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The Science of Persuasion: Six Principles That Influence Decision-Making

For over 60 years, researchers have delved into the fascinating realm of persuasion, aiming to understand the factors that lead individuals to say yes to requests. In this journey, they’ve unearthed a science that underpins our decision-making processes, often filled with surprises. This video infographic from the writers of Yes!: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive provides insight into what motivates us to purchase.

While we might hope that people meticulously consider all available information when making choices, the reality often involves shortcuts or rules of thumb that guide our decision-making in our increasingly busy lives. This article explores six universal principles of influence, each of which plays a pivotal role in sales, marketing, and online technology.

  1. Reciprocity – The first principle, reciprocity, is straightforward: people feel obliged to return favors, gifts, or services they have received. Consider the friend who invites you to a party; there’s an unspoken expectation that you’ll reciprocate by inviting them to one of your gatherings. In the world of persuasion, this principle can be a powerful tool. The key is to be the first to give, offering personalized and unexpected gestures. A classic example is the effect of giving a mint to restaurant patrons at the end of their meal, increasing tips by significant percentages. Moreover, how the gift is presented matters; a simple act of kindness can go a long way.
  2. Scarcity – Scarcity, the second principle, reveals that people desire what’s less available. A prime example comes from British Airways, which experienced a surge in ticket sales when they announced the discontinuation of their Concorde flight. Nothing about the flight itself had changed, but it had become a scarce resource, intensifying the demand. In the world of persuasion, it’s not sufficient to present the benefits of your products or services; you must also highlight their uniqueness and the potential losses if they’re not considered.
  3. Authority – The principle of authority suggests that people follow credible, knowledgeable experts. For instance, physiotherapists can persuade more patients to adhere to exercise programs when their diplomas are displayed prominently. Demonstrating your credibility and expertise before making an influence attempt is crucial. Interestingly, it doesn’t matter if the person introducing you has a vested interest; the perception of authority matters. One study found that introducing real estate agents as experts significantly increased appointments and signed contracts.
  4. Consistency – Consistency, the fourth principle, indicates that people prefer to align their actions with previous commitments. To leverage this, seek small, voluntary, public commitments, preferably in writing. For instance, health centers reduced missed appointments by 18% simply by having patients write down appointment details on future cards. Consistency is a powerful motivator when harnessed effectively.
  5. Liking – Liking, the fifth principle, reveals that people are more inclined to say “yes” to those they like. This is influenced by factors such as similarity, compliments, and cooperation. Online interactions provide opportunities to employ these factors effectively. In negotiation studies, participants achieved more favorable outcomes when they began by finding commonalities and exchanging compliments.
  6. Consensus – The final principle, consensus, indicates that people often look to others’ actions and behaviors to guide their decisions, especially when uncertain. A famous example involves hotel signs encouraging guests to reuse towels, which can be effective. However, taking it a step further and mentioning that 75% of previous guests in that room had reused their towels resulted in a substantial increase in compliance.

            In the world of sales and marketing, understanding and applying these six scientifically validated principles of persuasion can make a significant difference. By harnessing reciprocity, scarcity, authority, consistency, liking, and consensus, you can ethically enhance your ability to influence and persuade others. These principles offer practical and often costless strategies that can lead to substantial outcomes in persuasion.

            Douglas Karr

            Douglas Karr is CMO of OpenINSIGHTS and the founder of the Martech Zone. Douglas has helped dozens of successful MarTech startups, has assisted in the due diligence of over $5 bil in Martech acquisitions and investments, and continues to assist companies in implementing and automating their sales and marketing strategies. Douglas is an internationally recognized digital transformation and MarTech expert and speaker. Douglas is also a published author of a Dummie's guide and a business leadership book.

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