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The term Foot-in-the-door refers to a sales technique where in order to get customers to comply with a big request, you first get them to do something small for you so that they will be more inclined to carry out a bigger request in the future.
This marketing technique was first tested by Freedman and Fraser in 1966 when they tried to get homeowners to display big signs advocating safe driving in their front yards. With the first set of houses they visited they directly pitched their big request and found that only 17% of homeowners were willing to display the signs.
With the second set of houses they visited, they first asked the homeowners to display small signs about road safety in their windows. Most of the owners agreed to do so as it was a simple task that did not inconvenience them in any way. Two weeks later they visited the same houses that put up the small signs and requested that they display the big signs in their yards. And this time around they found that 76% of the homeowners they visited were willing to do so.
The foot-in-the-door technique is based on the principle of commitment and consistency. The principle states that once an individual has committed to a certain behavior they feel compelled to act in a way that is consistent with that behavior and not contradict any statements they have made in the past. In the case of the experiment conducted by Freedman and Fraser, the homeowners ‘committed’ to display the ‘drive carefully’ signs, hence when they were asked to display the bigger signs they felt compelled to be consistent with the behavior they committed to.