What is the art of persuasion? It is the ability to get others to see things as you see them, and it’s a key need for businesses of any size. From encouraging your customers to buy your products or services, to showing how your products or services are NEEDED by your target audience, the power of persuasion is key. And this is where marketing your business comes in.
I’ve recently read an article about Dr. Robert B. Cialdini, who wrote a book called ‘Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion’ in 1984. This feels like a long time ago now, but the ideas and principles he talks about in his book are even more relevant today, from a business perspective, than they were back then. In fact, the book and its principles has been hailed as crucial to marketing, especially around the area of converting people to customers. So, I thought I’d investigate this further, as I’d never heard of him.
Cialdini’s ‘6 principles of influence’ are:
- Social proof
Do some of these sound familiar? Social media wasn’t a ‘thing’ back then, but we all know the term ‘social proof’ these days from our dealings with social media.
More than 30 years after publication, these six principles have been adapted to Internet Marketing, specifically around conversion rates. So, let’s dive in!
This is about giving something to get a little something in return. According to Cialdini, this first principle of persuasion states that human beings are wired to return favours and pay back debts – to treat others as they’ve treated us. For example, if someone sends us a Christmas or Birthday card, we feel that we have to reciprocate – it’s almost a sense of social obligation.
But it is possible to use the desire to reciprocate to influence the behaviour of others. To do this, you need to give someone an unexpected gift – the value of the gift is unimportant, it’s about the act of giving. So, how does this work in business?
I’m not suggesting that you give all your customers a gift and expect something in return, it’s about the principle. For example, you have an email that you want people to sign up to – if you offer an incentive, some sort of gift or freebie, this will encourage them to sign up. If you write a regular blog and give really valuable information to your audience, when you put a call to action at the end asking them to sign up to your email, they are more likely to do so as they enjoy your blog and would like to hear from your more regularly.
Similarly, if you share consistent, regular, useful content, then when you launch a specific course, publish a book, or talk about your coaching, people are more likely to sign up.
This is around people wanting their beliefs to be consistent with their values. For example, if someone thinks of themselves as a healthy, fit person, they are more likely to eat and do things that would be deemed as healthy.
So, from a business point of view, if you can convince potential customers to act a certain way, or think a certain way, they’ll be more likely to do that again in the future. For example, if you take cake into work for your co-workers and get a huge, positive response telling you how delicious it is, you’re likely to do that again – and eventually become known as the ‘cake baker.’
You can do this with business. I’ll use the email example again. If someone signs up to your email newsletter to get the freebie that you are offering, they will receive your weekly or monthly emails. Once they have signed up, they’ll likely start seeing themselves as customers and will eventually convert to a customer. All I would say about this is that it’s very important you don’t take advantage of them and manipulate the situation.
Consensus – Social Proof
This is evident on social media. It’s about feeling validated based on what other people are doing. We are all basically unsure of ourselves and identify with the people around us. If you work in an office and your co-workers offer to stay late to help with something urgent, it’s very likely that you’ll do the same.
If you see a restaurant advertised by a photo of their food photographed by one of your friends, with a caption saying how lovely it was – it’s extremely likely that you’ll want to try it too.
We humans are social by nature and generally feel the need to conform to the groups we belong to. This can also be used in business.
Here’s a great example. Hotel guests have the right to clean towels every day, but the cost of laundering is huge, so hotel owners would prefer it if their guests reused their towels. It has been found that a simple sign that says, ‘8 out of 10 hotel guests choose to reuse their towels’ is more effective and persuasive than a sign that says, ‘Reusing your towels helps the environment.’.
Generally speaking, it’s the tendency of humans to obey figures of authority – even if they’re not right. If someone wears a uniform, it’s even more likely we’ll accept what that person says – for example, police officer, Dr, nurse.
That’s why a lot of big brands bring in celebrities to advertise their products or services. Celebrities are influencers – they have an influence on the fans that follow them. And you’ll see toothpaste advertised by someone in a white coat pretending to be a dentist – but we don’t challenge that, we just accept it.
People who are authoritative, credible, and knowledgeable experts in their particular field are more influential and persuasive than those who are not. Cialdini recognised that the reason for this is that authority and credibility are some of the core building blocks of trust, so when we trust people we are more likely to follow them.
From a business perspective, building trust and credibility with your customers is crucial, but it’s also possible to build some of that authority and credibility through the recommendations of your satisfied customers. So, always a good idea to ask for a recommendation or review. And if you give them a recommendation, it’s very likely they’ll reciprocate and recommend you!
Do you see how that works?!
Does it really matter if you like someone or not? According to Cialdini, it affects the chances of you being influenced by that individual. It’s human nature that we’ll be much more likely to like people who pay us compliments, or like those who have similar interests to us.
This is something that marketing campaigns definitely take advantage of. The people they use in their ads are specifically chosen to appeal to their target market. The more the potential customer identifies with and likes the person, the more likely they are to be influenced by them.
To make this work in business, you simply need to be liked by those around you…networking helps with this, and we do it without even thinking about it. We see small businesses that we like and automatically pay compliments and start building relationships. But this does take time, you need to nurture and build those relationships before you can try to influence anyone.
I think out of all six powers of persuasion, this was the one that, once analysed, I was most surprised by! This is something most of us do in normal everyday lives.
Scarcity is about believing something is in short supply…so you want it more.
We’ve probably all been taken in by this one at some time or other. It’s that FOMO thing (fear of missing out). We’re more likely to buy something if we’re told it’s the ‘last one available’ or if a special deal is about to end soon.
Companies use this all the time. I’ve seen it most recently on a popular airline site. I was persuaded to buy my seat now, as the prices are likely to go up later – a kind of ‘lock into this price now’! It’s a great marketing ploy!
However, I would avoid doing this if it’s fake. Customers will see through you if you’re offering limited supplies or expiring discounts if you do this often.
These six principles that illustrate the art of persuasion can help us with small, practical, and even cost-free changes that can lead to big differences in our ability to influence and persuade others in an ethical way – so long as they are not abused!