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The Foot In The Door Technique Explained with Examples
Alex DePaoli
Alex DePaoli
September 8, 2022
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The Foot In The Door Technique Explained with Examples

This article explains the concept and examples of the Foot In the Door technique (FIDT) in sales and marketing. 

You will learn:

  • What is the Foot In The Door technique?
  • Why is this psychology technique so popular in marketing and sales?
  • How to encourage specific customer behavior using this technique?

What is the Foot in the Door effect?

The Foot in the Door effect is a popular compliance and persuasion technique used in not only social psychology but also marketing and sales. Let's begin with the foot in the door psychology definition: in short, the FID effect occurs when a smaller request gradually leads to the large request. In other words, you start with a small ‘yes’ followed by a big ‘hell yeah'. The foot-in-door phenomenon is so successful because people perceive subsequent requests as an extension of the original request, not as separate things.

In the context of sales and marketing, the Foot in the Door technique occurs when customers have done something small for you, which makes them more willing to do something bigger for you later on. 

The contrast is the door-in-the-face technique where the persuader attempts to convince the respondent to comply by making a initial request that the respondent will most likely turn down, much like a metaphorical slamming of a door in the persuader's face. The respondent is then more likely to agree to a second, more reasonable request, than if that same request is made in isolation.



A short history of the Foot in the Door technique

In its original and most famous demonstration, Jonathan Freedman and Scott Fraser went to homeowners in Palo Alto and asked them if they would be willing to put up a large sign in their front yards that said: “Drive Carefully.” Only 17% were willing to do it. 

For the second group, Freedman and Fraser tried something more subtle. Homeowners were simply asked to place a small, 3-inch sign in their windows advocating safe driving – a request so innocuous that nearly everyone would agree to it. Two weeks later, a different person showed up and asked if they would be willing to put up the large, ugly sign. This time 76% of homeowners agreed to it. 

The Foot in the Door effect is a well-known and widely used tactic in everything from auto sales to telemarketing. However, using it in an online context, especially in marketing, carries some unexpected challenges and benefits. 

Why does the Foot in the Door technique work so well?

Plenty of factors drive the Foot in the Door effect. But at its core, the principal force is commitment and consistency. In the context of sales and marketing, a customer’s first action serves as a point of commitment to behavior or attitude. When it is time to make the second decision (to place a large sign on your lawn or to purchase something online), the fact that a customer has already committed (even in a costless way) makes them feel a need to be consistent with the original commitment.

Example of a Foot in the Door technique – pop-up

How to apply the Foot in the Door effect in your business strategy?

If you want to succeed with the Foot in the Door effect, the first customer action must be voluntary. If a customer is forced to do something, it will not serve as a Foot in the Door technique because they do not feel a need to be consistent with it.

Naturally, a number of other factors will affect the strength of the Foot in the Door effect as well. For example, if the first action is more public, personally relevant, or expensive, customers will be much more likely to commit to it.

Because past behavior is such a strong first step for the Foot in the Door effect, anything that draws customers’ attention to relevant past actions has the potential to open the psychological door. But this technique is not limited to behaviors that are similar to the behavior you are hoping to create. In the Freedman and Fraser study, while they found that asking for similar behaviors (i.e. agreeing to a small sign and to a big sign) produced a 76% compliance rate, they also found that asking for an initial behavior that was not the same (i.e. signing a petition or agreeing to a small sign that advocated a different cause) still led to a 48% compliance rate.

This suggests that the Foot in the Door effect can be created by prompting visitors for input other than purchases. For example, CTAs can lead your customer to start engaging with your site, which may serve as a starting point for engaging in other behaviors. For example, asking your customers about their preferences (like Netflix does) might serve as a valuable way to get a recommendation engine started (or to design messages for customers with no purchase histories: “If you like action movies, then you will like…”), but getting them to tell you what they like (or want) may also serve to achieve the Foot in the Door effect.

Recommendation engine from Netflix

Examples of the Foot in the Door effect in marketing and sales

1. Remind customers about past behaviors

One example of the Foot in the Door technique would be a sidebar that shows either a list or a tally of previous purchases. This feature could be designed to help customers keep track of past purchases or to encourage them to rate products they have already bought. But, more importantly, it would also serve to reinforce their relationship with your business as a place where they go to buy things. 

Potentially, this kind of sidebar could even be designed to gamify how customers add new purchases to the wishlist, which is another application of the Foot in the Door technique.

2. Make relevant recommendations

A second approach would be to strengthen the message accompanying a recommendation engine. To use examples from Amazon, recommendations ought to avoid copy like “Recommended for you” and more messages like “Customers who bought this item also bought X.” General recommendation pages may also evoke specific past purchases: “If you liked X, then you’ll also like Y.” This is based on the psychological power of demographics which I described here.

3. Consider adding small gifts

Another example of the Foot in the Door technique is to entice customers to add something to their cart in order to jump-start their willingness to shop. For example, when a customer arrives on the site, they may be greeted with a message and a choice: “Welcome to our store! Please choose a free gift…” This approach not only encourages customers to engage with a product and with their cart, but it also leverages the reciprocity effect. 

Free gift for new visitors example

This approach does not end at physical gifts. Depending on your line of business, you can consider offering free consultations or chats with sales reps. Or, you could offer product-based deals to hesitant customers, such as free minutes popular in the mobility industry. Another example of this approach are free samples – a very popular strategy for cosmetic brands. 

4. Use sign-up forms

Sign-up forms are a fantastic example of the Foot in the Door technique that helps businesses get the conversation going and secure leads. The simpler the form, the better – you should ensure that this initial commitment on the side of the customer should be as quick and easy as possible to increase your chances of success in evoking future compliance. 

Takeaways on the Foot In The Door technique

The focus of this post has been on encouraging purchasing behavior by first getting customers to do something, but the Foot in the Door effect is perhaps even better suited to encouraging relatively more costless behaviors. For example, if you have a mailing list that you want visitors to join, prompt them with a simple pop-up or banner question. If they respond (or when they respond, depending on how you set it up), prompt them to sign-up or follow a link with the understanding that doing so would be consistent with the opinion they just expressed.

In short, if you want to succeed with the Foot in the Door technique in your marketing strategy, you need to encourage customers to voluntarily do something small for you in order to make them more likely to do something big for you later. While you’re at it, remember to let customers express their opinions, values, or preferences (either by asking or by observing), and then remind them of these as they shop to reinforce their initial commitment to shop with you. If you are looking for more tips on designing promotions, read our article here.


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