What Tattoos and Foot-in-the-Door Theory Have to Do With Marketing


Do you know someone with a tattoo? Maybe it’s a friend, a friend of a friend, or perhaps it’s you who has the tattoo. If you know someone with a tattoo, do you know if they have more than one? Because according to Ipsos, a tattooed person has on average four tattoos. As the iconic Lay’s potato chip slogan used to say, “Betcha can’t just eat one!”

For people (like me) who don’t have tattoos, think about the last five times you went out for dinner, or ordered takeout. Did you choose a restaurant you had been to before, or did you try something new? I’m a gambler, but even if I wasn’t, I’d be willing to bet a fair amount of money that at least four of those five times were places you had visited before.

Why Marketers Should Know Foot-in-the-Door Theory

Both the tattoo example and the dining out example are what psychologists call Foot-in-the-Door theory. The best way to get someone to commit to something big is to first convince them to commit to something small. Once they’ve committed to one thing (getting their first tattoo, or eating at a restaurant for the first time), they are more likely to commit to something bigger (getting a second or third tattoo, or visiting the restaurant again).

Sales people have been using this tactic for years, trying to get prospects to commit to something small, like a meeting, or call, or demo, with the hopes that it leads to a bigger commitment, like a deal. Sales reps I speak to are always trying to get me to schedule the next meeting before we’ve finished with the current meeting. Small commitments lead to the door opening wider so that instead of just a foot, my whole body can fit through.

Marketers, for some reason, often forget about the importance of this behavioral phenomenon.

Marketers: Start Small and Build to Something Bigger

For any marketer new to foot-in-the-door theory, here are a few tips to use it to your advantage:

1. Don’t look at the cost of acquiring a lead, look at the cost of acquiring a lead with multiple engagements with your brand

When you look at your marketing mix and the sources of your leads, look at leads with multiple engagements with you and identify the source of those particular leads. For example, you may find that while webinars might be the best “converting” activities, they may also be the best at getting people’s foot in the door. Or, more likely, ungated content which is a very low commitment, may be a great stepping stone to future engagements with your brand.

Regardless of what the acquisition channel is, don’t just look at the cost of lead acquisition. Focus on the cost of acquiring an engaged lead.

2. Upsells and cross-sells cost less than new business

Remember, once someone does something once, they are more likely to do it again. This applies to your customers. The people most likely to buy from you are the people who have already bought from you. The people most likely to try your new feature are the people using your existing features. Don’t ignore your customers, invest in them. That $200 you spent to acquire a lead that has a very small likelihood to buy from you may be better spent on a customer who has a chance to buy more from you.

3. Remind people who you are. Then remind them again. Then remind them again

It’s not always the best restaurant that earns your business a second time. It’s often the one that is top of mind, or has the dish you are craving, or has the best Happy Hour specials. In that spirit, I’m a firm believer that while quality marketing content is important, you don’t need the best or most perfect content to get someone’s attention. You just need to be top of mind and readily available when they crave the dish you are offering. Be where they are, keep targeting them, and if they’ve engaged with you before, they’ll be more likely to choose you than to choose another vendor in which they have no history.

And, if you are running marketing for a tattoo parlor, the best way to grow your revenue might be to do everything you can (promotions, discounts, etc.) to convince people to get their first tattoo.

Justin Sharaf is a marketing and marketing operations leader who has worked at some of the biggest names in B2B and B2C during his 15+ year career. With a background in analytics and technology, Justin believes that building a core foundation of data and technology helps optimize marketing programs and empowers marketers to be more effective and efficient in their jobs.

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