January 16, 2006
Book short: Proto Gladwell
I’m sure author Robert Cialdini would blanch if he read this comparison, but then again, I can’t be the first person to make it, either. His book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, is an outstanding read for any marketing or sales professional, but boy does it remind me of Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point and Blink (book; blog post). Of course, Cialdini’s book came out a decade before Gladwell’s! Anyway, Influence is a great social science look at the psychology that makes sales and marketing work.
Cialdini talks about sales and marketing professionals as “compliance practitioners,” which is a great way to think about them, quite frankly. He boils down the things that make sales and marketing work to six core factors: consistency, reciprocation, social proof, authority, liking, and scarcity.
Reciprocation – we hate being in a state of being beholden so much that we might even be willing to do a larger favor than the one done for us in order to remove the state. Think about “free gifts” in merchandising as an example of this, or being in a negotiation where someone trying to make a cold sale on you offers a fallback, smaller sale. For example, you don’t want to buy anything from the boy scout, but after you say no to the $5 raffle ticket and he asks about the $1 candy bar, you feel more obligated to buy the $1 candy bar because the boy scout has “given” on his initial request.
Consistency – once we have made a choice, personal and interpersonal pressures force us to back it up and justify our earlier decision – even more so when in writing or when declared to others. This is why marketers love getting testimonials from customers; the testimonial locks the customer in emotionally, as well as encouraging others to buy the product.
Social proof – if others think it’s correct, it must be correct, especially if those other people are like us. There are some scary examples in the book here, such as Reverand Jim Jones and The People’s Temple mass suicides. Gripping, but creepy.
Liking – we listen to people we like, and we like people to whom we’re similar or who are physically attractive. This section was especially reminiscent of Blink, but with different and more marketer-focused examples.
Authority – we have an extreme willingness to listen to authority, even when the authority isn’t quite relevant. This is why celebrity endorsements work so well.
Scarcity – we have a extreme motivation of fear of loss, either or something, or of the opportunity to have something. Who doesn’t like to keep doors open as long as possible?
The one place the book falls down a little bit is in the sections at the end of each chapter talking about how to resist that particular technique through jujitsu – the art of “turning the enemy’s strength to your advantage.” While nice in theory, Cialdini’s examples aren’t super helpful beyond saying “when you think you’re getting suckered, stop — and then say no.”
Overally, though, the book is well written and choc full of examples. Thanks to marketer Mallory Kates for sending me this great book!