Robert Cialdini’s book Influence: Science and Practice is an essential business resource. If you do not have a copy, I strongly recommend that you get one. I saw Dr. Cialdini speak at a conference a few years ago, and, unlike the presentations of most speakers, his message was so eye opening that I try to apply his teachings on a daily basis. Influence is one of those books that you will read and re-read on a regular basis.
Basically, the message of Influence is that human behavior (such as buying behavior) is subject to various triggers. Dr. Cialdini is a professor of psychology at the University of Arizona and a few years ago he set out to study the psychology of influence. As part of his research, Dr. Cialdini traveled around the country applying for and working at various sales jobs – everything from telemarketing, in-store sales, and door to door. His goal was to identify the reasons people comply with requests in business settings.
Dr. Cialdini describes how you can use (ethically) this applied psychology to frame your message to customers and potential customers.
I would strongly advise that you visit Dr. Cialdini’s web site – Inside Influence and subscribe to his free email newsletter.
The current issue describes talks about one of the principles of influence called “social proof” – that is, people tend to follow what they perceive to be the most popular course of action. He describes an experiment conducted at a national park that was attempting to discourage visitors from taking pieces of petrified wood.
In one experiment, Dr. Cialdini and his associates posted signs at one exit signifying disapproval about visitors taking the petrified wood. In another exit location, they posted signs saying “Many past visitors have removed the petrified wood from the park, changing the natural state of the Petrified Forest.”
Cialdini and his students discovered that theft of petrified wood actually increased in the area where the second sign was posted. Why? Because the second sign suggested that a large number of people were engaging in the behavior of stealing petrified wood thus giving “social proof” to that (undesirable behavior).
This is an interesting example of how the wrong approach to a business request can result in actions opposite from those desired. How many of your marketing messages fail this test.
Another quick example of how this principle of influence works. Earlier this week, my associate sat through a legal marketing tele-seminar for bankruptcy lawyers. One of the speaker’s main points was to encourage bankruptcy lawyers to use terms like “taking the bankruptcy route” or “choosing bankruptcy protection” instead of “filing for bankruptcy.” He also compared bankruptcy marketing to weight loss marketing, where the most effective marketing messages put the blame for obesity on restaurants (for serving large portions), for sodas (for putting too much sugar in the drinks), etc. In other words, never put the blame on the consumer.
The point here is that you need to know the psychological triggers that cause your customers to take actions and build those triggers into your web sites and all of your marketing messages. Robert Cialdini’s book Influence: Science and Practice is a must read and an essential tool in your marketing arsenal.