When you realise you’re being subjected to Dr Robert Cialdini’s Six Principles of Persuasion

I recently attended an online seminar on social media selling techniques, given by an online marketing guru who shall remain nameless. The penultimate 20 minutes of the, at times, gruelling two-and-a-half-hour seminar were devoted to an intense sales pitch for a further, more extensive (and much more expensive) version of itself. I realised soon after that I was, and still am, being subjected — with surgical attention to detail — to Cialdini’s Six Principles of Persuasion.

Dr Robert Cialdini is best known for his 1984 book on persuasive marketing, Influence: the psychology of persuasion, (£14.99 from Blackwell’s) in which he identifies six principles that pertain to the decision to buy, and is still very much a mainstay on bookshop shelves. My marketing guru had clearly absorbed Influence, and was following the six principles to the letter, as follows:

Principle One: Reciprocity

This principle states that people return a favour. A free sample of any product is, in essence, a favour, and in return an audience is more likely to be receptive to a further sales pitch. The two-and-a-half-hour live online seminar I consumed cost just £19. This felt like, and was, an absolute bargain — a favour offered by a dynamic, successful and experienced marketing professional, alumni of… somewhere or other, and according to his website, a “leading expert” and a “speaker”. £19 felt like pennies. In fact, I didn’t even bother to expense it.

Principle Two: Commitment

…But £19 is £19 — of my own money. I wasn’t going to miss the seminar, having paid. How many free online seminars do we register for, and dismiss without a thought when Outlook gives us a 15 minute warning? Principle Two says that when people commit to something, they’re much more likely to follow through — hence the carefully calculated amount of £19 — not too much, not too little.

Principle Three: Social Proof

People copy what other people are doing. The first 15 minutes of the seminar consisted of case studies of companies that had turned their fortunes around through social media — clinching deals on LinkedIn, finalising contracts on twitter, closing multi-million dollar sales on Instagram. One was left feeling desperately analogue and utterly last century.

Principle Four: Authority

If you’re perceived to be an authority, people will believe you and do what you say. Indeed, I’d been convinced that our guru was an authority by little more than the strapping stance he’d adopted against an urban backdrop on his home page.

Principle Five: Liking

You don’t say! Cialdini’s fifth principle is the most easy to grasp: If people don’t like you, they won’t buy your product. It’s the theory behind celebrity endorsements. Our guru had none of those, but employed a carefully judged equilibrium of humour, straight-talk and affability to draw his audience in.

Principle Six: Scarcity

If something is limited in supply, it becomes more attractive and more valuable. When the advanced version of the seminar I took was described, in all its six-week long £995+VAT glory, there were apparently just a few placed left. How scarce can places on an online course possibly be? Especially one that’s “done in your own time”. Yet, still — a sense of urgency was achieved by offering limited places at £495.

The seminar I attended was designed to sell the full £995 course — that was obvious. But the guru saved the best psychological tricks until afterwards. Being offered a price of £495 after earlier being exposed to £995 makes the lower price look at lot lower — we’ve been primed with a much higher price and are already talking ourselves into making a case to spend it. But then, in an email address to me by name, the guru claimed that £495 was a typo — the actual offer price is £395! To me, having read Cialdini and numerous similar titles, this doubling-up of the same psychological trick was too transparent, too learned. I was put off.

While my marketing guru is by no means a trickster (the seminar was genuinely excellent), his use of psychological selling was too engineered. It undermined him and his product. The lesson is perhaps to take the essence of the techniques in Cialdini’s excellent book, rather than submerge oneself in them completely.

If only to protect you from those who employ its tactics, Influence is well worth a read. Oh, I got the price wrong above — It’s just £10.99, not £14.99.

See the full May 2017 Blackwell’s Insight here: https://www.canva.com/design/DACSfVDQF2k/ComT4uBcXkkjBhs_dgY1QA/view?utm_content=DACSfVDQF2k&utm_campaign=designshare&utm_medium=link&utm_source=sharebutton