Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion

If you’re in business, marketing or sales in any capacity, Robert Cialdini’s book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion is a must read.

When you hear people talking about their “soft skills” they’re talking about personality traits, social graces, communication skills, language, personal habits & friendliness.

These are personal attributes that enhance an individual’s interactions and in business today, these are the indispensable skills that everyone needs.

This book focuses on how you can use your soft skills to influence people and it’s based around Roberts 6 key principles of persuasion. Personally, I find it amazing at how true these simple rules are and how easy they are in implement.

These principles can be used for good but they can also be abused and I would hope that most people will keep their ethics top of mind when applying these principles. There is a difference between influence and manipulation.

Influence involves change, the ability to move people in a desired direction where as manipulation is about deceiving people to get what you want. Here are the principles.

1) Reciprocity – People tend to return a favor, thus the pervasiveness of free samples in marketing. The good cop/bad cop strategy is also based on this principle. For example, you may donate money to a charity that gave you a flower in the street.

You may help a friend move because they helped you move. A painting company i read about gave it’s customers a potted flower after every job they completed and asked them for referrals. Most people returned the favor by sending new customers their way.

2) Commitment and Consistency – If people commit, orally or in writing, to an idea or goal, they are more likely to honor that commitment because of establishing that idea or goal as being congruent with their self image.

Even if the original incentive or motivation is removed after they have already agreed, they will continue to honor the agreement. For example, in car sales, suddenly raising the price at the last moment works because the buyer has already decided to buy.

3) Social Proof – People will do things that they see other people are doing.

For example, in one experiment, one or more confederates would look up into the sky; bystanders would then look up into the sky to see what they were seeing. At one point this experiment aborted, as so many people were looking up that they stopped traffic.

This is about conformity and group think.

4) Authority – People will tend to obey authority figures, even if they are asked to perform objectionable acts.

For example, pharmaceutical companies put actors in doctor uniforms in their ads to try a use an authority figure to influence the buyer.

5) Liking – People are easily persuaded by other people that they like.

People were more likely to buy if they liked the person selling it to them. Sounds simple enough. Cialdini cites the marketing of Tupperware in what might now be called viral marketing is a great example of this.

The whole MLM/ direct sales industry is based on this principle.

6) Scarcity – Perceived scarcity will generate demand. For example, saying offers are available for a “limited time only” encourages sales.

You see this a lot in the web world when companies are launching a new service.

Pinterest, Gmail and other services used this principle when they allow only current users to invite friends to the service. When it’s not open to everyone, everyone wants in.

Do you have any examples of when you used or have seen these principles used? I’d love to hear about it.

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