One of the best books I’ve read on the subject of buying psychology (and I’ve read a lot of them) is Influence: The Psychology Of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini. Regardless of your archetypal persona, I highly recommend that you pick up a copy of this book.
I’ll admit that when I first saw the title, I was skeptical about the contents. The word ‘influence’ conjures up thoughts of hard-sale persuasion or even trickery to me, two things I am vocal about steering very clear of in my work. A closer look, though, revealed that influence has a slightly different meaning in this case. Here, it’s referring to motivating an action, not skewing a result. In a time like this where face-to-face interactions are more difficult to come by, the ability to ethically influence others is something we can all use a little help with.
Cialdini outlines six key areas of focus for anyone trying to affect or shape a particular outcome.
Here’s a quick overview of each of them (and a bonus one at the end).
Turns out that the art of giving back, is also something of a science. The reciprocity theory states that people are natural reciprocators. In other words, they’re far more willing to make concessions and comply with requests from those who have provided them with something first. There are a couple ways to look at it. One is a simple generosity angle. You did this for me, so I want to repay the favor. It can become problematic when someone feels pressured into paying someone back. Any truly good deed does not require payback.
An example of this is seen in the free consultation (service) or free sample (product). These are a way of giving the potential buyer a taste of what you offer, not only to help you decide if it’s a good fit, but also so they have an underlying sense of obligation to upgrade to a paid version of the offering.
A free opt-in is another example of this idea in action. The trade in this case is the exchange of an email address for a free e-book or other incentive.
2. Commitment & Consistency
Most of us are creatures of habit. The notion behind this theory of influence is that people are more willing to be moved or swayed in a particular direction if they see it as being consistent with an existing commitment. Again, another side to the obligation coin as outlined in the first principle.
An example of the commitment principles is that of a free makeover (service) or a free food sample (product) at the mall. Sit down for a free makeover and you’ll probably feel a pull to buy at least one of the products from the consultant to compensate them for your time. Even though it’s deemed to be a ‘no obligation’ service, you still find yourself feeling somehow indebted. Same thing with all those employees wandering around the mall food court with trays of food samples tempting hungry shoppers with a free taste. They’re counting on the people who enjoyed it heading to their restaurant to purchase a full meal.
Most people are willing to buy into a person they is a good leader or a qualified spokesman. Authority can be influenced in everything from appearance to surroundings to perceptions. For example, you’d probably feel a lot more confident taking the advice of someone who is sitting in their office flanked by framed degrees than you would sitting at an outdoor cafe discussing the same topic with a random stranger you just met. You would likely buy into the advice of someone who has a title or some notoriety in an arena versus someone you just stumbled upon in an online search. It’s all about the clout. Where there’s perceived authority there’s confidence. Where there’s confidence, there’s trust. Where there’s trust, there’s influence.
An example of this theory is a celebrity or professional endorsement of a product or service. The thought process is that if someone is considered an expert in an area and they are willing to throw their name behind a recommended brand, then it must be good. The more clout the person making the recommendation has, the more weight the it carries.
4. Social Validation
You’ve heard the term social proof. That’s this principle in action. The idea here is that people are more willing to take action if they see some evidence that other people have already done so. Interestingly, this doesn’t even have to show that those people had a positive experience, just that they had any experience. In other words, when the ad reads ‘1 Million Sold’. That doesn’t mean they all loved the product. That piece of information doesn’t make an appearance in the equation. The fact that so many people took the leap is reason enough for some people to buy. It’s something of a herd mentality, I suppose.
There is power in numbers. This principle proves that. It doesn’t always have to be a crowd swaying the decision, sometimes it’s just one person. Maybe even a total stranger, as in the case when a website testimonial convinces someone to commit to an expensive course. Or when someone invests in a service based on a friend’s recommendation of the provider.
An example of this theory is the growing crowd of people surrounding a street vendor. When there are a lot of people gathered in one place, more will undoubtedly want to see what’s going on.
In other words, FOMO, or the fear of missing out. You can’t go a day without seeing this tactic being deployed. Scarcity creates a sense of urgency and it works powerfully. Whether it’s a dwindling supply, a limited time offering, a one of a kind piece, or a once in a lifetime deal, people hate missing out. This principle doesn’t allow much time for clarity of thought, and instead is fueled by the pressure of taking immediate action, lest you get left behind.
As far as product sales are concerned, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Amazon Prime Day are vivid examples of this principle in action. Shoppers flock to stores by the millions, sometimes literally shoving one another physically, in an effort to get the deal of a lifetime before it’s gone forever. In the way of services, courses that are only open once a year or are being ‘retired’ prompt sales to anxious buyers who aren’t sure they can live another day without the offering and sure don’t want to find out.
Attractiveness sells. Look no further than advertisements that overwhelmingly featuring attractive models. But it isn’t just physical attractiveness that works, it’s the overall package, including how relatable and likable they are. Here, the word ‘attractive’ is being used in the general sense of feeling drawn to something whether by looks, charisma, relatability. Regardless of the function, the more attractive and likable a candidate is, the more likely they will be chosen.
Examples of this can be seen in commercials for both products and services that feature funny, relatable, and good looking spokespeople or celebrities to help them sell their offerings. Also the case when a company uses a lovable, adorable mascot to do the job.
In 2016 Cialdini introduced a 7th principle, called The Unity Principle. The idea here is that the more we identify ourselves with other people, the more we’re able to be influenced by them. I love this one in particular because it really encompasses all of the work I’ve been doing with the Archetypes. When we see ourselves in another individual, we feel naturally drawn to them and automatically believe they are like us. This gives them a sense of credibility.
When we like someone, we believe in them. We believe in ourselves, we see someone like us and naturally believe they, too, are a good person worthy of our admiration, affections, and respect. When you meet a kindred spirit, they somehow feel like home to you. You feel validated. Those are your people. Social media communities are a great example of the unity concept in action.
So that’s it; Influence, condensed. The science is pretty compelling. We see it at work in our everyday lives in some capacity. And there’s a good reason for that, these theories are overwhelmingly powerful. Being able to understand how to use them to your brand’s advantage will help you in both life and business.
Tell me, what do you think about the theories of influence? Are they ethical? Do you find yourself using them?
For more resources on the science of persuasion check out this reading list I put together.
I’m a Brand Therapist® providing psychology-based branding, copywriting, and consulting to individuals and micro-businesses in the creative arena. My signature services will help you discover and articulate your most authentic self so you can tell better stories, make more meaningful connections, and do more profound work.