Consistency Theory: What makes Customers Buy!

Every purchase you’ve ever made in your life was guided by a set of hidden principles. These principles have led you to buy everything from salt for a meal to more expensive purchases like a home or a car.

While it is known that people buy things that give them pleasure or help them avoid pain most don’t know about the underlying mechanisms and the outcomes that they help us achieve.

It’s so much deeper than just pleasure and pain and it also explains why despite our best efforts some customers buy when other’s won’t even though they seem to fall within our target market.

In this article, I will explain why this happens and also

  • How consistency Theory affects your business 
  • The psychological process your customers are going through before they buy anything
  • The problems with modern marketing and how it falls short of meeting customers needs 
  • And what a company can do to fix it. 

Consistency Theory is a psychological theory developed by Klaus Grawe which states that human beings aim to seek consistency in our world. 

You can think of consistency like a thermometer on a house. When it’s too hot we adjust the temperature down to accommodate and make ourselves comfortable. If it’s too cold we adjust the thermostat up to warm the room and achieve a comfortable state.

Similarly when we become uncomfortable we aim to adjust our outer environment to make ourselves more comfortable and achieve a consistent state. 

Consistency is described as the “compatibility of many simultaneously transpiring mental processes.” Essentially consistency is about achieving a harmonious mental state and when we can achieve that we are happier and more content with the state of our lives.

Human beings find consistency by regulating our Four Basic Needs. 

Four Basic Needs 

Human beings have four basic needs that determine our level of contentment with life: attachment, orientation and control, pleasure seeking and pain avoidance, and self-enhancement. 


Attachment is our basic tribal human instinct. It is our reliance on others for survival. 

We have a need to belong to groups because there is safety in numbers. Think about when someone makes fun of another person and everyone laughs. At that moment you’re no longer part of the group and that can be infuriating. 

Political Scientist,  Benedict Anderson talked about Imagined Communities. These are communities where groups of people segment themselves based on some sort of imagined criteria (Tribes)  in doing so they create out-group members or “Others” who are not members of the group. 

This leads to Otherism or Orientalism as Edward Said Described in his 1973 book. This is the phenomenon where stereotypes and misnomers about the outside group become normalized beliefs and can often lead to hate and racism or xenophobia.

So belonging to a group is paramount to our existence as people. We need our groups to help us survive and provide order. 

Orientation and Control

Orientation and control can be thought of as leadership and strategy. Humans have a need to feel like someone is in charge and that they have a plan and a vision about how we move forward. 

Almost all institutions have a single leader as the head of the organization and a network of subordinates that report to that leader.

When no leadership is present we have a tendency to distrust institutions. 

Adversely when control is too rigid and doesn’t allow for autonomy it creates reactance and we naturally rebel against leadership. 

Orientation and control gives us guidance and makes us feel safe within the group. It also helps form social norms within the group.

Pleasure Seeking / Pain Avoidance

It’s well-known amongst copywriters that when our minds enter what’s called the “gain frame”, where we expect a potential win,  we tend to seek out risk but when our minds are in the loss frame, where we perceive a potential loss, we tend to be risk-averse.

In the gain frame, we are seeking pleasure by aiming to increase our winnings while in the loss frame we are seeking to avoid pain by reducing the likelihood of loss.

You often see this behavior in Casinos when people are winning and then lose all of their winnings by betting it all in an attempt to win even bigger than they had before.


Self-enhancement goes back to Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs and our need for self-esteem and self-actualization.

We actually need to be the best we can be in order to feel confident. We need to accomplish a certain level of mastery of the tasks that we find fulfilling. We need to achieve our goals and live up to our fullest potential to feel fulfilled with life.

Why does any of this psychology mumbo-jumbo matter?

Well because underlying every purchase decision your customer makes is this psychological process that is helping them decide if they need to purchase products and services from you or from your competitor or if they can make it on their own. 

Your customer is aiming to maintain consistency in their lives by buying goods and services that help them further connect with their loved ones or people that are most like them (attachment), they buy books, courses, coaching, or consulting (orientation and control), they buy restaurant dinners, deserts and pain killers (pleasure/ pain avoidance) all in the name of enhancing the way they feel about themselves.

Essentially, psychological consistency is almost the only reason they do anything.

In seeking consistency we look to find Congruence between the things we want and need and what we actually perceive the world to be. We deal with motivational schemas or positive and negative reinforcements from the outside world.

Motivational Schemas: Positive and Negative Reinforcement

Schemas are frameworks of information that our minds build to help us easily and accurately identity things and phenomena in our surroundings. It is why you know that a dog is a dog, a cat is a cat, a house is a house and not an office building so forth, and so on. 

Another way to think of schemas is a list of features and criteria that must be met for something to be called whatever it is. 

We know a house is a house because in our checklist of what makes a house,  the structure we are looking at checks all those boxes.

We don’t only form schemas around objects but also around experiences. For example, if you go to a restaurant and get uncommonly bad customer service then that establishment has created a schema in your mind for bad service and because of that, the next time you think of going back your brain will warn you about the experience. This is called the primacy effect

R+ and R- Experiences

Experiences that create positive schemas are called R+ (R-positive) experiences and experiences that create negative schemas are called R- (R-negative) experiences. 

Congruence is governed by these repeated experiences from birth. Repeated R+ experiences will paint our idea of what to expect from an interaction in an unknown space like in a transaction with a new company that we’ve never purchased from before. 

However, customer reviews have taught us repeatedly that the vast majority of customer experiences are not R+, but they aren’t really R- either. They fall in the lukewarm middle which means they are little more than light R- experiences.

Middle-of-the-road experiences and R- experiences don’t build positive emotional connections with the brand which improve customer satisfaction, increase pricing, reduce costs, or grow revenue.

In fact, they create inconsistency or cognitive dissonance. 

Cognitive dissonance is a driver of anger. Anger occurs because new information is introduced that we didn’t know that conflicts with information that we thought we knew or when the information we are seeking insufficiently closes a knowledge gap.

Imagine you go to a store that seems to sell fishing gear, the outside has fish sculptures with hooks and rods surrounding it, and next to the door is a small fishing boat. Your schemas for a store are firing and saying this is a store and your schemas around fishing are telling you this store must have something to do with fishing. If you were a fisherman and you walked in this store and found out once inside that they sold mattresses, at best you’d be annoyed.

In Consistency Theory, this situation is referred to as Inconsistency. 


Inconsistency is painful for us. It means we may have been naive or foolish or maybe we were fooled by someone.

To avoid this pain we have three approaches to inconsistency

Approach Incongruence

We avoid the problem altogether. (How most customers approach sellers)

Avoidance Incongruence

We cannot avoid the problem and must deal with it.


When you can’t get what you want because to get one thing you must lose another

Inconsistency breaks the system and causes cognitive dissonance 

How does all of this apply to a brand?

When customers are making purchase decisions they use their schemas to determine what type of experience they will have and thus if they should be motivated to make a purchase. If their past perceptions of the things they see from the brand they are interested in are built on past negative experiences with other brands (R-) then they will be less likely to even give your brand the time of day.

That means that before a customer will even consider your brand it must already align with what they believe your brand should be or they will go with another competitor or not buy anything at all to avoid the perceived negative experience.

But how do we avoid that negative perception? 

That’s where we can utilize the Brand Consistency Formula.

The Brand Consistency Formula

The BC Formula is the best way to manage your business and marketing into the future. It takes into account how the human brain works in a saturated market where customers can buy anything from anywhere in the world and have it delivered to their homes in days. 

Years ago this speed of delivery we see today wasn’t possible nor the ability to find products globally. 

Also, there wasn’t an easy way for anyone to run an ad to any consumer they wanted, you typically had to hire an expensive advertising firm and have a huge production budget. 

That’s not true today because anyone can run a Facebook ad and target a very specific customer base for relatively cheap. That means more advertisers and more competition for ad space. 

More competition means higher prices which repeats the cycle and what’s worse is customers are getting more adept at avoiding ads. 

This makes every dollar spent on Ads less effective unless something changes!

How does the BC Formula help?

The BC Formula helps brands insert themselves into the conversation that customers are having in their heads about what they need to acquire to improve their lives. 

The system does that through Data-Driven Empathetic Branding, White Glove Customer Experience, and Customer Reactivation. 

This helps brands to increase revenue by increasing average order values, reduced marketing spending by increasing word of mouth sharing between peers (customers tell their friends how great you are) which also increases profit margins and reactivation which creates feedback loops and social proof for customers. 

Data-Driven Empathetic Branding

We focus on finding those gaps in the marketplace by constantly monitoring what you’re customers are screaming for and doing it in a way that moves faster and more efficiently towards continuous improvement for the customer.

White-Glove Customer Experience

The battlefield for customer share of wallet now is all about customer experience and making sure that you are continually and relentlessly driving R+ experiences for your customers and never falling short of meeting that mark.

Customer Reactivation

Lastly, we drive value by making sure your customers feel the love. We use advanced analytics to segment customers into groups and make offers that make sense to reactivate customers and drive lifetime value and steadily increasing profits.

The outcome is a business that has increased sales, prices, profits, and reduced expenses.

By embracing the BC Formula, companies meet their customers where they are and create deeply emotionally resonant attachments between the brand and the customer. 

This relationship in itself creates social currency for the customer which drives them to share their experiences with their friends and loved ones. That means free advertising for your brand while simultaneously driving increasing retention rates from happy customers.

The BC Formula models the way customers think about purchases they intend to make and was fully inspired by Consistency Theory. 

To learn more about this strategy enroll in the BC Formula Training Course!