For our third Emphatically Recommended Reading™, we wanted to pick something that reflects the marketing focus of the symposium. But this was a challenging task. There has been so much insightful, useful thinking about marketing over the past few decades that narrowing down to a single resource seems impossible.
Should we pick something by Seth Godin, whose imprint can be felt on nearly all marketing strategy of the past decade? (We highly recommend Seth’s books, in particular Permission Marketing and Purple Cow.) Do we go with an older classic like Al Ries and Jack Trout’s Positioning? Or a newer classic like David Meerman Scott’s The New Rules of Marketing and PR? (Read them all!)
In the end, we settled on a work that was not actually intended as a marketing book, but that–appropriately enough–has had enormous influence on the practice of marketing. Namely, Robert Cialdini’s Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. We chose Cialdini’s book for at least three reasons.
The first is that influence, not just as a concept but as a practice, has become exponentially more important as the Internet and mobile communications have escalated the battle for people’s attention. If you don’t know how to wield influence, it’s unlikely you’ll enjoy significant success with marketing and selling.
The second is that the concept of influence applies well beyond marketing. Influence is critical wherever there is a desire to create change. Effective leadership, obviously, requires an understanding of influence. Perhaps less obviously, helping others to learn and change depends on how much influence you have over them. In other words, influence is not just a marketing concept–it applies broadly across any learning business.
Third, while Cialdini is an academic and a researcher, he is consummately practical (and–as a bonus–often funny) in how he conveys his findings. I’d argue anyone can understand the six “weapons” of influence he discusses and find relatively simple, straightforward ways to apply them.
Finally, in spite of the fact that Influence is a full book–as a opposed to something shorter like an article–it’s an enjoyable and quick read. And if, for whatever reason, you just can’t see getting through the book in advance of the symposium, there are many good, brief sources for getting a rundown of some of the key ideas. Cialdini himself summarizes the six weapons, or principles, of influence in the following 15-minute video. For your convenience, we’ve also put together our own summary of the six principles, included below the video.
Six Principles of Influence
The impulse to repay in kind what another person (or organization) has provided us.
Organizations that send you calendars or mailing labels along with a request for a donation are playing on this principle. Content marketing, one of the biggest current trends in marketing, also often plays on this principle. Once you sign up for that free report or video, you can bet there will be a follow-up request.
Commitment and Consistency
An innate desire to appear consistent with our previous actions.
Once we have agreed to try something it’s often hard to say “no” when the stakes are raised. This is one reason for the popular notion that your easiest sales are to your current customers (or members). These people have already made a commitment to you. Turning you down in the future has a way of drawing their past actions into question–something most of us like to avoid.
The tendency in all of us to look to others to confirm what is correct or acceptable.
The laugh tracks used in TV sitcoms are a classic example of this one. Good, solid testimonials–something we at Tagoras talk about frequently–are another. Most of the educational catalogs we review, whether online or off, are sorely lacking in testimonials and other forms of social proof.
A strong inclination to agree with, buy from, hire, and generally engage with people we like.
There is a very good reason that attractive people are used to sell products–consciously or unconsciously, we tend to like attractive people. We also tend to like people who–and organizations that–feel authentic, which is why Web sites that lack pictures of people and that use text that reads like it was written by a robot tend to be ineffective. (This description, by the way, applies to the vast majority of education catalog pages we review.)
A compulsion to conform to the demands of authority–even when they fly in the face of other interests we may have.
History is full of examples of the misuse of authority as a weapon of influence, but the opposite is equally true. Content marketing (referenced above under “Reciprocation”) and testimonials (referenced above under “Social Proof”) can be very useful tools in establishing authority. We tend to trust the authority of an individual or organization when we can see (through content) and hear (through testimonials) proof of expertise and experience.
The tendency to view something as more valuable when its availability is limited.
There’s a reason for those “limited time only” and “limited supply” claims that are standard in advertising. One of the problems any educational offering faces these days is that there is no sense of scarcity or urgency associated with it. This is one reason why simple moves like offering replays of recorded Webinars on a scheduled basis–rather than on-demand–can be so effective.
As some of the above examples suggest, the principles of influence can be used for evil or good, and people do tend to build up their defenses against them over time. (Laugh tracks, for instance, do not work as well as they once did.) Still, the power of these basic principles is clear, and learning to use them effectively is a critical part of growing your education business.
Enjoy Influence. Also, if you have not already, be sure to check out the previous Emphatically Recommended Readings™:
Finally, here’s a link back to the main Emphatically Recommended Readings page.