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The 6 Principles of Persuasion

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Dr. Robert Cialdini wrote a book on persuasion and influence over 30 years ago called Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.

In the book, he identifies 6 principles of persuasion according to psychological research. And these techniques still work to persuasively increase conversion rates among consumers — and in any category — and are more important than ever in the current marketing landscape we are experiencing right now.

Here is an overview of the 6 Principles of Persuasion:

1. Reciprocity

Do something for a person with no conditions or expectation of a return favor, and they are more likely to do something for you. When you offer something first, people will feel a sense of indebtedness, which will make them more likely to comply with your subsequent requests.

There are three factors that will make this principle more effective:

Offer something first — allow them to feel indebted to you
Offer something exclusive — allow them to feel special
Personalize the offer — make sure they know it’s from you

When you send a prospect links to free content, free research, or offer them free advice on a problem they’re facing, you are leveraging reciprocity principle.

2. Commitment & Consistency

We tend to stick with the direction we’ve already chosen. We are faced with hundreds of choices to make every single day. To make it easy, we simply make a single decision and then stick to it for all subsequent related choices.

This is helpful for marketers because it means that you spend less time persuading your current clients to do something and more time focusing on the strategy and plan.

3. Social Proof

We are inclined to have more trust in things that are popular or endorsed by people that we trust – be it friends, family or industry experts.

You see brands talk about how many of their products have been sold or agencies that feature case studies and testimonials on their websites.

You can activate social proof with these types of influencers:

Experts — Approval from credible experts in the relevant field
Celebrities — Approval or endorsements from celebrities (paid or unpaid)
Users — Approval from current/past users (ratings, reviews and testimonials)
‘Wisdom of crowds’ — Approval from large groups of other people
Peers — Approval from friends and people you know

4. Liking

We are more likely to comply with requests made by people we like — they are able to persuade us more easily. According to Cialdini, a key element of liking is having things in common with each other. People we like tend to have the same beliefs, interests, and language as we do. So, the mind tends to believe that a person we like is trustworthy.

This explains why we trust word-of-mouth recommendations from our peers or endorsements by our favorite singers, actors, social media influencers, or bloggers. A great way to leverage liking in a business context is to point out what you have in common with your clients. Show them that you can relate to them, understand them and most importantly, be sincere about it.

5. Authority

We follow people who look like they know what they’re doing. Consciously, we may follow the direction of an authority figure. At a non-conscious level, we will tend to weigh the opinion of an authority more highly than that of others. More simply, it’s easier to trust an authority figure in the category than it is to do your own research on any given topic.

You can see this in marketing communication that include phrases like “experts say,” “research shows,” or “scientifically proven.” To leverage this, you can point to industry leaders or your largest clients to leverage authority. If your prospects see that established, successful individuals or businesses are among your client base, they may be reassured that you are a worthy partner.

6. Scarcity

We are always drawn to things that are exclusive and hard to come by. The fewer there are of something, the more people like and want them. Travel sites have also become some of the most skilled users of scarcity — they often display warnings like, “Only two seats left at this price!” or “Someone just booked this!”

Brands can trigger their customers’ sense of urgency with these methods:

Limited-number — Item is in short supply and won’t be available once it runs out
Limited-time — Item is only available during that time period
One-of-a-kind Specials — Leverage one-off events like “anniversary editions” or collaborations
Competitions — We tend to want things more because other people do to this is evident in auctions or bidding sites

These principles are powerful because they bypass our rational minds, appealing to our subconscious instincts. This is what Dr. Cialdini terms the “click, whirr” automatic response in all humans. Although these principles can help drive awareness of your brand, the biggest factor that ultimately drives consumer satisfaction and loyalty is a great product. All marketing tactics within a marketing strategy will only work when they’re supporting a product that brings true value to consumers.


If there’s anything we can help you talk through, big or small, we are here.

Dovetail is a specialized brand communication agency dedicated to helping clients find confidence in the face of disruption, overcome obstacles and seek new opportunities in times of uncertainty.

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