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Robert Cialdini: fascination, inspiration and manipulation

Last month social psycologist Robert Cialdini, author of the brilliant book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion (of which a milion copies have already been sold) gave an excellent presentation for the NIMA MDG (Marketing of services) at Dialogues house Amsterdam. He showed how you can use simple principles to spectacularly improve the results of of communication with customers, simply by applying factors of social psycology. He explained the six basic principles. Robert's talk was followed by Janine Himpers-Verhoeven, listening consultant at Altution. Here is my personal perspective on the priciples explained by Robert with additions from Janine.

Principle 1: Consensus

The first principle makes use of the fact that people, with all their insecurities, like to do what others do. In their insecurity they don’t assume their own power or look inside themselves, they concentrate on the outside world. They are particularly interested in what large groups of other people do as well as what people like them do. He showed a case in which a sign in an hotel room asking guests to recycle towels was repeatedly changed. The following steps led to a spectacular improvement: 1) Please recycle, we are 2) A lot of people like you recycle (scored a lot better than the first one) 3) 75% of the people staying your room 757, recycle. That is simply making use of sociological laws. It works extremely well but he has never come across it. While it is simply speaking the truth.  I thought immediately about what this could mean for persuading people to take out a subscription: ‘X % of the marketeers read Molblog everyday?’. Naturally this is also the the principle that Amazon.com uses. But that principle will soon be much stronger when coupled with social networks: ‘75% of your friends also use this deoderant’. This is a mechanism that will work really well with younger consumers.

Principle 2: Authority

‘What do the experts say?’: this principle makes use of the fact that people like to listen to experts. But how do you become an expert? Credibility is important:
1) Knowledge: Show your knowledge. CV etc. is important.
2) Trustworthiness: Let others speak about how good you are. This is extremely important in sales. How do you get into an organisation? If you are a speaker, get someone else to introduce you instead of introducing yourself with a slide, for example. If you can’t be introduced because the host doesn’t know you well (and therefore wouldn’t be able to say anything other than a few standard phrases about you), then it is better to send a letter of introduction to the members of the audience in advance. People can read it themselves and you can get straight down to work on the day.  It becomes more complicated if you don’t know anyone and are introduced. Talk about one of your weaknesses, that makes you believable. The word ‘BUT’ is very important in this context. AVIS for example always says (when lacking an introduction): We are number two, BUT we try harder’. Thus making their weakness their power. This also applies to L’Oreal: ‘We are expensive, but you are worth it’. 

Principle 3: Commitment/Consistenty

This principle is concerned with the fact that once people have made a public commitment to do something it is psychologically more difficult to retract from the commitment. The aim is to get people to voice an intention.  When I read his book one peice particularly interested me, it was about the Chinese who, in a war situation, were able to convince the americans to change sides. Brilliant. But he didn’t mention that example in his talk. He used an example of a restauranteur, Gordon Cinclair, in Chicago. Restauranteurs have a problem. They always have a certain number of no-shows. They always ask customers to telephone to give notice of cancelation. The stock phrase is ‘Please call if you have to change or cancel the reservation’. By changing the phrase to ’Will you Please call if you have to change or cancel the reservation?’ and then pausing, the customer has to answer.  The no-show rate fell from 30% to 10%. Really cool. Furthermore, this principle works better as people get older. Older people are better at sticking to perviously determined behaviour. It wasn’t clear if this is a generational difference or an age based factor. 

Janine mentioned a good example: If a salesman asks a potential customer to do something (find something out about the organisation, for example), then the customer binds himself to the salesman a little psychologically.  You must also never call a customer to ask why he chose the product of service of a competitor. By expressing that the customers commitment to the competitor is strengthed.

Principe 4: Scarcity

  ‘If I can’t have It, It WANT It’. Here something more beautiful applies: it turns out that when people risk loosing something they really come into action. If you communicate: ‘If you don’t do X then you’ll loose $ every day’ people respond. He used home insulation as an example. Another good example that he showed was from Bose. In an earlier campaign was all about new, new, new, and did not achieve much success. In the campaign he chose to show it revolved around the message ‘here’s what you have been missing: you’ve been missing it for years!’. It was done without diminishing past campaigns still letting people know what you have now added.

Janine also had a nice example of this: you can include in a quote what the customer will miss if he doesn’t accept. ‘You’ll miss this, this this and this’. That isn’t pleasant.

Principle 5: Likability

This principle revolves around the drive to found a nice person. Are we like one another? (similarities), Compliments (always work and have a subconscious working), co-operation effects. ‘Get the Audience to Like You’, he said. During a workshop give compliments to the audience. By being found to be a nice person people are more willing to listen to you and respect what you say more. In a sales context you address personal things. What Google does with its logo illustrations works in the same way, as far as I’m concerned: we begin to ‘like’ Google.  Janine argued that salesmen selling functional products such as insurance or pensions can make a lot of use of this principle. First and foremost they need to be found to be nice people, visit potential customers at home, indulge in small talk.

Principle 6: Reciprocation

  The principle of reciprocation revolves around give and take. You need to give something before you can receive (take) something in return. The following elements are important: 1) Meaningful: what you give needs to have meaning. If you give a random bunch of flowers that means nothing. For myself I immediately think of a small present.  2) Unexpected: if people are expecting you to give something then the effect is lost. 3) Personalised: he mentioned a lovely example of a piece of research about tips in a resteraunt. By giving away free peppermints in different ways the level of tipping rose fundamentally. If the waiter gave: 1 mint per person the tip rose by 3.3%  2 mints per person = 14% increase in the tip 1 + 1 mint (the waiter gives first one mint per person, turns away and then back before giving one more mint per person, because they were such good customers): resulted in a 23% increase in the tip. For two extra mints! The personalized element is very important in the last variation. You get the feeling that you are getting something extra. This is something that internet supermarkets could do very well. You get something extra as a valued customer. I don’t know if it’s already happened but it would make a lot of difference to the brand experience for that individual at that moment.  It is nice that Cialdine left the basic principals in credit card format for us all. It brought it to a practical level straight away. The constant factor is the human. The human in all his strengths and weaknesses. The human who applies the same principles worldwide.

These principles apply everywhere, though all time and (for me, most importantly) also in the future. There was a question about this specific point. Are there not cultural differences? The answer was ‘yes’. Cialdini illustrated this with a nice example from a piece of reserch. For the research people were asked to do something for someone else. Which criteria did which people apply, i.e. when do you actually do something for someone else? In US/UK/Canada the principle of reciprocation was dominant (what has that person ever done for me?) In the Far East the authority principle was dominant (what do my bosses say?)  In the Mediterranean consensus was the dominant principle ( does he know my fiends?) In Germany and Scandinavia the commitment principle was dominant (are there rules about why I must do this? Rules that I have committed myself to?)

These elements could all be linked to lots of lovely models, including the Hofstede model. Of course what Cialdini said is not all new. But, as he said himself, ‘why don’t we all use these principles already?

Future Vision by Erwin Van Lun on this article

It would be nice to see these principles included in dialogue. It’s the way our brains work and will keep working. Brands will play on this to convince people in a dialogue.

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