At the base level, promotions are incentives. Businesses use them to encourage behaviors among consumers. Usually it’s for sales and other purchase-related behaviors. But many businesses also use promotions to encourage other behaviors.
No matter what they’re used for, one thing remains true:
‘The higher the value of the product, the more a promotion needs to offer the customer.’
This applies to monetary discounts, loyalty points, free products, coupons — all manner of promotional techniques.
Unless you’re dealing with loyal, established customers, you need ways to make your promotions as attractive as possible. The ‘foot in the door technique’ offers a novel way to do so.
In this article, we’ll explore foot in the door technique (also known as the foot in the door phenomenon) in more detail, and explain how you can use it in your own promotions.
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Foot in the door technique is a compliance technique that’s used in many different contexts in sales and marketing.
It capitalizes on a psychological phenomenon that was first noted in 1966 by Freedman and Fraser.
‘Freedman and Fraser theorized that individuals are significantly more likely to agree to a big request if they are confronted with a small request first.’
Freedman and Fraser tested this hypothesis in their study ‘Compliance without pressure: The foot in the door technique’.
Participants were confronted with two different requests.
The study found that compliance with a small request did indeed make compliance with a big request much more likely.
‘Participants who were first asked to answer questions via phone were 135% more likely to agree to a home visit.’
These findings have been confirmed by numerous follow-up studies.
So what does foot in the door technique look like in action? Look around online and you’ll see it in use in various formats. Some businesses use it purely for sales and others use it primarily for marketing purposes.
While the precise mechanism differs from case to case, the underlying concept remains the same. Here are some well-known examples:
This business model involves selling one product at a small profit or loss, while selling a complementary, often consumable product, for a significant profit. This secondary product is the primary source of revenue, even though it’s not what draws customers in.
Examples include reusable razors and disposable blades, and printers and printer ink.
Foot in the door: Low profit main product
Core objective: Sell high profit consumable product
Many cosmetics brands hand out free product samples to customers outside their stores. After accepting these free samples and talking with sales representatives, customers are more likely to enter the store to buy other products.
Foot in the door: Free sample/chat with sales representative
Core objective: Enter the store/buy other products
Shorter online signup forms are known to be more effective at securing leads. The fewer fields potential customers or clients have to fill out, the more likely they are to complete a form. Individuals who fill out the form will then be more receptive to a follow-up request, e.g. signing up for a trial or arranging a call.
Foot in the door: Short online form
Core objective: Sign up for a trial or product demo
Many businesses offer signup bonuses to attract new customers. For example, ride sharing and e-mobility apps give free minutes when customers create an account. Without this incentive, many would-be customers would never try the product/service. But once they have, they’re much more likely to continue using it.
Foot in the door: Free minutes for e-scooters
Core objective: Create an account and transition to paid minutes
Theories about the mechanism responsible for the foot in the door phenomenon vary depending on context.
Self-perception theory states that individuals often view their external actions and behavior as a reflection of their internal disposition.
In other words, after fulfilling a small request, they’re more likely to think of themselves as someone who does this type of thing by nature. In reality, it’s usually because the initial request requires very little effort.
Self-perception theory is thought to drive the foot in the door phenomenon in situations where there is little or no tangible reward for completing the initial request, e.g. surveys.
Commitment and consistency principle is more likely responsible for the foot in the door phenomenon when it comes to sales.
This principle states that, once a customer has committed to a behavior or attitude, they’ll likely repeat that behavior or attitude when confronted with subsequent requests.
Research suggests that the small request doesn’t necessarily have to be related to the final request. It can be as simple as asking for basic input from the customer, i.e. asking a question or getting them to click a button.
There are many ways you can make foot in the door technique work for digital promotions. In fact, the concept translates well to any sales-related initiative.
Think about the separate elements of your promotion and how they work together.
You need something that will engage your customers. This could be an attractive promotional offer, or an intriguing bit of copy asking for input. If they complete this initial action, they’re more likely to participate in your big request.
This will be the large request or the key product/promotion you put in front of your customers after the foot in the door request.
Remember, you have to make this part of the campaign attractive too. Customers aren’t suddenly going to pay full price for an expensive item just because they’ve agreed to fill out a short survey for you.
Although it’s the secondary to the main request/promotion itself, the way you pitch your request/promotion is still very important. Do you want to contact the customer via email or send them a notification in-app? How long do you want to wait to send your follow-up request? There are many small factors that can have an effect here.
Taking into consideration the three questions above, you could incorporate the foot in the door technique in the following promotion:
Dissecting this promotion:
The initial request serves a dual purpose — 1. It allows you to build up your list of customer email addresses, and 2. It gives you a way to pitch your larger request/promotion.
The follow up promotion offers customers a significant discount on a yearly subscription service. Even with the discount, many customers may still be put off because of the high cost of the service.
In this case, the initial foot in the door request offers a simple, relatively inexpensive way to sweeten the deal and warm customers up to buying a yearly subscription.
You can use all sorts of promotional techniques in conjunction with the foot in the door technique. But one of the most effective is loyalty programs. Download our Loyalty Playbook to find out everything you need to know about loyalty programs.
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