Products don’t sell themselves. If you’re running a business, you need a strategy for marketing your products.
Over 30 years ago, Dr. Robert Cialdini wrote his famous book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. In it, he describes six science-based principles of persuasion according to psychology research.
Even today, those principles lay the foundation of the marketing strategies used by all successful businesses. They are so fundamental because they are specifically targeted at our built-in human psychology. There’s no escaping their effectiveness.
If you want to tap into the psychology of persuasion and create a winning marketing strategy, read on to learn about the six principles and how to apply them.
In most social situations, we feel the need to pay back what we have received from other people. We have a sense of fairness and the tendency to want things to be equal.
If you want people to buy your product, give them something first. They will feel indebted to you and want to pay you back in some way to be fair.
There are two ways you can do this:
- Offer something free first. Free trials and giveaways fall into this category.
- Offer them something special. Preorders get a signed copy.
- Spotify (and many other companies) gives away the first month free for their subscription service.
- Red Bull sends their models walking around the down streets of major cities giving away free cans of Red Bull.
- During a school bus strike in Boston in 2013, Uber offered free rides to students.
Instead of trying to persuade your customers into buying a lot right away, it’s often far easier to start small and then sell big later. This is the basis for the commitment principle, which states that people tend to continue with whatever they’re already committed to rather than changing.
Find a way to get your customers to commit to you in whatever way possible even if it’s small. A $1 purchase or quick click on the like button can be enough to get started. From there, you can continue to sell to them more and bigger things.
There are three ways you can do this:
- Sell small first. Once you sell something small (low price) to your customers, they’ll be more likely to buy the bigger packages that cost more.
- Encourage public commitments. Getting someone to share your brand on social media not only gets you publicity but also commits the person to you because they’ve already declared their loyalty publicly.
- Give rewards to your customers who keep investing in you. That way, they see that their commitment is being rewarded and will continue to invest and buy your products.
- Dunkin’ Donuts held an Instagram contest for Halloween where the winner with the best photo gets $1,000 and a year of free coffee.
- Many commerce companies like Amazon have wishlists where you can save items you plan to buy in the future. That small commitment of saving the item to a wish list increases the chances of purchases.
3. Social Proof
One of the most used and most powerful principles is social proof. It is based on the fact that we tend to trust information that is “socially proven;” i.e popular or shared by someone who is popular.
For example, if a celebrity like Emilia Clarke or Will Smith says that a restaurant is good, the next day you’ll see hundreds of people lined up down the street. Clarke and Smith are both really popular so people believe them by default even though the liking of food is really more of an opinion.
The same concept applies when a large group of people, who don’t necessarily have to be popular, share something. For example, when you see 10,000 reviews and a rating of 4.8/5 on an Amazon product, you assume it’s a good one. Companies will put fake reviews on their products for this very purpose to create the artificial look of social proof.
There are three ways you can use social proof to market your brand and product:
- Expert and celebrity approval. Get someone who is followed by as many people as possible to publicly support your product. Crazy publicity is about to roll in.
- Big crowds. Get as many people as possible to post reviews, ratings, likes, and comments about your product and brand. You can also post some numbers yourself, such as, “10,000 units sold already!” Any way to show that your product is popular.
- Peer review. Word of mouth recommendations are powerful. Encourage your customers to refer their friends to your business and product even if you have to pay for that referral. The direct reference is more than worth it.
- Mark Zuckerberg once made a Facebook post about a grilling thermometer called iGrill. It generated so much traffic that the iGrill website crashed.
- Clash of Clans hired Liam Neeson to make a commercial.
- Both Netflix and Amazon always have hundreds or even thousands of reviews on their top products. The number of ratings is always displayed upfront and very clear.
Psychology studies have confirmed that we tend to respond more favorably to requests from people we like. We perceive the information they give us as more credible.
People we like tend to have similar beliefs, interests, and values as we do. We often have a good time with them and they make us happy. Thus, we associate them with positive favor.
The most powerful thing about this for marketing is that it doesn’t necessarily have to be someone we know personally. It could be a complete stranger. Strangers who are physically attractive and well-dressed tend to be more favorably received. The subconscious thought is “they look good so they must be good.”
Find a way to make your customers like your brand in some way. They will be far more inclined to trust it and buy from you.
There are two ways to get people to like your brand:
- Physical attractiveness. Make all of your visuals look aesthetically pleasing including your website, logo, and product itself. If it looks good, people will respond more favorably to it, regardless of the actual content.
- Similarity. Show your customers that your business is somehow aligned with what they believe in. It could be a cause like climate change or a certain aesthetic that appeals to young millennials. If they can relate to it, they’ll like it, and then like you too.
- Attractive models standing beside expensive sports cars make the car itself seem more attractive.
- Companies that sell environmentally friendly products always highlight that fact since it’s something people can relate to. Tesla and Patagonia are good examples.
People follow authority figures by default, automatically believing that they know what they’re doing.
This principle will hold true in any field where one isn’t an expert. It’s much easier to follow the advice of an expert in a field rather than do your own extensive research.
That’s why you’ll see article headlines like “scientists say…” Or, “According to [insert successful person’s name].”
People are always open to believing the advice of an expert, even without thinking things through. If Warren Buffett says that marijuana stocks are the next big thing people would buy it like it’s the last bit of freshwater on earth.
You can use three techniques to give your brand the aura of authority:
- Titles, awards, and accolades. Identify and display publicly any titles, awards, and accolades that make your brand seem authoritative. “Used by CEOs,” or, “the top most-read blog about finance” or whatever topic. You’re the top blog, CEOs even read it, so what you say must be right.
- Boldness. Make your business seem authoritative by using bold and direct wording in your marketing. Don’t just lightly offer your product. Sell it like it’s the best thing in the world. The boldness will make people see your brand as authoritative.
- The look. If you’re going to set up a website, make it professional including an official contact and about us page. When meeting with top clients, dress formally to command respect and authority.
- Apple’s support staff at the Genius Bar. They’re not geniuses but their titles definitely make it sound like they know what they’re talking about.
- Walk into an expensive jewelry store and you’ll notice the salesperson wearing a suit. They’re trying to display that they’re professional and competent in the information they’re about to give you.
We are always drawn to things that are exclusive and scarce. We assume that things that are scarce must be valuable because not everyone has access to it.
Think of the diamonds everyone wants in their rings. Mining companies limit the available supply of diamonds in order to create higher demand, which in turn drives prices up. If there’s a low supply, we will have high demand.
The principle of scarcity draws on this concept of supply and demand. You can artificially create a sense of urgency and high demand simply by advertising the supply of your product as limited in some way.
Here are three ways to put scarcity into your marketing:
- Limited number. Advertise that your product is “while supplies last” or a “limited number available.”
- Limited time. Set time limits on how long your product will be available. If you’re running a sale like 50% off, make it for the weekend only.
- One-time special. Market your product as if it’s the only time it will be available now and in the future, like a limited edition version.
- The hotel booking website Booking.com displays the number of hotels and the number of rooms in each hotel still available. They change the color of the display when supplies are getting low.
- When Spotify first launched in the United States, they made their free version invite-only while the paid version was totally open. This drove massive sales to the paid version and got people excited to wait for the free one.