Unity: Robert Cialdini’s New 7th Principle of Influence

Two years ago, I spoke to Dr. Robert Cialdini, the “godfather” of persuasion science and the creator of the celebrated Six Principles of Influence. I asked him if, thirty years after completing his seminal book, Influence, he’d add on another one or two. He declined, saying that while there were many influence techniques, the important ones mostly fit into his original six. (Check out our 2014 conversation for some great persuasion insights.)

Now, things have changed.

Cialdini has written a new, major book, Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade. In it, he acknowledges that one more influence technique rises to the level of being a major principle. He writes,

…now I believe that there is a seventh universal principle that I had missed — not because some new cultural phenomenon or technological shift brought it to my attention but because it was hiding beneath the surface of my data all along.

[That sound you hear is the chorus of groans from all the marketing gurus who are going to have to re-do their PowerPoint slides, evergreen web content, etc. Cialdini himself may have to redo his wildly popular Science of Persuasion animated video.]

Unity: It’s All About Us

So what is this principle? Cialdini calls it “Unity.” By that, he is referring to a shared identity that both the influencer and influencee are part of. The more we perceive people are part of “us,” the more likely we are to be influenced by them. This fits with the entire theme of Pre-Suasion, which is to create a favorable state of mind just before the actual persuasion effort occurs. Reminding someone of a shared identity makes you more persuasive.

Family Ties

The most powerful manifestation of unity is being in the same family. People go to great lengths, even risking their lives, to help genetically close relatives. Cialdini shows how you can use family-driven unity, even when you are trying to influence people who aren’t your own relatives.

In one of his college classes, Cialdini wanted to compare attitudes of students and their parents by having both fill out questionnaires. Student compliance was always very high — one ignores homework assignments at one’s own peril! But, parents typically responded at a far lower rate, often below 20%.

One small tweak to the assignment increased the parent response rate to 97%. What was the simple intervention? Cialdini said he would give the students an extra point on one test if their parents completed the survey.

One point on one test in a semester-long course is an inconsequential benefit. It would be unlikely to have any impact at all on the student’s final grade. But, by invoking the concept of helping a family member, Cialdini increased the response rate fivefold, from poor to nearly perfect.

Unfortunately, most of our persuasion efforts don’t involve a group of students ready and willing to follow our direction. But, imagine a situation where you were offering a free item to encourage placing an order. What if instead of offering the free item to the buyer, you offered to give a gift to their parent, child, or spouse? That might actually be more effective than offering the free item to the buyer, even though the buyer doesn’t benefit directly.

Using Family Language

Cialdini describes an even easier way to leverage familial unity. By using family-related language, you can invoke the effect in a powerful way. He cites the example of Warren Buffett, who in addition to being a master of investing (perhaps THE master) is also a master of communication.

A big concern of investors has always been what happens to Buffett’s firm, Berkshire Hathaway, when he he’s no longer in charge. In a particularly important letter to shareholders regarding succession plans, Buffett wrote, “I will tell you what I would say to my family today if they asked me about Berkshire’s future.”

With that language, Cialdini says, Buffett was highly convincing because he said he was advising readers in the same way he would advise a family member. Coupled with Buffett’s perceived trustworthiness, the content of the letter was highly convincing. The investment community reacted in a very positive way, praising it as Buffett’s best shareholder letter ever. Simply laying out the succession plan in factual language would have been less effective.

You can do the same thing. For example, you might say, “Here’s what I’d advise my children to do…” Naturally, you could use words like “sister,” “parents,” etc. depending on the age and situation of your influence targets.

Other Unity-Based Tactics

Cialdini provides examples of other ways to employ unity. One of the most remarkable comes from wartime Japan. In 1941, the Japanese didn’t follow the lead of their Nazi allies in brutalizing Jews. This was due, at least in part, to a Jewish scholar making a single persuasive statement to Japanese leaders debating the issue: “We are Asian. Like you.” This shifted the mindset of the leaders, and they rejected the pressure to adopt Nazi tactics toward Jews.

“Co-creation” also builds unity. People who are involved in the creation of something feel better about it. Their self, to some degree, is merging with their creation. (Remember the IKEA effect?) Sometimes, even simple language tweaks make a difference.

Cialdini describes the market research for a new fast-casual restaurant concept, Splash!. Consumers were shown a description of the concept, and asked for feedback. But, the exact language varied — a survey taker might be asked for “advice,” “opinions,” or “expectations.”

The final question of the survey was how likely the consumer would be to visit a Splash!. Those asked for “advice” were significantly more likely to answer positively. Asking for advice put the survey-takers in a “togetherness” frame of mind. They were helping create the new concept, not just commenting on it.

Shared ethnicity, location, and other factors can be emphasized to build unity. With a little creativity, you can find a factor that will unite you with your customer.

Two members of the black-wearing persuader tribe.

Pre-Suasion has a lot more to offer marketers than a new Principle №7. In fact, unity makes its appearance near the end of the book. Cialdini focuses on research showing the importance of timing in the persuasion process, a factor largely ignored in earlier writing.

The book runs over 400 pages, with almost 100 pages of references and 70 pages of “notes.” The latter are what Cialdini describes as “color commentary” on the text. The notes include personal observations, fun facts, and many more references for those who want to dig deeper.

Pre-Suasion is an absolute must-read for anyone in marketing and sales. Anyone who deals with people will gain new insights into what makes others tick and how to influence them.

For more about unity and the other important new concepts in Pre-Suasion, check out my brand new Brainfluence Podcast featuring Robert Cialdini. You’ll spend a persuasion-packed 40 minutes with the scientist who created the field. And, if you don’t have time to listen, just grab the nicely formatted PDF transcript to read later.

So, it’s your turn. What do YOU think about the new influence principle, Unity? Share your thoughts in a comment!

And, if you are looking for more science-based ways to improve your marketing and sales, stop by my blog Neuromarketing. Better even, don’t miss out on any of my persuasion-themed posts from there, Forbes, Entrepreneur plus my podcast conversations with world-class experts — subscribe to my free weekly newsletter.

Originally published at www.neurosciencemarketing.com on September 1, 2016.