May The Force Be With You

In her first Thursday Night Insight contribution, Research Executive Afshan Bhatti sheds some light on becoming a Jedi Master of Social Influence and how an understanding of six basic psychological principles can greatly benefit us in becoming better persuaders both in our working and personal lives.

As I sit here reluctantly watching Stars Wars for the second time today with my nephew, my mind starts to wander – Luke Skywalker gained the ultimate form of compliance: he persuaded Darth Vader to turn against the evil emperor, saving his own life in the process as well as restoring hope and peace to the galaxy. Okay so we’re not trying to save the world, but surely the principles of persuasion are the same even if in this case it was in a galaxy far, far away. So, I found myself asking just what are these weapons of influence and how can they be used to help our attempts to be a major force in our industry?

Stop and think for a moment – how many times during the past day has someone tried to change your mind? The answer may well be a surprise as it’s quite clear that each day we are bombarded with numerous efforts of this type. Radio and television adverts, newspapers and magazine ads, people on the phone or knocking at your door… The list is endless. Persuasion, it would seem, is at the very core of any marketing strategy and an understanding of the psychology behind it not only gives us a fascinating insight into people but also helps us to develop marketing strategies to effectively reach the consumer.

One of the most potent weapons of influence is Reciprocation. Put simply, if someone does something for us, we feel obligated to return the favour. I mean ladies, how many times have you been approached by the always-smiling, friendly makeup girl and, before you know it, you’re sitting in the chair being shown the latest makeup trends and treated to “free” samples. “Why not?” I hear you say. True, but before long, you find yourself tangled in the natural indebting force inherent in a “free makeup lesson” and somehow, yet again, you’re walking away with another high-gloss smudge-proof 24-hour power lipstick you just didn’t need. As a marketing technique this is very effective as even someone like me, who is very aware of the “non-existence” façade claiming the intention to inform, falls for it hook, line and sinker!

Another effective strategy is Scarcity, which implicitly tells us “what is scarce is good.” It’s a basic human desire to want what we can’t have, and the feeling of missing out on something apparently “this good” influences us to take action. I mean we only have to turn on the television and there we have it, advertisers informing us that their products are available for a “limited time only” or “sale ends tomorrow”. This technique is very effective for getting procrastinators to take action immediately or risk missing out. A prime example was on a recent shopping trip. I saw a dress I liked but, since I’d purchased two already, I was in two minds about purchasing a third. So I thought to myself “I can always come back another time”, but then I found out it was the only one left in the store, and yes, you guessed right – I just had to have it. The possibility of losing something was too much to bear (yes even a dress can elicit this feeling!) and is more of a powerful motivator than it is gaining something.

The tendency to see an action as more appropriate when others are doing it is referred to as Social Proof. This feeling of security is something that marketers want to elicit in the consumer as it will increase their chances of purchasing products or using services. If others are doing it, then it must be the right thing to do. This principle of influence kicks in even more strongly when the situation is uncertain or people aren’t sure what to do. When you can show them what others like themselves believe or are doing, people are more likely to take the same action. Savvy marketers make use of positive experiences of satisfied customers (aka testimonials) to induce prospects to buy their products or use their services. Sometimes it pays to brag about your accomplishments and popularity!

Liking as the next principle should be no surprise. I mean we are more likely to say yes and be persuaded by those we like and trust. Build relationships with your clients, be transparent, use various outlets to show people who you are and connect with your audience. The more you put yourself out there, the more people will like you. The more people like you, the more influence you’ll have. It’s as simple as that.

We, as humans, are programmed to listen and respond to an Authority figure and place great trust in them. We are more likely to be influenced by someone of this status than anyone else. Take, for example, this month’s In Style magazine. The adverts always have the latest revolution in haircare products endorsed by famous celebrities (who, of course, have the glossiest, shiniest hair known to man) accompanied by a testimonial from a leading hairdresser to the stars. Now I, for one, perceive these as experts in haircare, hanging on to their every word – which ends up burning another hole in my pocket as I find myself purchasing not 1 but all 5 miracle hair products that work in sync with each other and “must” be utilised together to get salon type results.

Finally the last principle is Commitment And Consistency. That is, people are more likely to go along with something if they perceive it as aligned with commitments they have already made. This drive to be consistent constitutes a highly potent weapon of social influence. Socially and culturally, it’s important that we are viewed as people who stick to their word, who make consistent choices and who can be understood on the basis of past actions. Inconsistent people can be seen as difficult, flaky, unreliable and undesirable. Clearly, in any society, consistency is a valuable trait, and the need to appear consistent, especially in business, is paramount.

The six principles act as the foundation for the majority of successful social influence strategies. Our ability to persuade others to our way of thinking is one of the most important and indispensable skills that we must learn and master. With it, we can climb the corporate ladder, win new clients, advance our business forward, and convince our partner to our way of thinking :). Conversely, without it, we are merely lost souls at the mercy of external forces that control our every decision and action.

Finally, if I haven’t succeeded in persuading you, consider the words of Donald Trump "Study the art of persuasion, practice it and develop an understanding of its profound value across all aspects of life." If it’s good enough for Donald then it’s good enough for me!!!

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