This week I had the honour of meeting one of my long-time literary heroes, Social Psychologist Dr. Robert Cialidini.
If the name sounds familiar, it’s probably because he practically invented the field of persuasion psychology. You may have heard of him via the two best-selling books he’s written on the subject (Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, and Yes! 50 Secrets to the Science of Persuasion), or from any number of intriguing experiments he’s cited in his talks (my favourite is the one with the college students and the cookie jar).
This week however, he was invited to speak on his six principles of influence at @OgilvyChange, with the rather wonderful Steve Martin and Rory Sutherland. As he started his talk, he gave a friendly reminder that
The use of these principles have to be intensely, intentionally honest. That’s how they work in the long run.
No doubt these principles will be fairly familiar to some of you, but in case you’ve missed them (or you fancy a refresher), here they are in a nutshell:
Be the first to give
In an online context, this can mean offering your customers certain services, information or concessions. Whatever it is, you should give it freely. This is one of the most powerful principles you can actively use, in which the onus is on you to take the first step. Once you’ve done so, you can let the hard-wired principle of reciprocity do the work (kind of like psychological Wing Chun).
We value what’s rare
As a species we seem to value what’s in scarce supply, whether it’s diamonds, cookies (as in the experiment above) or the items in an auction. To make this principle work for you, emphasise exclusive information or unique features you might have that can’t be found elsewhere, and highlight genuine scarcity whether in terms of products (‘only 5 flight tickets left’) or time (‘sale ends at midnight’).
Showing your expertise
In times of uncertainty, we look outside of ourselves for reassurance and guidance on how to behave. With the rapidity of technological advances, this principle now has particular appeal as we face an increasingly complex, information-rich world. To implement this online, you can establish your position through honestly displaying your credentials, showing your industry knowledge through blogging / social media / talks, and admitting your weaknesses (within reason).
A great example of the latter, is the now industry-famous slogan Avis came up with in the 1960s to compete with the car rental giants, Hertz: ‘Avis is only No. 2 in rent cars. So why go with us? We try harder’. That slogan was so sticky that it’s still in use today.
In fact, when quizzed by the audience, Cialdini summarised this point like this: ‘Wanna know where to put your strongest argument? It’s in the moment after you have admitted your weakness.’
Getting in touch with people’s core values
This is an interesting principle, in which the act of discovering your client’s core values and beliefs can mutually benefit both of you. By finding out what matters to your customer and aligning your offering with that, you can up the value of your offering. This strategy starts with a small commitment (you agree to donate only £2 a month to a charity) which can then develop into larger commitments over time (you’ve already defined yourself as charitable, so you’ll remain consistent with this image and agree to give more).
During the talk, Cialdini suggested that we ‘Ask people to examine their preferences and priorities before they act… And change your offerings to be congruent with that’.
5. Social Proof
People power (aka peer pressure)
Described by Cialdini as the ‘lever for change that gains special traction’, this is one of the best known principles of persuasion, and for good reason.
In the age of social media, it’s this particular tool that is ‘most available for use’, says Cialdini. And you need only look to the proliferation of platforms and applications such as Facebook’s eponymous ‘Like’ (and Twitter’s equivalent, #WIN) to see why. To use social proof in a conscious way, include testimonials on your site – or if you’re selling products, use a rating system (Tripadvisor and Amazon have built entire businesses around this highly persuasive model).You can also highlight others’ past successes, and if you have a large number of subscribers or followers, the numbers will speak for themselves.
Making friends to influence people
This principle is, in some ways, the hardest to master as it requires authenticity. When asked how we can best implement this, Cialdini replied, ‘Come to like your customer, and they’ll feel that ‘my flanks are protected.” By highlighting the similarities you share with your client, and paying genuine compliments where they arise (as a Brit I can attest to the struggle many of us have in doing this!), you can create an environment that will better lead to cooperation. It’s about finding the ‘we’ in the relationship.
In fact, the anecdote Cialdini used to illustrate ‘liking’, was one taken from a rather touching exchange with his granddaughter. When asked who was her favourite person in the world (out of all her friends and family), she answered ‘Granddad’. And when quizzed as to why she liked him best, she answered ‘because he likes me the most’.
This little story goes to show what a powerful effect can be exerted when we feel we are really liked by someone else – and, as long as that person isn’t a stalker, this can be a great way to establish rapport and influence someone ethically towards a mutually beneficial outcome.
If you’re intrigued and you’d like to find out more, go read the book. It’s a corker.