In 1984 a US Psychologist, Dr. Robert Cialdini (pronounce Chaldini) wrote a worldwide best seller titled ‘Influence – The Psychology of Persuasion‘. I discovered it in 2007 and was completely blown away with the lessons it taught.

I ‘sort of’ had an idea that I knew this stuff but never really looked at it closely and how it plays out in real life. Now I see it everywhere, on TV, on the internet, in magazines and pretty well every marketer in the world (notice I didn’t say ‘on the planet’ which seems to be the buzz phrase now days) uses this stuff every day.

Such was the impact of what Dr. Cialdini pointed out in his book, marketers everywhere have a copy (or two) in their bookcase.

The book explains not only the persuasion tactics of marketing and sales organisations but also the principles that apply to ALL persuasion situations. It almost begs the question ‘Is persuasion part of every business?’

Do savvy employers face a persuasion challenge getting employees to engage more deeply and persistently with challenging but rewarding work? Similarly do business owners encounter a similar challenge getting clients and customers to respond to offers to buy more goods or services?

From research in the field of social psychology Dr. Cialdini identifies 6 powerful approaches to persuasion:

  1. Reciprocation: The Old Give and Take … and Take
  2. Commitment and Consistency: I Did it So I Must be Right
  3. Social Proof: Crowd Mentality
  4. Liking: The Friendly Thief
  5. Authority: White Coats and Suits Have a Lot to Answer For
  6. Scarcity: The Fear of Missing Out

Each of these represents ‘short cuts’ we use to make decision in the absence of complete information and full analysis.

Let’s take a closer look at each one of these ‘decision drivers’.


Have you ever been in a situation where someone has done something small for you and you immediately felt obliged to do the same or something similar in return. Here are a couple of examples.

You receive a Christmas card from an acquaintance and you haven’t sent them a card because they weren’t on your card list? I have the thing I do immediately is ‘reciprocate’ and send them a card too. Or a friend has given you a gift or done you a favour without asking for anything in return. Something inside you says you MUST ‘reciprocate’ sometime soon or remain full of guilt until the favour is returned.

I think you probably get the idea and how ‘reciprocation’ influences you and your actions.


Commitment and Consistency

Almost every time we go to a shopping centre we are made offers to buy (through the ‘persuasion’ of glitzy shopfronts and signage) without ever intending to make a purchase and end up buying a new sofa, a new TV or a new dishwasher etc.

Now when you left home you didn’t even know that you needed one of these things but at the shopping centre you were persuaded (convinced) that you needed what you purchased. And then something strange happens. We justify our purchase with logic i.e. it was on sale, the old one was starting to give signs of trouble or I’d been thinking about it for a while and just decided that today was the day to do it, sound familiar.

Once we made the purchase ( without prior intention) we justify it so that our thoughts are consistent with our actions.  There is a common saying in marketing circles – ‘people buy with emotion and justify it with logic‘.


Social Proof

On many occasions I’ve been walking down the street and suddenly come across a crowd of people standing in front of a shop and my immediate instinct is to join them. Why is that, is it something good (an entertainer perhaps) or is it something bad (someone’s been injured)?

Whatever it is I feel compelled to join the crowd, they must know something I don’t and if I don’t join them I could be missing out.

I remember my parents often saying to me when I wanted to do something that one of my friends was inviting me to do ‘If so and so jumped off a cliff would you do the same?‘.

What about going to a concert and at the end everyone else starts applauding but for you not so much. Our first instinct is to applaud as well because if everyone else thought it was good it must have been and I’m probably wrong in my opinion.

Same thing, our first instinct is to follow the crowd, they can’t be wrong ‘everyone‘ is doing it so I’d best be a part of that or I’ll miss out. If everyone else is doing it, then it must be the right thing to do, right? Wrong, this is the very reason you should decide for yourself to do something the crowd isn’t doing if that’s how you feel.

Think of the stock market and the saying ‘buy when everyone else is selling and sell when everyone else is buying’. When a particular stock is ‘on a bull run’ people who have very little knowledge about the company start buying shares for no other reason than ‘everyone else is doing it, so it must be a good investment’.

Let me remind you a little know (but now famous) mining company called ‘Poseidon NL’. The price for the stock went from $0.80 per share to $280 per share over a period of months, not because it was worth it but simply because the ‘herd mentality’ took over and a lot of people lost money, a lot of money when the stock price fell back to more ‘normal’ levels.

You can read about it if you click on this link.



This ‘influence’ flies in the face of the saying ‘opposites attract’! See if any of the following sound familiar?

We like those:

  • who are physically attractive
  • who are similar to us
  • who give compliments
  • who smile at us in a genuine way

Think of a circumstance when you meet someone for the first time and they dress like we do, smile when they greet us, are well groomed and compliment us. You feel terrific when this happens and all of a sudden this is your new ‘bestie’.

Imagine going into a shop and the shop assistant says ‘NEXT’ and looks at you like you’re an interruption and not a friend. I bet you have an immediate dislike for wanting to spend any more time than you have to being served by them.

Now recall a time when the shop assistant smiled genuinely at you and asked ‘May I help you?’ like you are old friends. A different feeling altogether, right? You can probably recall more of the former situation than the latter.

If people ‘like’ you they will go to extraordinary lengths to please you and it doesn’t take much for that to occur. A genuine smile, being well groomed and a compliment can change a person’s day. That’s INFLUENCE.



For years one of the most popular TV shows in the US  (and Australia) in the 1960’s was ‘Marcus Welby MD’. The star ‘Dr. Welby’ was played by Robert Young and well after they show stopped being aired he was still being asked for medical advice from people he met. Such was the ‘authority’ he carried with his white coat and stethoscope.

Imagine standing at a traffic light and a person dressed in a business suit stands next to you waiting for the traffic lights to change without any sign of traffic in either direction. All of a sudden the man who looks like a ‘bank manager’ starts crossing the street. Are you inclined to follow him or wait.

Imagine the same circumstance but this time it is a teenager on a skate board and not a ‘bank manager’ and the teenager starts to cross the street. Are you more or less inclined to follow the teenager than you were with the man in the business suit?

The ‘authority’ principle was never more displayed than in an experiment by Professor Stanley Milgram a psychologist at Yale University. Click this link here to see how the ‘experiment’ was conducted. That’s INFLUENCE!



When we are convinced that an opportunity or thing is limited in its availability, we are more easily persuaded to want it, and to take the actions necessary to get it.

Ever tried to buy prawns on Christmas Eve and found out the prawn trawlers have had a poor catch the night before? Everyone rushes in at the earliest possible hour of the morning to get in the queue, the price has gone up by 30-50% and the queue extends for a kilometre or more.

We don’t like to miss out.

As a corollary, we are more easily persuaded to act by the threat of losing something than by the promises of gain.

As soon as we identify that something, that prior to the time of making a decision, we did not necessarily have a need for, is about to be withdrawn from sale, it becomes a matter of urgency to buy now and not miss out or, forget about ever getting an opportunity to acquire it in the future.

Why does a particular carpet store regularly advertise ‘scarcity’ as a marketing tool. My guess is because it works. That again is INFLUENCE.

If you’d like to buy your copy of ‘Influence – The Psychology of Persuasion‘ simply click on this link.

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