In his book Influence, The Psychology of Persuasion, psychologist Robert Cialdini helpfully distills a big chunk of the psychology behind traditional sales and fundraising into six cue-and-response categories he illuminates with thought-provoking psychological studies and playful descriptions of his own selling / buying encounters. The six categories he identifies are:
Reciprocation. Example: enclosing a free gift such as return address labels in a mail solicitation increases the level of response.
Commitment and Consistency. Example: someone generally becomes an even bigger supporter of a thing after writing a testimonial for it.
Social Proof. Example: bartenders "salt" their tip jars and churches their offering baskets as if contributions have already been made to stimulate more contributions.
Liking. Example: celebrity endorsements--people who like the celebrity and want to be associated with them will buy the product.
Authority. Example: people are more likely to join a jaywalker who is wearing a business suit.
Scarcity. Example: last chance / last one left--if someone knows that there is only one opportunity left, and that others are or will be looking at it too, they are more likely to take it themselves.
Cialdini's premise is that in these six areas our brains are wired to leap from specific cues to corresponding decisions. He theorizes that this circuitry arose to streamline decision making and reduce information overload.
Because they are believed to be effective, use of these shortcuts has become prevalent in sales and fundraising. (Cialdini expresses a desire to educate his readers so that they can avoid being abused by these principles and urges readers to boycott abusers, but his book has doubtless inspired legions of smash-and-grab marketers since its publication 20 years ago.) Even those of us who are already aware of these principles, or believe ourselves to be immune from their influence, will benefit from reviewing Cialdini's observations in order to improve our awareness and make more deliberate choices regarding their use.
It's worth pointing out that the bulk of the research findings and observations Cialdini reports date from the 1980s and earlier. Over time the cues he identifies have lost some of their potency due to overuse and/or cultural shifts. Ironically, the general population has become increasingly sensitized to "stealth" persuasive tactics, and now the cues Cialdini identifies may trigger highly negative reactions, even if manipulation wasn't intended.
Thus if you invoke one or more of Cialdini's cues--either deliberately or accidentally--then are perceived to push too hard, or to fall short of expectations, you risk leaving someone feeling manipulated as well as disappointed. On the other hand, you can add value by using these cues with appropriate care during the course of a genuine professional relationship.
A long, but still incomplete, list of examples cited by Cialdini (not all are drawn from sales or fundraising situations)
Synopsis: After you give something to somebody--even if they didn't want anything from you--they are more likely to give you something you ask for.
- Enclosing a free gift such as return address labels in a mail solicitation increases the level of response.
- Those who accept your offer of a refreshment or a free sample are more likely to buy something from you later.
- If you open by asking for a bigger commitment of time or money, then retreat to a smaller request while framing your retreat as "a concession", you are likely to trigger a reciprocal concession that motivates them to give you more than if you had led with a smaller request.
- Someone's feeling that they were successful in obtaining a concession tends to increase their satisfaction with what they bought.
2. "Commitment and Consistency."
Synopsis: After someone is asked an opinion they are more likely to make choices consistent with that opinion.
- If a pollster calls ahead of time and asks people to predict whether they would agree to volunteer for a charitable cause, they are more likely to volunteer when solicited a few days later (those who predicted they would volunteer tended to volunteer).
- Once someone places a bet on a horse, their confidence in the horse's chances increase.
- If a stranger asks you to watch their things while they are away, and you agree, you are much more likely to attempt to stop someone trying to steal their stuff.
- People are more likely to make a big purchase from you after they have made a trivial one.
- People are more likely to adopt a more strongly favorable/unfavorable opinion on a particular subject once they have been persuaded to admit a slightly favorable/unfavorable opinion about it.
- When someone writes down an opinion or says it out loud even if it wasn't their opinion in the first place it strengthens their belief in that opinion.
- Someone generally becomes an even bigger supporter of a thing after they write their own testimonial for it.
- People are more likely to achieve a goal if they right it down.
- People are more likely to achieve a goal if they tell everyone they know they are trying to achieve it.
- When told they were considered charitable, people gave more to charity.
- People are less likely to cancel an order if they had to fill out the order form themselves.
- People prize something more and are more attached to it if they had to work harder to get it (the principle behind initiation ceremonies and hazing).
- Lowballing -- once someone has decided to buy something, they are likely to go ahead and buy it even after the price goes up.
- People who started saving energy because they were told that this would get their names put in the paper wound up saving even more after they were told that publication of their name had been cancelled.
3. "Social Proof."
Synopsis: When someone learns that others are doing something they are more likely to do it too.
- Audiences laugh more and rate jokes as funnier when a laugh track is heard.
- Bartenders "salt" their tip jars and Churches their offering baskets as if contributions have already been made to stimulate more contributions.
- People assume a longer line in front of an event means that it's a better event.
- People who see someone like themselves doing something are more likely to try it themselves.
- When the suicide of a person with certain characteristics is publicized, the suicide rate temporarily increases
- with the highest incidence being among people with similar characteristics.
- The Kitty Genovese scenario: when there are a number of bystanders to a tragedy, any bystander is less likely to offer help than had there been only one bystander (possibly the fact that other people are hesitating or ignoring a problem makes this seem proper).
- The fewer others like you who are around you, the more likely you are to be influenced by them.
4. "Liking (association)."
Synopsis: When someone likes you, or thinks you like them, they are more apt to do as you ask.
- Attractive people are more likely to get votes, jobs, favorable court decisions, and compliance when conducting market research surveys.
- The fact that a friend of theirs gets a commission on every sale incentivizes attendees at a Tupperware party to buy more.
- A fellow dubbed "greatest car salesman" by the Guinness Book of World's records (averaging more than 5 vehicles a day sold) sent greeting cards to his 13,000 former customers every month featuring various pertinent holiday messages inside but always the phrase "I like you" on the outside.
- People who have been in conflict with each other vastly improved their liking, respect and consideration for one another after jointly achieving goals that they couldn't have accomplished without each other (researchers united rival groups at a summer camp by posing problems that they could only overcome by working side by side).
- Good cop bad cop - people are more likely to cooperate with police after the good cop offers to help them stave off the bad cop.
- People become more in favor of things introduced to them while they are eating.
- People feel good about themselves when the sports team they are loyal to succeeds (people feel socially benefited by association with a group which is successful).
- People are more likely to say "we won" when their team wins, and "they lost" when it loses.
- People who have suffered a personal setback and thus have lowered self-esteem are more likely to say "we won" when their sports team wins.
- After an international political setback for their nation, people go to extraordinary lengths to associate themselves with the success of their national sports teams.
- Celebrity endorsements (the premise being that people who like the celebrity and want to be associated with them will buy the product).
- Name dropping.
- Parents who stop at nothing to help their children win.
Synopsis: People are more likely to do something when someone in authority recommends it.
- People do pretty much whatever doctors tell them to, regardless of what common sense, hospital policy, or written warnings might say.
- The Stanley Milgrim electric shock experiments
- volunteers were willing to deliver potentially fatal electric shocks to strangers when a person in authority told them it was appropriate to do so. When two persons in authority disagreed as to whether a volunteer should continue to deliver shocks, the volunteers would attempted to determine which authority was of higher rank in order to follow those instructions.
- California, 1987: train operators instructed to disregard protestors they could clearly see on a railroad track did just that, and ran over one who didn't get out of the way.
- Students' estimates of an teacher's height increased depending upon the level of credentials they were told the teacher had.
- People are more likely to join a jaywalker who is wearing a business suit.
- People are more patient waiting behind a luxury car which stopped at a green light and less patient with an economy car.
- Small concessions can make someone's ostensible authority believable (for example, a waiter who is willing to admit to disliking some dishes will be believed when recommending others).
Synopsis: When people think something is in demand, or in short supply, their opinion of its value goes up.
- Knowing that a tour of a particular building is available only on rare occasions makes people more interested in touring it.
- Collectibles (which may have little intrinsic value other than being rare).
- Last chance / last one left: if someone knows that there is only one opportunity left, and that others are or will be looking at it too, they are more likely to go for it themselves.
- Telling a child (and sometimes an adult) they can't have something or do something makes them want it more, particularly if it used to be something they could do or get (banning a thing increases demand).
- Tell a simulated jury to disregard a piece of evidence and they'll give it greater weight.
- Insider (rare) information is seen as being of greater importance.
- Taste testers like the taste of a cookie better if there were fewer of them to try.
- Revolutionaries tend to be those who have known better conditions.
- Participating in auctions can induce people to spend more than they would have otherwise.
Additional Cialdini examples of persuasive cues:
- "Because": people are more likely to comply with a request if the request includes the word "because," even if the "because" reason you offer isn't very compelling.
- Perceived value and price: increasing the price of something can make it more desirable.
- Contrast and perceived value: show someone the most expensive alternative first and they'll spend more, or show them a lower quality item first and they'll be more likely to buy a better quality item for the same price.
This section was written by Bruce Wilson, an executive coach, trainer, and facilitator who has helped individual business people and organizations across the U.S. to improve their leadership, customer relationships, and teamwork. For more information about his work, or to get in touch with him, visit WilsonStrategies.com.