There are certain techniques that advertisers, politicians, salespeople, speechwriters, preachers, and others have long known to be effective in persuading people. Social psychologists have studied many of them in great detail. Anthony Pratkanis and Elliot Aronson, in their book, Age of Propaganda: The Everyday Use and Abuse of Persuasion, outline four basic strategies to effectively influence others: 1) defining/structuring how an issue is discussed, which includes setting the agenda and creating the frame of reference, 2) establishing credibility (authority, likability, and trustworthiness), 3) vividly focusing the audience’s attention on the key point the communicator intends to make, and 4) arousing emotions in a way that can only be satisfactorily addressed by taking the communicator’s desired course of action.
In his book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Robert B. Cialdini, Ph.D., focuses on six principles of persuasion: 1) reciprocation (people try to repay favors out of a sense of obligation); 2) commitment and consistency (people behave in ways that support an earlier action or decision); 3) social proof (seeing other people doing something makes it more acceptable and appealing); 4) liking (people are more likely to say yes to people and brands that they know, like, and trust); 5) authority (people are inclined to yield to authority); and 6) scarcity (people are more motivated by the thought of losing something than by the thought of gaining something).
Cialdini also indicates that many approaches lead to “liking”: physical attractiveness (which studies have shown to be a function of body/facial symmetry), similarity (people feel comfortable with you and can relate to you), compliments, familiarity (through contact and cooperation), and direct or indirect association with other likable entities.
Both books are quite interesting and well worth reading, if only to help you better understand how third parties attempt to persuade you on a daily basis.
Other considerations in creating highly persuasive communication:
- Always design the message to play off of the audience’s preexisting beliefs, values, and prejudices.
- To be effective, your point of departure must be from a place of agreement.
- Try to define the issue in a way that your brand can’t help but “win.” This is why it is so important to choose the optimal “frame of reference” in brand positioning.
- Sometimes, just asking the right questions can reorient people’s thinking about a topic in your favor.
- Comparisons/contrasts alter perceptions of the items being compared/contrasted. For example, when I moved to Rochester, my realtor first showed me a number of overpriced houses that required much work. When we got to the houses that she wanted me to buy, they seemed even more appealing than they might have otherwise if she hadn’t first shown me the other houses. This concept is also used in establishing reference pricing. Create reference prices that make your price seem more reasonable or even a “bargain.”
- Be careful when labeling, categorizing, or describing competing brands or approaches in ways that cast them in a negative light. While it is an effective technique (that is, it usually works), in the long run, it may cast a less favorable light on your brand.
- Making people feel as though they are a part of a group (assigning brand labels, brand-as-a-badge) helps sell products and brands.
- Fear and guilt sell. (Example: “When you care enough to send the very best.”)
- Paint vivid pictures of desired or dreaded end states with words or images, or both.
- Let people touch, try, use, and otherwise interact with your product or brand before they buy it. Once they have done so, they are much more likely to want to purchase it. This works for a wide variety of situations: from automobile test-drives and in-home free-trial uses of products, to overnight stays on the campus of a college that you are considering attending (assuming the experience is positive).
- Neurolinguistic programming (NLP) is a well-studied technique that increases persuasion. Through NLP, you can establish a strong rapport with the audience by mirroring the mannerisms and expressions of the audience, which allows you to more easily lead them in the direction of your choice.
- “Largest,” “fastest growing,” “most popular,” “highest rated,” and other similar claims provide strong third-party endorsements for a product or brand. (Alternatively, they may be perceived to be puffery by a jaded audience unless you back them up with credible proof points.)
- Repetition increases the effectiveness of communication.
© 2016 Brad VanAuken, reprinted from Brand Aid, second edition, available here.