How to grow your business ethically using the 7 rules of persuasion

Avatar Jan Gevers

By Jan Gevers

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Find out what makes your audience tick with our top tips!

In an increasingly digitized and automated world, the human factor will become more important than ever. The technological revolution caused an unprecedented shift away from mass marketing - with one broadcasting a single message to many - and towards marketing that is much more customer-centric.

Communication has become a two-way street. Due to easy access to information, customers have become more knowledgeable. They have also become more demanding as they expect brands to deliver personalized messages and be available 24/7.

On the flip side of the coin, customers are being bombarded with information. Back in 2015, a study by Red Crow Marketing revealed that Americans saw 4,000-10,000 ads a day! Oh and one minor detail: people nowadays severely dislike ads.

How then can you tap into your target audience? What makes them tick and more importantly, respond when you are but one of many brands trying to draw their attention? How do you cut through the noise, not only to get your voice heard, but also to influence consumer behavior in an ethical way?

As a fellow human being, you might think you have a pretty good idea about how a person might react to marketing messages. However, it turns out that we as humans display some rather curious behaviors.

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The 7 rules of persuasion

Humans are a product of evolution but our brain hasn't actually evolved that much over the last few thousand years. We're still hard-wired to respond with the same biological reactions which guaranteed our survival in ancient times.

Dr Robert Cialdini wrote the bestseller called Influence - The Psychology of Persuasion. Based on three years of under cover observations, he came up with 7 principles of influence i.e. what would make us choose to say yes, rather than no, to a product or service.

In this article, we are going to discuss how you can use these principles to obtain conversions and bring about real results for your business.

Sometimes, all it takes to change behaviour is a simple change in wording.
1. Reciprocity

A bit of a tongue twister but the concept is relatively simple. Reciprocity has to do with our deeply ingrained need to return a favor, a gift or a service. When we're treated a certain way, we feel obligated to treat others in kind.

The key here is to offer something of value to your audience first. You can leverage the principle of reciprocity by offering free resources such as webinars, blog posts, infographics, a free trial of your product or service etc. In return, people will be more inclined to respond positively and to start building a meaningful connection with your brand.

A top tip to successfully apply this technique is to ensure that your gift or service is personalized and ideally comes as an unexpected surprise.

2. Consistency and commitment

Our behavior reflects our mindset, values and beliefs. As such, we consistently use our behavior to exhibit who we are. How is this relevant for your business? If you can get your customers to take a small action out of their own accord, they will be more likely to move on to the next step because they will want to showcase consistent behavior.

For instance, if someone agrees to take a poll, they'll be more willing to subscribe to a newsletter than if you were to ask them to subscribe right off the bat. It's important to note that your audience should take this small action or commitment voluntarily. For example, you should not obligate people to RSVP to an event. It won't serve you and it doesn't actually guarantee attendance.

3. Social proof or consensus

This may come as a bit of a surprise but as much as we like to think otherwise, humans aren’t actually rational beings. According to the godfather of behavioral economics, Daniel Kahneman, our brain consists of 2 systems - the fast thinking and the slow thinking system.

Using the slow thinking system of our brain requires a very deliberate, conscious effort which takes up a lot of energy, not unlike turning on a supercomputer to complete a complex calculation. Consequently, about 95-98% of the time we resort to fast thinking, which involves using shortcuts.

One of the shortcuts we regularly employ is that we look to others’ actions to make a decision of our own. A very full restaurant with a long queue will attract more customers, as opposed to an empty one. After all, if so many people are queueing, that must mean they serve amazing food!

Cialdini conducted a study to investigate whether social proof could help persuade hotel guests to reuse their towels. They found that stating the environmental benefits of reusing towels is effective, but not as effective as telling their customers that other guests, particularly those that had stayed in the same room, have also reused their towels. Sometimes, all it takes to change behavior is a simple change in wording.

4. Authority

Another human trait is that we tend to follow others who possess credible authority or expertise. For instance, a person in uniform will typically be regarded with more respect than a person who is casually dressed. It's therefore essential to signal to others what makes you an expert and an authority in your field.

In order to apply this technique for your business, you can use testimonials from influential figures in your industry. You could cite their job titles or recount their professional background to showcase their expertise and credibility. Additionally, it doesn’t hurt if you can get someone else to introduce you as a knowledgeable authority, even if the person in question is in some way connected to you or has something to gain from this introduction.

For example, Apple’s support staff at the Genius Bar. These staff members aren't necessarily genii but granting them that name gives them more credibility and status.

5. Liking

We're certainly more inclined to say yes to people we like. But what is it that makes us like one person over another? Dr. Cialdini has come up with 3 main factors as to what would make a person more likeable. Firstly, we tend to like persons who're similar to us as we can in some way relate to them. Unsurprisingly, we also like those who pay us compliments. Finally, we like people with whom we're actively collaborating to achieve a common goal.

So how do you make your business more likeable and hence more successful?

  • Pinpoint any similarities or common ground with the customer which you can then emphasize and leverage.

  • Paying them a genuine compliment will also score you brownie points

  • If you can, find and highlight a shared goal.

A classic example of liking is the Tupperware parties. Often, guests would buy some goods simply because they liked the host and wanted to show support.

6. Scarcity

This one we can all relate to. When something all of a sudden becomes limited in supply, its value goes up and we want it more fiercely than ever. Several companies have elaborately - and successfully - used this technique. When you're looking to book a hotel room, for instance, it's quite common to have a warning pop up urging you to book now as you're viewing the last available rooms.

Additionally, the bad feeling we experience when we lose or miss out on something, has proven to be twice as strong compared to the good feeling we get when we gain something. Not losing something is more important than winning an advantage.

In order to capitalize on this human tendency to be risk-averse, it's not sufficient to focus just on communicating the benefits of your product or service. You also need to point out what it is that makes you unique and what potential customers would miss out on if they were not to consider your brand. You can create a sense of urgency with flash deals and limited edition offers or you can encourage your audience to join a waiting list for a new product release.

Amazon creating a sense of urgency.

7. Unity

Last but not least, the principle of unity states that the more we identify with others, the more we're influenced by them. Unity refers to the human need to be part of a larger whole: a family, a group of people with shared interests or some sort of other community. When we identify ourselves with a certain group, we acquire a sense of belonging, a feeling of “we” rather than “I”.

You can use this technique to appeal to your target audience by talking their language i.e. by immersing yourself in their specific jargon. Customers also like to feel like they're part of an exclusive group, a feeling you can create by providing different types of memberships with increasing benefits, ranging from bronze to silver to gold.

Another way to create a sense of community is by directly involving your audience. If you ask them to contribute, perhaps by giving their honest opinion about your product or service, they will feel part of your brand and they will value the recognition and the feeling of being a co-creator.

Lululemon is adept at creating a sense of unity. They use ambassador programs to build a brand community.

The bottom line

The tips we listed above are simple, effortless and cheap but with potentially important results. They're also ethical as we can't really manipulate someone into doing something they don't want to do.

The world may be evolving and technology will continue to take us by storm, but the human factor will remain constant within the eye of that storm. We're still human beings talking to other human beings and throughout the years, our behaviors and psychologies have remained mostly unchanged. If you commit to understanding your target audience, your business will thrive, regardless of the technological advances.

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