Six scientific secrets to persuade anyone – Part 1

We’ve all felt like this at different times in our lives…

We’ve all felt like this at different times in our lives…

Robert Cialdini is an interesting guy. He spent most of his life in academia, as a professor of psychology and marketing, most recently at Arizona State University. Yes, he’s whip smart. But from early on, something always gnawed at Cialdini, both in his personal and professional life.

There were times where he agreed to do something—said yes—even though he often really didn’t want to. He began exploring why some people could persuade colleagues, friends and strangers, while others couldn’t, or worse, were taken advantage of.

So Cialdini went undercover. He got jobs and trained at car dealerships, telemarketing companies and others to learn the ropes of persuasion. And the result was his groundbreaking book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. It’s sold more than two million copies worldwide.

I’ve read it twice… once in my early career, and again a few years ago. It’s incredibly powerful, chock full of examples and validated scientific data on persuasion. It changed the way I saw things. Yeah, it’s that kind of book, and I think it should be required reading for anyone in marketing, communications or sales.

Cialdini broke the concept of persuasion into six principles. Today, I’ll share three of them, and next week, I’ll share the rest (just for the sake of room!).

A fundamental tenet to persuasion, Cialdini says, is the fact that we all look for shortcuts. Most of us are overwhelmed by work, family, and life. So to help stay on top of it all, we take certain shortcuts in our decision-making… and that’s the sweet spot where persuasion happens. He calls it a “click, whirr” response.

Now, onto the principles…

PRINCIPLE 1: Reciprocity

I call this the IOU principle. When someone does you a favor, most cultures call on us to reciprocate in some way—to give something back in appreciation for the first kind gesture. Cialdini warns, however, that this concept of obligation often gets distorted, and people end up paying back far out of proportion to the original favor.

An interesting example… waiters. In a study, when waiters brought the check to the table, they often got a normal tip. But, if they brought a mint for each person at the table, the tip went up by 3%. If they gave two mints for everyone, they got a 14% bump. And… get this… if they gave one mint to everyone, then came back to the table and said, “You people are nice. Here’s another mint for all of you,” their tips jumped 23%!

Cialdini tells us that things like personalization and surprise, like the last waiter example, make the reciprocity rule even more powerful.

PRINCIPLE 2: Commitment and consistency

How do you see yourself? A family person? A liberal? Conservative? We all label ourselves… and once we settle on a self-imposed definition, we tend to stick to it, sometimes to a fault. Cialdini says that often, people will continue to convince themselves of their decisions’ correctness—which often creates an automatic response.

Example… fundraising. There was probably some point in your life when you decided to support something, and ended up in it for the long haul and a lot of coin. Let’s say, for instance, public radio. Once you commit yourself in your mind as a “public radio guy,” you’re more likely to pay for the annual membership, along with the quarterly drives, special fundraisers, emergency funding and more. You stop thinking about the money, or whether it’s even worth it, and think instead: “Yeah, I support public radio.” Ka-ching.

Cialdini says that this principle often starts small—such as a nominal donation or signing a petition—and builds over time, sometimes becoming quite consuming and draining.

PRINCIPLE 3: Social proof

I like to call this the principle of “monkey see, monkey do.” When we notice others doing or committing to something, we assume that it’s good. We naturally surmise that someone, somewhere, checked this out… so it’s safe and good for me, too. And many times, it is.

But here’s a tragic example of social proof gone wrong: Bernie Madoff. The king of all Ponzi schemes mostly got his celebrity and upscale clientele through reputation and referrals. Even though some analysts saw that the math just didn’t make sense, for most people, they simply believed their friends, colleagues and others sharing the same rung on their social ladder. And the results were, well, devastating.

Keep in mind, when Cialdini wrote his book, most Millennials were in diapers—and there was no Facebook, Pinterest or any other social media at the time. It will be fascinating to see the persuasive power the ubiquitous Facebook “like” will carry in coming years.

Whew! Well, there are the first three. I’m sure you see yourself in some of these—I know I do. Next Thursday, we’ll cover principles 4, 5 and 6: Liking, authority and scarcity. See you then.

– Andy Badalamenti is the creative director for CI-Group

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