Monday, August 20, 2007

Influence - The Psychology of Persuasion

I recently read Robert Cialdini's wonderful book, Influence, The Psychology of Persuasion.

Cialdini is an experimental psychologist who studies the psychology of compliance, or why people say yes. In the book, he identifies six universal principles of influence, the psychology behind their effectiveness, and how we are eerily hardwired to succumb to their effect.

The six principles are:
  1. reciprocation
    1. securing compliance from people can be greatly increased by doing them a "favor," whether they ask for it, like it, etc or not...the simple act of a gift triggers an obligation to comply, within reason, to the gift giver's request
  2. commitment and consistency
    1. we have a nearly obsessive desire to be and to appear to be consistent with what we have already committed to. Once we have taken a stand and made a choice, we behave in ways that justify our earlier decision and commitment.
    2. The desire to be seen as consistent holds even when the cost, value, state of the original commitment evolves or changes
    3. Public verbal or written commitments drive intense desires to comply
  3. social proof
    1. we tend to determine what is correct, or not, by what other people think is correct
    2. this proof is most powerful with people of our own age and background
  4. liking
    1. we tend to say yes to people we like
    2. research shows we say yes to people who are good looking, feed us, who we are friends with, are famous, etc
    3. Tupperware uses friends to sell to other friends --the success rate is amazing as people simply cannot say no to people they are close to
    4. this is also why referrals from friends work - think about the difference in efficacy in trying to set up a sales call or pitch through a friend of the target rather than directly
  5. authority
    1. we feel a deep-seated sense of duty to authority figures
    2. see Milgram's reserach which measured the willingness of study participants to obey an authority figure who instructed them to perform acts that conflicted with their personal conscience
    3. titles, uniforms, clothes, offices reinforce authority and lead to almost universal compliance, even to requests that conflict with our values and conscience
  6. scarcity
    1. opportunities seem more valuable to us when their availability is limited
    2. people appear to be more motivated by the thought of losing something than by the thought of gaining something of equal value - stressing loss versus gain is instrumental in positive response rate and compliance
    3. deadlines, limited supplies, the cost of being left out
A core thesis of the book is that we rely on automated cues and heuristics to make decisions in a world too complex, busy, and fast to ever truly think through every decision.

Smart marketers and con men know that we leverage rules of decision making to streamline our choices and actions - by understanding the core principles of compliance and the psychology that drives automated responses we can vastly improve response rates.

While we all "know" these principles exist and none are radically new, the level of his analysis in understanding why they work is powerful indeed. It is definitely worth reading - both to apply in life and to use in order to defend yourself from marketers and others who are masters in using them to get you to OBEY!

1 comment:

  1. Great post, Will. I saw a lot of parallels for business strategy at SaaS and Web 2.0 startups here and wrote about it in my blog: