tail…it’s not the number of readers that is so important, it’s the number of quality, targeted, ideal, potential customers and readers who count. And a good way of tracking them would be number of Feedblitz or other subscription sign ups. So many blogs don’t use such a service…and they should.

  6. Hi Alan, I’ll be discussing both list-building and tracking in depth in the near future, but to briefly answer your question:

    Use Feedburner for your feed so you can get a RSS subscriber count. Also you can use Feedblitz to offer an email alternative for your readers. Feedblitz has an arrangement with Feedburner so if you’re using both, you can count all subscribers with the Feedburner interface.

    There are also ways to redirect your existing subscribers that signed up with your source feed through Feedburner so you are not leaving current readers out. How you do this depends on your blogging platform, but there’s a great WordPress plugin if you are on WP. The Feedburner forums have some great info on this.

    Shri, you are too kind. Better save this up for when (not if) I say something ridiculous! :)

    Patsi, I think we were commenting at the same time, but you’re right.  There’s not enough attention being paid to subscriber acquisition and care.  It reminds me a little bit of Web 1.0, until the crash.  When that happened, for the most part only the people who had loyal subscriber lists survived and thrived.