Foolish Consistency Is The Hobgoblin Of The Mind

Foolish Consistency Is The Hobgoblin Of The Mind

I have been continuing my reading of:

“Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion” by Robert Cialdini

wherein Cialdini explains the tactics used to influence people to say “yes”.

We need to know this for two reasons (1) so that we can recognize them – to defend ourselves against them – or (2) use them in our marketing – to help people reach the “correct decision”…. and “Buy this product”.

Of course as ethical marketers we will want to be sure the product is something we are completely confident in, AND that the product is right for the potential client. Which is why I offer a free coaching call on my blog here to anyone thinking of following any of the paths I recommend.


consistent marketing strategy

To set the scene for people who missed my original post, a few weeks ago I wrote about the need for a consistent marketing strategy.

By this I don’t mean the usually accepted meaning of consistency, which is doing it regularly – although that is important.

It was a different context where, having made one small decision, people will make subsequent “more significant” (perhaps more expensive) decisions to remain consistent with their original decision.

This was the original age-old “foot-in-the-door” technique used by door-to-door sales-people, now modernized and used online by even the most ethical of marketers in the form of the “sales funnel“.


To clarify – having made one small purchase – we’re more likely to continue and make a second purchase if the vendor can demonstrate a compelling reason to buy. For instance, in Internet Marketing, the vendor may strive to convince the customer that a further purchase will help us use a new tool more efficiently than with a D-I-Y approach.

When Consistency Is Our Enemy


Ralph Waldo Emerson said :

“Foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds”

For those people who have forgotten their mythology, here’s how Wikipedia defines hobgoblins and the picture above is Pixabay’s representation of a hobgoblin!

Cialdini believes that Emerson was referring to a bad type of consistency: a tendency to be rigidly inconsistent, without questioning whether we’re just falling for the consistency principle rather than checking the validity of our motives.

If we don’t question our decisions we’re laying ourselves open to exploitation by unscrupulous marketers.

Cialdini wrote about consistency as the human tendency to reinforce our previous decisions. So how can we be sure that our new, potential decision is a good decision rather than a bad one just following the principle of automatic consistency?

He suggests that the first way is to follow our gut instinct and ask yourself if you have a gut feeling of having been trapped? If so, it’s probably a bad decision you are about to make.

Handling Foolish Consistency As A Consumer

Cialdini’s book relates an entertaining story of how, before he understood the psychology of consistency, he was “trapped” into a purchase he immediately regretted. That’s followed up by an equally entertaining account of how – with his newly acquired knowledge – he would handle the same situation should it have happened now.

He suggests how YOU can handle the situation when you realize you’re being manipulated in this way. You’ll have to read the book to learn his approach!

It’s easier to handle the situation online – when you can pause for thought – so the important trick is to recognize the situation in time to evaluate whether this really is a decision you want to make, or whether you’re just following the consistency principle.

A method I use to avoid “falling for a sales pitch” is to imagine myself justifying my reasons for the purchase to someone whose opinions I respect. It usually works for business items – although I have to admit there are occasions, mostly for personal items, when the answer is “I just wanted to treat myself” – in which case I’ll probably go ahead!

Recognizing Foolish Consistency

If the “gut feeling method” has let you down, and you’ve made the purchase, another way is to ask what your “Heart of hearts” feels.

Ask yourself if, “Knowing what I know now, would I still make the same decision?”

Of course “Hindsight is a wonderful thing” and I think there are very few of us who can honestly say they would make exactly the same decision, with hindsight, in every situation.

If you have already made a decision and have an inkling that you’re starting to regret it, rather than perpetuate the mistake, the sooner you recognize “foolish consistency” and break the cycle, the better.

Albert Einstein is reputed to have said:

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

foolish inconsistency

Foolish Consistency As A Marketer

There are two aspects to this:

1. If you have been using a particular marketing method and it’s repeatedly failing to deliver sales, it’s time to pause, learn why, and either fix it, or dump it.

Of course for this to be feasible, you need to have good advert tracking mechanisms so that you can tell exactly what campaign isn’t delivering the desired results.

In our family business, not doing so would have been referred to as “Throwing good money after bad”.

To know when to “cut your losses”, before you start you need to set goals and budgets so that you can define exactly what you mean by “failing”. But these are red herrings, for another article, probably written by someone who is better than I am at practicing what I preach!

The main aim of this article – and the relevant section of Robert Cialdini’s book – is to encourage you to have a point at which you will consciously evaluate your decision making process. Then, if necessary, you can break the cycle of repeating a failing decision merely to comply with the consistency principle.

2.  A tactic that I believe will help you to remain an ethical marketer is to imagine that YOU are a potential client who is fully aware of the consistency principle, and on the lookout to avoid being trapped into a “one-time-offer” (OTO) purchase, just because he already has his credit card in his hand.

You need to be able to answer your client’s doubts by pointing out exactly why this second purchase will benefit him, without leaving him feeling that the first purchase is somehow defective without the OTO.

Over To You….

Can you share with us an example of when you have been trapped into a decision you regretted purely to remain consistent with previous, smaller decisions?

Even if you don’t want to admit to previous mistakes (although we’ve all had them, I suspect) do you feel this article will have encouraged you to pause for thought and be more aware of “Foolish consistency”? In particular: how to avoid it as a purchaser AND benefit from it, to keep your marketing ethical.

To your success,


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