The Power Of “Pre-suasion”

Pre-suasion causes people to be receptive to your message before you deliver it. You can use certain techniques to gain support from your audience before their experience with your brand. The practice captures and channels attention. Rather than changing what people think, you direct their attention and try to change what they think about.

Social psychologist Robert Cialdini discusses the practice in his book titled “ Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade.” Released in October 2016, the book has become a New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller. Financial Times calls it one of the “Best Business Books of 2016, “ and lists it as the “Best Sales and Marketing Book of 2016.”

Cialdini describes pre-suasion as changing the focus of attention to prime, anchor, frame, and set the agenda for subsequent choices. He argues that influence is a game of attention and association, not persuasion. Pre-suasion focuses on when to influence rather than what to say to persuade people.

The Concepts of Anchoring and Priming

Pre-suasion revolves around anchoring and priming. Anchoring refers to a cognitive bias in decision-making. People rely heavily on the first piece of information given or the “anchor.” They interpret subsequent information around the anchor.

For example, the list price a salesperson quotes to a customer represents an anchor. Any price the customer negotiates below the anchor may seem like a good deal, yet can keep him or her from receiving the best price.

Priming refers to a bias based on exposure to stimuli. Exposure to one stimulus influences the response to another stimulus. You prepare a person’s subconscious to view your offer positively by using positive associations. Priming links word and sensory associations, such as sound, taste, scent, touch, and imagery, to your brand.

If you want to improve performance in a call center, you can expose your agents to motivational posters. Images and words focusing on winning and succeeding ready the mind for an associated response and can influence the desired outcome. When it comes to your brand, you can determine the associations a customer might have and use them in marketing campaigns.

When combined, priming and anchoring show that whatever captures a person’s attention first becomes important to them and directs their subsequent responses.

Grabbing Attention

Anchoring and priming offer powerful cognitive biases. But you first have to capture attention. So, as a marketer, what techniques can you use to do this? Cialdini lists six strategies in his book:

  1. The Sexual– Sexual stimuli cause people to take notice. But it does not translate into action unless linked to sexual products like intimate apparel and perfume. Products with no strong association get no benefit from sexual stimuli. In fact, an American Psychological Association article indicated only 8 percent of top advertising campaigns used sex.
  2. The Threatening– Identifying threats to you or loved ones can garner attention, especially when they include ways to avoid them. If you do not provide a solution, threats lose their effectiveness. Linking cigarettes to cancer and then telling smokers how to quit provides an excellent example of this technique.
  3. The Different– When something in your environment changes, your attention diverts to it. You notice things that stand out, and you magnify what makes them distinct.
  4. The Self-Relevant — People take notice of messages that contain information about them. You respond to content that addresses your issues.
  5. The Unfinished– You tend to forget about a problem solved or task completed. However, you remain focused on unfinished business. Unresolved issues command attention. When marketers use this technique, they only tell part of a story. They entice you to find closure by pursuing the rest of the story.
  6. The Mysterious– Mysteries create intrigue and, like the unfinished, motivate people to gather more information. You can incorporate an unknown in your message that must be solved.

Marketers can use pre-suasion techniques to boost campaign performance. Pre-suasion offers a powerful method for grabbing attention, creating anchors, and priming your target audience to buy your brand.

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