Do You Know When Your Strings Are Being Pulled?
There are two laws of influence that can be used in a particularly powerful combination. These two laws have been identified by Robert Cialdini in his bestselling book, “Influence, Science And Practice.” If you are interested in influence at all, and would like to either become better at it, or just to understand how pretty much everybody around you is using these techniques, you should read this book.
There is a vague belief that persuasion is kind of an “art,” and that people that are good at it are like musicians or painters who are born with some natural talent. But Dr. Cialdini has shown beyond a shadow of a doubt that persuasion is indeed a science, rather than an art. A science that can be learned and applied either to benefit an individual, a company, or the leader of a nation.
There are several examples of how these principles of influence have been used without much concern for ethical considerations, but they still work nevertheless.
There is one fantastic example that comes to mind, which I’d like to share with you today. This was illustrated in “Influence.”
The first principle this involves is one of “commitment and consistency.” This is the idea that people are much more willing to do something if they have already publicly stated they will something, or have done something before that is similar.
A great Internet example is “click through.” If you visit a website of somebody trying to sell you something, you’ll likely have to click through several different pages to actually get to the point where you type in your credit card number. The reasoning behind this is people are much more likely to take the next step if they’ve already taken several previous steps.
If you land on some web page, and read some advertising text, and there is a button at the bottom that says “Buy Now!” The percentage of people that click on it is fairly low. But instead, if you shorten your sales page, and on the bottom is a button that says, “Click to Read More!” You’ll get much more people clicking through. Once you get visitors to click through three or four pages, they’ll be much more likely to click on a “Buy Now” button.
Another example is in jury trials. When they finish a trial, and the jury convenes they will often conduct a “straw vote” meaning that just give their first impression, guilty or not guilty, before the jury starts to discuss the case. Here’s the interesting part.
In jury deliberations where each juror publicly states, out loud, whether they feel the defendant is guilty or not guilty, the deliberations last more than twice as long as those where they jurors submit their initial guilty or innocent vote via anonymous slips of paper.
When people state their opinions out loud, they are much less likely to later change them. But when they submit their opinions in private, on an anonymous slip of paper, they later change their minds rather easily.
Another principle is one called scarcity. I’m sure you are well aware of this. Limited supply. Sale only lasts for two days. Only the first one hundred customers.
Study after study shows that people will give something a much higher value when they think it is scarce. A group of researchers did an experiment where they had people sample a cookie. In one case, they convinced the samplers that there were plenty of cookies, and the test would be going for quite a while, etc etc.
Then they told a different group of testers that the cookies were a limited batch, and it was a recipe that was only being tried out for a short period of time, and the testers were lucky to be in on the experiment. Keep in mind the testers or samplers were never sold anything, so there was no buying pressure.
The results? The samplers who were told there were many more cookies of the same kind gave it an average rating. The testers who were told that it was a small group of cookies, and they were a select group of testers gave it an excellent rating.
But they were the same exact cookie. Simply by telling people it was scarce, it made the cookie taste better.
Now for the powerful, Christmas time combination. I have no idea if this still happens today, but this story was illustrated in “Influence,” the book I mentioned previous.
There was a toy manufacturer. They made a toy, and put all kinds of TV commercials on, directed at little kids. They used all kinds of marketing tricks, mainly scarcity. Only a limited number of dolls made. Get yours today. Everybody wants this doll for Christmas.
Only when the parents went to the store to get the doll, they were all sold out. So they had to get a substitute gift for their kid. Then, a couple months after Christmas, they somehow found a hidden warehouse filled with these dolls. Of course, the kids saw this, told their parents, and their parents were pretty much obligated to buy the toy, as they had promised to buy it at Christmas but couldn’t find it.
Here’s how it works. Kid sees toy, bugs parent. Parents promises kid to buy them that particular toy. When buying time comes, toy isn’t available. Parent buys replacement gift. Two months later, toy reappears. Kid says, “But Daddy, you promised!” Daddy now has to go and buy gift.
Simply by manipulating the supply of the toys (scarcity) to increase demand, and depending on commitment and consistency (Daddy, you promised!) the toy company was able to double it’s Christmas sales. They sold a slew of replacement gifts (jacked up in price because of daddy’s guilt for not finding the promised toy) and then again a couple months later, when the original gift magically appeared, they had an increase in sales when all their competitor were suffering from a post Christmas slump
The beauty (or evilness, depending on how you look at it) of a plan like this is that this is almost impossible to defend against. What parent is going to tell their child they can’t have what the TV has said every other kid is getting? What parent is going to break a promise to their kid?
Everywhere you look, there are advertisements developed by companies who know and apply these principles on a daily basis. It helps to understand these principles so that you can use them yourself (in an ethical, win win scenario, of course) and to defend against them when they are used against you.