Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini is a towering classic of marketing and psychology.
Cialdini shows us humans are wired for mental shortcuts in reasoning.
He then shows us how marketers use this hardwiring against us consumers for their gain.
It’s not illegal and it’s not unethical but it’s definitely manipulation.
Cialdini wants us to ‘inoculate’ ourselves against these marketing tricks, and give us some defences against them.
There are 6 principles of persuasion:
Studies show that if someone does you a favour, you’re likely to return the favour, and often reciprocate more than you received.
Marketers use this with free samples and free trials. I was in my local supermarket recently and there was a guy offering free sushi samples next to the sushi bar. This is a classic example of an attempt to persuade me to buy some sushi.
(2) Commitment and Consistency
Cialdini says that humans have a strong compulsion to be consistent. If we commit to something, whether verbally or in writing, we have a strong compulsion to stay consistent with that commitment.
Cialdini recounts a sad story of an American POW who was persuaded to write a statement saying mildly that ‘America is not perfect’. This seemingly harmless statement became the start of his full collaboration.
We see this technique a lot. I have small charity donations taken out monthly and every now and again, a fundraiser from one of these charities will call and I will increase my monthly donation.
As this principle states, I want to remain consistent with my previous commitment, even if it costs me more.
(3) Social Proof
This is a huge factor in persuasion. When we see other people doing something, we are likely to do that too. Look at the social proof on the front cover above:
We see it’s a National Bestseller (it must be good!).
The journal of Marketing Research says, ‘For marketers, it is amongst the most important books written in the last 10 years.’ (It must be good!)
It’s a revised edition, it must have been in print for a long time and required updating (it must be good!)
We see it when we read testimonials that we trust. Think about TripAdvisor and Amazon and how we’re persuaded by products that have several hundred great reviews from real, verified purchasers. (It must be good! Look at all those reviews!)
We are heavily persuaded by authority. If someone we respect says something, we are more easily persuaded than by someone we don’t respect saying exactly the same thing.
Think about Warren Buffett tipping up a stock versus your taxi driver.
Or well-known faces promoting kitchenware products.
Interestingly, we’re even persuaded by the mere tokens of authority such as a uniform or a qualification.
Again, look at the book cover above. The letters PhD give Cialdini authority in our minds even though we’ve never met him!
We’re more easily persuaded by people we like. If a salesman is likeable, then we should beware of what they’re about to ask.
‘We like people who are similar to us, who compliment us, and who cooperate with us’
When opportunities become scarce, we desire them more.
Marketers take advantage of this fact by injecting scarcity into their offers.
‘Hurry before stock runs out!’
‘This offer ends today! Don’t miss out’
To defend ourselves against this tactic, ask whether you really want the product/service on its merits or whether you’re experiencing an irrational desire to own it.
What can we learn from Cialdini’s Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion?
There’s so much to draw from this book. It’s deservedly a classic.
We can become much more savvy consumers
Recognise that we’re bombarded by advertisements and sales pitches all the time.
The marketers behind big corporate marketing drives are highly intelligent and savvy people.
They are using every tactic, principle and strategy they can get hold of.
Every salesman worth their salt is using the principles above and more as much as they can
They are likeable (or they try to be).
They offer you something for free.
They try to get you to commit to something.
They employ authority.
They definitely employ social proof.
Now that you know the principles, you can guard against it.
Think back to the last 10 things you bought, from car insurance to BBQs to mobile phones to shoes to mortgages to your house, your last holiday.
What do you remember that relates to any of the principles above?
Would you still have bought the items if these weren’t being employed?
We can use the tactics and principles to be more persuasive ourselves
Look at each of the principles again and mentally tick off what you can use to be more persuasive.
Imagine you’re a salesman or marketer who’s just been given a toolbox to try out.
How could you demonstrate social proof?
How can you be more likeable?
How can you get prospects to commit a small action so that they buy bigger down the line?
The possibilities are endless.
It reminds us that we should yield to reality and not what we wish the world to be
Many people might react to this book by exclaiming how unfair and unethical this all is.
They might say that it’s dark-side Machiavellian manipulation.
This would be the wrong way to look at this.
These principles show us that humans are wired up a certain way. This is a fact and questions about whether this is right or wrong are fairly pointless.
The best way forward is to accept and embrace this fact as reality.
This way we can protect ourselves against our shortcomings because we know about them and we can also use them to our advantage.
And what’s wrong with that?
Buy Persuasion here.
Check out Professor Cialdini’s website here.