You learn about persuasion early in life.
A baby needs its diaper changed? It cries. A baby is hungry? It cries. A baby is tired? It cries.
It’s impossible to ignore those cries. Your response is hard-wired into your brain.
Imagine you’re a small child, and you want a cookie. The cookies are on a top shelf, and you can’t reach them without help. How do you appeal to an adult to get you those cookies? What does it take to persuade them?
You could try crying, or you could say “please.” You’ve just learned your first rule of persuasion.
By the time you’ve grown up, you have a full arsenal of persuasive techniques at your disposal. The options for what you do or say to get what you want seem to be limitless. However, you can break them down into a few solid principles.
In “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion,” Dr. Robert Cialdini attempted to lay out the science of persuasion in an easily digestible way. The advertising world embraced his work and continues to use it to the present day.
According to Cialdini’s rules of persuasion, your approaches can be divided into the following categories.
Offer something first to get your audience’s attention. Remember those old letters people used to get in the mail from Publishers Clearing House? “You may already be a winner.” The premise was that if you bought magazines from them, you could win ten million dollars. They gave you an entry, and all you had to do was respond.
It was a simpler time. People weren’t even required to buy a magazine subscription — they were already eligible. However, once Publishers Clearing House had given readers something (a chance at a big payout), people felt compelled to buy their product.
Some people even mistakenly believed that the more subscriptions you bought, the more likely you were to win. Nobody told them that. They just decided on their own. This raises a few ethical questions, but we’ll save that for another day.
Those eye-catching letters no longer arrive in the mailbox. They’re in your e-mail inbox now. Anything from “10 Simple Ways to a Slimmer Waistline” to “World’s Best Banana Bread Recipe.”
You’ll find the same thing on every page on your Facebook feed, the news, and any sites you visit regularly. Give something, get something. A free quote on your automobile insurance. An e-book about how to grow a banana tree in a temperate climate.
That means capturing conversions should be easier than ever, right? Well, the problem is that a hundred other voices are asking for those same conversions. It’s not enough to offer something that people want. You need to dig a little deeper.
There’s an old trick to getting people to like you: ask them to borrow a pen. It’s such a small thing that most people would do it without thinking about it. It’s just a pen, right? You’ll get it back in a minute.
Psychology teaches that once someone has done you this small favor, their brain rationalizes it by convincing them that they like helping you. When you ask for a bigger favor, they’re more likely to say yes than if you’d led with the big favor.
Do you remember those store credit cards the employees would ask you to sign up for every time you bought something? Many places still do it, but they aren’t as aggressive as they once were.
Sign up for a credit card and get 10% off. Easy, right? Except for the fact that now you have a credit card to manage. “Well,” you rationalize to yourself, “I must like this store a lot. I should shop here more often.”
Now you’re carrying around a small rectangular advertisement for the store in your wallet. All they gave you was 10% off your first purchase.
Commitment and consistency are built into human instinct. After all, our ancestors made judgments, rationalized them, and followed them through to their conclusion.
You don’t just build one wall and call it a day. You build the entire house. Leaving it as one wall won’t protect you from the elements.
One trick for getting conversions is to ask readers to fill out a small form with a bigger one on the next page. You’ve already invested your time in answering those three questions and submitting them. Might as well answer the twelve questions on the next page so that you don’t waste your time.
Economists call this the “sunk cost” fallacy. Sometimes the effort to be consistent can be self-defeating. Luckily, the leads you’re generating will help them because you have a good product, right? So you’re using this mental trick to benefit them and yourself.
People make thousands of little decisions a day, so their brains rely on shortcuts to save time. If we carefully considered our options every time, we’d never leave the house because we’d still be going through every item of clothing in our closet to decide what to wear. Nobody has time for that.
One easy solution is to see what everyone else is doing. Imagine you’re going out to eat with your friends, and you see two restaurants. Both have the same food and look equally delicious. You have all afternoon, so you’re not in a hurry.
The only difference is that one restaurant is full of people, and the other one doesn’t have any customers at all. You might wonder what’s wrong with the other restaurant, right? You’ve just used social proof to make a decision.
For online media, it’s a little different. Instead of people lined up at the door, you see follows and likes. Are you more likely to watch a YouTube video that’s been shared 3 times or 3000? There must have been something to the second video if 3000 people enjoyed it. This is how the logic goes.
Still, it can be a little more complicated than that. Let’s go back to the restaurant analogy. Two restaurants: one crowded, one empty. Which one do you choose?
What if you had a panic disorder? What if we were still at peak COVID and you were worried about crowds? The trouble with these principles of persuasion is that they contradict each other sometimes.
You might be excited to see that McDonald’s has served billions and billions of customers, but you might also want to feel special. Sometimes people want exclusive content that not just anybody can buy. That’s why they sign up for memberships and customer rewards programs.
So while the principle of social proof helps build your credibility, you can’t ignore the other factors. Reviews, testimonials, and ratings persuade people to take your product or service seriously, but they’re not always enough.
Have you ever been in a plane crash or other disaster? Probably not, but have you ever been stuck in a traffic jam after a car accident?
Someone always takes the lead. Maybe it’s the soccer dad in the SUV that decided to use the bicycle lane and drive halfway up the shoulder.
You know it’s illegal, but these are special circumstances. That guy’s doing it, and he’ll be getting to where he’s going instead of sitting here losing time.
Other times, the police will get there with one of their slow/stop signs and manage traffic. That little sign gives them a lot of authority, doesn’t it? It gets the job done. Everyone takes turns driving around the wreck, and you get on with your day.
In a similar way, people take copy more seriously when you cite an expert. For example, look at Dr. Cialdini. Why should you care about his 6 (or 7) principles?
Well, for one, he has the word “doctor” in front of his name. That instantly lends an air of authority in most cases. When you read more about him and his background, you realize that this is a guy who knows his stuff.
Once you’re established as a knowledgeable source, people pay attention. It doesn’t matter if you’re doing self-hypnosis videos or make-up tutorials. By becoming an authority on a topic, you've already done the bulk of the work towards persuading your audience.
The issue is that some people take advantage of the instinct to listen to the people in charge. For example, Yale psychologist Stanley Milgram designed a controversial and not-completely-ethical experiment in the 1960s.
Volunteers were divided into two groups: teachers and learners. Little did participants know that the people in the learner group were part of the team conducting the study. Every time a learner got an answer wrong, the teacher would give them an electric shock.
Every shock increased in voltage until the learners were howling in pain. Teachers complained, but the researchers would say, “It is very important for the experiment to continue.”
Well, who am I to argue with a person in a lab coat? Most of them didn’t. The study was so controversial that it’s been reproduced several times and under different circumstances.
The results were replicable. Our brains are hard-wired to listen to authority.
Use your know-how to win over your audience and get conversions. I promise it doesn’t have to be as shocking as what Dr. Milgram demonstrated.
You’re more likely to do something if the request comes from someone you like, aren’t you? It’s human nature to want to impress the people you’re impressed by.
Cialdini states there are three factors towards getting an audience to like you:
Ever wonder why the people in advertisements and entertainment are so beautiful? Consumers prefer people that are easy on the eyes because they appear to be more honest. Fair or not, people trust others more when they’re beautiful.
How does this translate into good copy? Think about the old adage about not judging a book by its cover — now forget about that. First impressions matter. An attractive website with a pleasing layout and first-rate graphics will always appear more legitimate and trustworthy.
Birds of a feather flock together, and customers are ego-driven. They like things that remind them of the best part of themselves.
Imagine, for a minute, that you’re on a dating service. Those nifty algorithms match you with similar users because you’re more likely to get along.
It could be something as simple as a mutual love of bowling. Other people might match because they both love cats. It’s the same with marketing: people like copy that reminds them of themselves.
There’s an enormous amount of content that appeals to 1990s nostalgia. As millennials age out of the 18-35 demographic, they look toward the past and the activities they did when they were young.
Drawing an association between your copy and how people feel about themselves is more likely to appeal to them. It could be as simple as having a color they like or a name that reminds them of someone they love.
A fitting compliment goes a long way in convincing someone to like you. A sincere and well-timed compliment shows sympathy towards the audience you’re addressing.
Give positive reinforcement when a customer engages with your content or takes action. Feeling good about themselves makes your customer more likely to refer to your content again.
For example, FitBit gives badges whenever users meet milestones. Even a simple acknowledgment of an accomplishment can do the trick.
Ask for feedback and reviews on your site. Not only does it keep customers engaged, but they’ll also be flattered that you’re interested in what they have to say.
FOMO, or “fear of missing out”, is the result of the saturation of social networking in our lives. Copywriters of the past could only dream of the opportunities you have to tantalize your audience with products and services.
People also want what they can’t have. If you have a Tesla Model X and your neighbor across the street has a Tesla Model 3, you might not be happy about it.
While this may seem like a recipe for misery, the truth is that it provides unlimited potential for personal growth. Customers are chasing the next big thing because there’s always something bigger just out of reach.
Everyone’s been there. You’re looking for that obscure novel — the one that’s been out of print for 20 years. It’s listed on Amazon, but you’re not sure if you want to order it yet. Then you see it, the text above the (add-to-cart/buy now) button:
Only 2 left in stock - Order Soon.
Well, you need to have it now, don’t you? You may have wanted the book before, but you were willing to wait for a bit longer. Then you saw how few of them are left. After all, it’s out of print, and you may never get another chance like this to buy it.
Remember the great Twinkie Shortage of 2012? Hostess went out of business, and everyone thought their favorite snack food was going to be gone forever. The prices of the remaining boxes of twinkies shot up dramatically.
Some people were selling boxes of Twinkies on eBay for $1000 each, and people were buying them. How much would you pay for the last box of your favorite snack food?
Fortunately, another company bought Hostess out of bankruptcy and brought back America’s favorite snack food. This story had a happy ending, but no one knew it at the time. It was scarcity that drove tremendous demand.
This rule was discovered a little later after Cialdini’s book had already become a bestseller. He re-examined his methods and decided on a seventh principle: Unity.
The internet helps its users find a feeling of connection and belonging with other like-minded individuals. Brands interact with their customers regularly in a detailed way that you only could have imagined thirty years ago.
Communities bring together people with similar values and help meet their needs. Consider a convention such as Comic Con, an event that brings people together through their shared love of fantasy and science fiction media.
You always hear about the celebrities and businesses who attend, but what about all the vendors that come to sell their merchandise? After all, it’s the best place to meet other people with common interests and sell them niche products.
In the same way, the internet is a powerful tool for building a community for sales and conversions. Even after 20 years, fans of the show Firefly still don't want to let it go.
Imagine being able to tap into that devotion and harness its persuasive power as part of a marketing strategy.
It doesn’t matter how many decades have passed. The top principles of persuasion remain the same. All you have to do is use one or more of them to convince your audience to take the actions that you desire.
Whether it’s free and exclusive content to readers who sign up for a mailing list or a free t-shirt as part of a pre-order bonus, people feel obligated to reciprocate when they receive something for nothing.
Call it instinct, call it pride, but most people don’t want to owe others any favors. One of the best ways to get a little is to give a little.
Convince someone to take one small step, and they’re more likely to follow through with a deeper commitment. Consider those door stopper deals you get on Black Friday. $15 for a waffle iron, and the store is losing money.
These are called loss leaders. Seems like a risk, but once people are in the door, they’ll buy your other products. You could also call this a bread-crumbing technique.
Humans learn by imitation. It starts with imitating family members and expands to the rest of society. If consumers see other people enjoying your product or patronizing your site, they’re more likely to opt in.
For instance, The Mountain’s (a t-shirt brand) website tells you who’s just ordered one of their shirts and how many are left in real-time. You have proof that other people find their products desirable and are buying them as you browse.
They also offer 10% off for people who give reviews. It’s reciprocity and social proof at the same time.
“Appealing to authority” may be a logical fallacy, but it’s convincing. This concept somewhat overlaps with social proof, except the proof comes from someone you trust to know what they’re talking about.
Influencers and other minor celebrities are good sources of authority to lend credibility to an argument. This is true, but if the only arrow in your quiver is authority, you’re going to need a better argument.
That’s All, Folks.
As you can see, these persuasion principles overlap. They don’t belong in discrete categories. Social proof and authority go hand-in-hand, as does scarcity. They’re divided into seven principles because it’s an easy way to study them.
So, if you want a conversion from your audience, how are you going to get it? Remember that five-year-old child you used to be and consider all the methods of persuasion. It’s second nature.
P.S. Marketers and B2B business leaders...
If you're looking to improve the performance of your sales pages, emails, or ads... I may be able to move the needle in a big way.
Using my proven “Neuro-Response” copywriting method, I've generated over $2.7 billion in revenue for over 224 of the largest B2B companies in America.
This behavioral-science inspired system taps into lesser-known hidden psychological triggers that target multiple decision-making regions of your prospects’ brains...
In a way that elevates their desire, makes them primed to be more receptive to sales messaging, and gets them to move forward.
Averaging across over 1,124+ projects, my copywriting drives a 55% increase in on-page conversion rates, an 84% increase in quality sales-qualified leads, and a 27% decrease in customer acquisition costs compared to existing controls.
If any of this sounds interesting to you...
Click HERE to learn more and find out if I’m the right fit to help.