Magazine article Success

The Science of Persuasion: Six Proven Strategies to Seal the Deal

Magazine article Success

The Science of Persuasion: Six Proven Strategies to Seal the Deal

Article excerpt

When New York Life offers--with "no obligation"--a flashlight and keychain to AARP members who agree to let the company send them information, it's employing a scientifically proven persuasion principle.

Same with TruGreen, when it solicits lawn-care business in a mailer that says "57 of your neighbors have TruGreen lawns." Ditto for Core Power, when it becomes the "official protein drink" of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.

People speak of the art of persuasion, but many companies and individuals use methods--consciously or not--that behavioral science has shown are effective, whether in making a sale, gaining cooperation or consensus, or coaxing charitable donations, says Robert Cialdini, professor emeritus of psychology and marketing at Arizona State University. He's the author of Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.

"Using these principles well is now a competitive advantage, and more companies are starting to hire people who can do so," says John Balz, behavioral marketing manager at Opower, a Virginia-based clean technology company.

Cialdini has identified the following six persuasion principles gleaned from decades of research by him and others:


Cialdini tells of his surprise when he read that impoverished Ethiopia had sent $5,000 for relief aid to Mexico in the aftermath of a devastating earthquake there in 1985. He subsequently learned that 50 years earlier, Mexico provided aid to Ethiopia when it was invaded by Italy.

Reciprocation occurs on a smaller scale constantly. Vendors who provide free samples of their products hope people accepting them will feel compelled to reciprocate by making a purchase. Same for nonprofits that mail personalized address labels and calendars when soliciting contributions.

One study found that diners tipped a higher percentage when their server left each of them a piece of candy with the bill than when they received only the check. When the server left two pieces of candy, the diners left an even larger tip. And when the server added a personal touch by offering each diner one candy, then stopping and offering them one more piece when leaving their table, the tip was highest of all.

"The explanation that appears to be the most plausible in explaining the candy effect is the norm of reciprocity," the researchers concluded.


Nearly a half-century ago, two psychologists asked residents of a California neighborhood for permission to erect a huge billboard in their front yards urging motorists to drive safely. Most said no, of course. But about three-quarters of one subset of the residents agreed to the invasive request. They had previously agreed to display a 3-inch-square sign related to driving safely and, by saying yes to the billboard, they were honoring their commitment to this cause, Cialdini says.

We try to be consistent with what we've previously said or done, especially if it's in writing. Research shows that folks who sign a petition are more apt to work on behalf of the position because of their written commitment to it. "People live up to what they write down," Cialdini says.

Some advertisers purposely omit key information in a variation of the commitment principle. When you read or hear an ad for a concert that doesn't disclose ticket prices, for example, you are more likely to buy tickets if you go to the trouble to find out the costs. The reason, Cialdini says, is that you have already made an initial commitment to attending by taking the extra step to learn more.

The commitment and consistency principle presents a challenge when wooing a prospective customer or client who has been using a rival company for a long time. The prospect may stubbornly stick with the status quo out of loyalty and to justify his or her initial commitment. "It's not ever wise to say to them, 'You're making a big mistake by going with this provider. …

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