Whenever you buy anything on the internet today, it is almost certain you are buying from a site that has been designed explicitly to use one of the principles of influence that Robert Cialdini clarified, named, and described. Cialdini is to influence what Angela Duckworth is to Grit, Daniel Kahneman is to Bias, and Philip Tetlock is to Judgement; the supreme academic researcher of the field, whose principal book is a public best-seller… and deservedly so.
Robert Cialdini was born in 1945 and grew up in Milwaukee. He attended the University of Wisconsin, graduating with a BS in Psychology n 1967 and moving to the University of North Carolina to study for his PhD in Social Psychology, which he gained in 1970.
After a year of post-graduate studies at Columbia University, Cialdini became an Assistant Professor at Arizona State University, remaining there for the rest of his career. He became a full professor in 1979, and since 2009, he has held the post emeritus.
In 1978, Cialdini secured a grant to study ‘compliance tactics’ and embarked on a programme of attending training courses for salespeople, fundraisers, recruiters, advertisers and any other professionals whose secrets he could learn. He coined the phrase ‘compliance professionals’ to describe these and any other people (like politicians and religious leaders), whose job it is to secure our compliance with their wishes.
Combining careful study and analysis of their methods with his own experimentation, Cialdini built up a clear model of how influence and persuasion work. He published this – first as a book for the popular reader, and then as an enhanced work, with references to scientific papers. This book, first published in 1984, remains in print today. It has been through numerous versions and editions.
My advice is to secure the latest edition of the US version. Not only does it have better paper, but it is the more academic version of the popular editions, with more references to follow-up. That edition is titled ‘Influence: Science and Practice‘. It is a little better than the very similar ‘Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion‘.
In 1999, Cialdini started to exploit the popularity of his ideas more robustly, establishing his training and speaking business, Influence at Work. Two books have followed:
Yes! 50 Secrets from the Science of Persuasion
This gives 50 case study examples that are a compelling read, but offer little of the synthesis of Influence. It is co-authored by Noah Goldstein and Steve Martin.
Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade
At time of writing (September 2016), I have only recently received my ‘on the day of publication’ hardback edition. I predict that by the time this article is published (late December 2016) it will already be a big best-seller.
Robert Cialdini’s Six Weapons of Influence
It seems patently unreasonable to summarise a new book and deprive the author of his sales. And there is more than enough meat in Cialdini’s longer published ideas for a manager to benefit from. So, let’s look at the substance – in deep summary – of Cialdini’s early book on influence.
Cialdini identifies seven primary mechanisms for influence.
Yes, seven. Not six, as per my sub-heading. Not six, as almost every website on the topic will tell you. Seven.
Buried in a footnote to the introduction (who reads those? I do – for good reason) is the one Cialdini did not forget, but many of his readers fail to spot. He says:
‘I have not included among the six principles the simple rule of material self-interest: people want to get the most and pay the least for their choices.’
He goes on to say that he won’t discuss this further, not because it is not valid, but rather, that it is so obvious, and (in my words) supported by so much evidence from thousands of years of human history, that it needs no analysis.
So, onto the Other Six Principles
… which Cialdini smartly refers to as his ‘weapons of influence’. These are:
You scratch my back, and I feel obliged to reciprocate. This is the law of the free sample, the negotiating concession, and the economy of small favours.
- Commitment and Consistency
I call this the Jiminy Cricket effect, because, once you have made a public commitment to something, your conscience compels you to want to act in a way that is consistent with that commitment. Think of duty, loyalty, honour.
- Social Proof
We’re like sheep really. All it takes is for others to act with certainty, and we just want to follow. Herd instinct and the power of testimonials and Amazon’s review system are at work here.
I’m nice, I’m like you, I look good, and you are drawn to me, and therefore more likely to take my advice, help me out, and do what I ask. Celebrity endorsements aren’t social proof, they are based on a desire to associate with people we like.
Why do we take advice from our doctor, accountant, lawyer, or car mechanic. Maybe they know stuff, and therefore have the authority to give advice we trust. So dress the part, show me your credentials, and associate with other experts.
We want what’s hard to get. Have you ever noticed that countdown timer on website sales pages? It tells you how long you have before that special offer gets withdrawn. Or do you feel a desperate urge to bid again, as the eBay clock gets close to zero? These are scarcity marketing at work.
Let’s hear Robert Cialdini describe these in his own words
… along with the new ‘7th Principle’ – Unity. This is the feeling of wanting to align with people that we feel we share identity with: the ‘one of us’ principle.