It’s heavily scripted, personality-studded, mass produced and mass consumed – and dazzled marketing directors speak of it with the kind of reverence usually reserved for stars and superheroes. The name of the game? Influence!
These days, creative peeps and marketers are expected to influence 24/7, regardless of whether they’re selling toothpaste or economic policy. A lucky few have a natural knack for it (most of us don’t); but no 21st century marketer can succeed without mastering it.
Harnessing influencer marketing is about appealing to a set of deeply rooted human drives to sell a product, service, lifestyle choice or political vision. The whole thing may sound off-putting, for to wield this type of influence over human decisions means learning to persuade. And ‘persuasion’, as we all know, is a dirty word. A bit like a bag of tricks we unleash on the client, consumer or voter with a spoonful of ethically dubious intentions.
But in fact the history of persuasion and influence is mostly an honourable one – and it comes down to six basic principles of matching people’s needs and likes with informed and ethical marketing action. The good news is that this process is not about trickery – it’s about the basic science of human relations that behavioural scientists have peered over for over five decades.
You may have heard this story from Robert Cialdini or some other speaker-circuit top gun already. And if you’re in the influencing game, these six Cialdini principles of persuasion should sit as gospel right alongside your own personal Ten Commandments of marketing. So, here goes:
Similarity breeds liking
Think of the classic Avon, Enjo, Tupperware or Amway party. They’re are a ritual of sorts, usually hosted by a woman you like who invites everyone she likes to her home. There, a group of friends takes part in an ‘inner circle’ sales demo. The guests’ fondness for the hostess and the need to bond with similar others makes the demo successful. So, when the decision to buy something is made, it’s not only to please oneself – but also to please the hostess and bond with friends.
The whole thing is very instructive: we all know that network selling is about liking the people in our network, and only then perhaps the product itself. One of the key rules of the principle of liking is to identify similarities between product, service – or the people selling it – and the target market.
Studies have shown that being emailed by a person with a similar name is likely to make you respond to them, even if you don’t know them. People simply prefer to say ‘yes’ to those they know, like or, in some way, identify with. Similarities and liking work in mysterious ways!
Scarcity makes heart grow fonder
Hands up if you have a grandmother whose romantic advice repertoire includes the famous ‘distance makes heart grow fonder’!? Wise old sayings are full of intuitive marketing strategies. This one made perfect sense when I was 16, grounded for a month, with no Facebook, mobile or email to keep me connected. Well, scarcity is one of those psychological principles that can make or break your brand, product or campaign – in addition to your heart.
In economic theory, the rules of scarcity are clear – the less there is of something, the higher its value. But more interesting for marketers is the human tendency to be more sensitive to the threat of a possible loss than to a promise of a possible gain. This little piece of psych insight is well documented and applies to every human activity there is.
Anything banned or censored immediately increases our desire to obtain it. For instance, back in the 20th century prohibition laws led to an increase in alcohol demand far greater than when alcohol was legal. Likewise, the idea that diamonds were scarce and “forever” saved the diamond industry from collapsing during the Great Depression.
Having initially flooded world markets with diamonds and with sales and share prices tanking, the industry started to control supply and create the impression that diamonds were scarce and inherently valuable. In a famous De Beers ad campaign, the ‘tradition’ of a highly valuable diamond engagement ring was invented – and we’re still falling for it almost 100 years later.
So, yes – scarcity makes heart grow fonder. Your advertising message might work better if you switch away from your product’s benefits to its uniqueness – and increase the perception of its scarcity.
People follow social cues
Being social creatures, human beings rely heavily on their social context to scan cues on how to think, act and feel. As a specific form of social influence, social contagion has been studied by social psychologists to understand how certain information and beliefs influence group behaviour and turn into social epidemic.
Malcolm Gladwell’s best-seller The Tipping Point explored why behaviours spread like viruses and found that social context played a crucial role: to state the obvious, people follow the lead of similar others. Robert Cialdini calls it ‘social proof’.
An experiment conducted in an Arizona hotel trying to persuade guests to reuse their towels is a classic example. Researchers, led by Cialdini, tried to persuade guests to reuse hotel towels by using four different messages:
1. The first cited environmental reasons.
2. The second claimed the hotel would donate a portion of savings from reused towels to an environmental cause.
3. The third said the hotel had already donated to an environmental cause and asked: “Will you please join us?”.
4. The last stated that the majority of guests reused their towels at least once during their hotel stay.
The fourth message was by far the most successful – with 48% of all guests choosing to reuse their towels at least once. In other words, persuasion can be extremely effective when it comes from peer comparison. Surveys and testimonials from previous customers, as well as cues about trends in-group behaviours are one of the easiest and cheapest ways to influence a buying behaviour.
Human beings tend to repay in kind
Reciprocity, as a social rule, drives people to repay, in kind, what another person has provided for them. Social psychologists claim this is not simply a ‘rule’, but a reliable human trait. Take gifts, for instance. Anthropologists believe that gift exchange is an age-old self-perpetuating system of reciprocity, which includes: the obligation to give; the obligation to receive; the obligation to repay.
Marketers have long been aware that gift giving has a startling effect on purchasing decisions and retention. Giving away anything – free information, a positive experience or free samples often confers a ‘first-mover advantage’ that is likely to result in a reciprocal gesture.
Studies show that a simple, hand-written note is likely to result in an almost 100% increase in customer response rate to your request. Likewise, purchasing departments are generally more likely to buy from suppliers who send them gifts than from those who don’t.
In other words, giving to receive might sound selfish, but it remains a sound influencing principle in human behaviour. People simply like to repay in kind.
Experts can shift public opinion
In the Monty Python comedic gem, Life of Brian, John Cleese’s character, Reg, attempts to incite a floor full of potential insurgents to revolt with a classic line: “What have the Romans ever done for us?” The insurgents rattle off a number of things – from aqueducts to education, and the list keeps getting longer. They forgot about one thing we’re still practicing with gusto – the Romans taught us to trust the experts. “Believe the expert,” said Virgil two millenia ago – and we still obey.
We don’t need any particular study, although many have been done, to know that a single opinion piece by a person we consider knowledgeable can drastically influence public opinion. We all practice this type of influencing day in day out, sharing stories that matter to us with our friends via social networks, trying to get them to comment, like or act.
Yet, expertise has never been more prized. In a sea of opinions that make their way to our social and news feeds, we search for ways to verify claims and find the most efficient route to decisions we make based on publicly available information.
While celebrity endorsements don’t necessarily produce the outcomes marketers desire, expert opinions might wield just enough influence to make the customer receptive to our product or claim. Our entire social and economic planning is built around them. Even our voting patterns can shift if we believe that policy de jour was built on sound expert advice.
Like it or not, we all have a bit of an unconscious bias towards opinions based on specialised knowledge. A third party opinion, based on sound data, will usually make one sit up and think. That’s how we know that expert reviews can increase product sales by as much as 25%. It’s definitely worth thinking about.
People tend to live up to their commitments
This one may sound a bit unbelievable, but psychologists swear that most people will stick to a commitment made on the record. People, apparently, are consistent creatures, who generally don’t like backing out of deals – especially if they committed to them in writing.
Research is conclusive – Dr Gail Matthews believes we are 43% more likely to live up to our commitments just by writing them down. While this particular dynamic might become more apparent with age, most human beings like to appear consistent at any age.
Getting a customer to follow through with a commitment – whether it’s a facial appointment, a launch party or a car purchase – is much more likely to happen once the customer has made their intention known in writing or in front of other people. For example, customers who sign up for a one-month trial subscription to your service are likely to feel more compelled to continue their subscription provided they got their hypothetical bang for the buck during that trial month.
Recognising the power of active commitment is one of the best sales and management principles a marketer can tap into. So, next time you’re planning a campaign, ask your customers to say ‘yes’ to something. In writing. And, please, do let me know how you went.
Have you found the six degrees of influence useful to your marketing campaign? We’d love to hear about it – simply share your story in the comments below.