How do you define ‘marketing’? The dictionary says it’s:

“the action or business of promoting and selling products or services, including market research and advertising”.

A successful marketer goes beyond that; influencing, persuading and gently nudging people to digest something in a certain way.

Let me introduce you to Dr. Robert Cialdini (if you haven’t already heard of him). He is the author of Influence, which focusses on what to put inside a message to move people in our direction. He also authored a follow-up book called Pre-Suasion, which is about the process of arranging your audience to be sympathetic to your message before they encounter it. To help me learn the science behind it, I caught up with him to discuss his incredible insights on the power of persuasion and influence.

Read on for a summary of our interview and make sure you subscribe to the Employer Branding Podcast.

First of all, what are privileged moments?

Privileged moments are the moments that we create immediately before we present an idea or proposal or recommendation so that people are attuned to that idea, recommendation, or proposal before they ever encounter it. And we do that by creating a mindset in them that is consistent with the goal of our message.

How can marketers take full advantage of these?

Here was a study that I like to talk about. It was done by some marketing researchers who walked up to individuals and asked them to participate in a marketing survey for no compensation, only 29% of them agreed to participate under those circumstances.

But if the researcher first asked a pre-suasive question, “Do you consider yourself a helpful person?,” people thought for a moment and almost all of them said “yes.” Then the research said, “Well, could you help us with our marketing survey?”

And now 77% agreed. So you can go from 29% to 77% assent, right? By changing the state of mind that people were in before you asked the question. Put them in mind of their helpfulness and they want to be helpful as a consequence, they want to be consistent with that view of themselves that you’ve now raised to consciousness.

Should your USP be the first thing to read when people visit your website?

It should be. Because we’ve just detailed in that clouds or coins study that that then channels their attention in a way subsequent that allows the rest of the site, right? To present its strongest elements. So you can focus people on a particular idea that may be your strength. Is your strength comfort? Is your strength cost? You can focus people on that material in a way that will make them recognize and process that information more quickly more deeply.

Why would online photographs of fluffy clouds help to sell furniture?

This has to do with the way that we’ve moved recently into digital marketing, e-commerce, and so on. Of course someone who wants to use a pre-suasive moment to move people in a direction of their yet to be delivered message, right? Should recognize that the first thing a visitor sees to a website is the landing page, and probably the background images on that landing page. There was a study done in which an online furniture store sent half of its visitors, just as a test, to a landing page with the background wallpaper depicting fluffy clouds.

They sent the other half to a landing page with background wallpaper depicting coins, money. Those who saw the fluffy clouds in the background then rated comfort as the most important feature in selecting a piece of furniture, a sofa for example, right? They then searched the site for comfort-related features and ultimately preferred to purchase comfortable furniture. Those who were sent to the landing site with coins rated price as the most important feature, searched for cost-related aspects of the furniture, and preferred to purchase inexpensive furniture.

So what occurred first before they were ever even introduced to the material and the details of the offerings themselves was that people were put in a mindset either for comfort or for cost that directed them subsequently into the material, caused them to search in a biased way through it, and become more inclined toward that initial concept that was installed in their mind pre-suasively at the very beginning of their contact with the site. Now there’s one other thing that’s interesting about that. No one recognized that they were influenced by the coins or the clouds. They said, “Of course not, I decide based on my own preferences.”

Why can our perception of what’s important be so easily shifted?

So let me just say generally what this process is suggesting is if a communicator shifts a person’s attention to a particular factor, that person sees that factor as more important than before because they are paying attention to it. Here’s the logic. Normally what we do is to direct our attention to the most important factors, the most important features in our environment. That’s what we typically do. So when we see ourselves paying attention to a factor, we assume that it must warrant that attention, it must deserve that attention. Because normally when we attend to something, it’s to an important feature.

We make the mistake of assuming that that’s always the case. Because the communicator can send us to a particular factor and focus our attention there for reasons that have nothing to do with the merits of that thing. They can do it by illuminating some aspect of that factor that draws our attention. Distinctive colors, for example, will do that. Placement on a shelf can do that.

There’s a study that shows that if you walk into a supermarket and there are three brands arrayed on the shelf, you will pay attention to the one in the center, and as a consequence be more likely to purchase the brand that’s in the center. That’s why brands spend so much money to secure particular shelf space in supermarkets. They know that particular placement directs attention, and attention implies importance, and people then buy in a way that’s congruent with the perceived importance of that brand.

Can job hunters use pre-suasive techniques?

Yeah. Well, when we go into a job interview, frequently there’s an evaluator sitting across the table. Sometimes it’s a small team of evaluators, a panel. And we typically are trained to say, “Well, thank you for bringing me here today, I want to answer all of your questions.” I’m going to recommend that before we launch into the interview we say one more thing, “But I’m curious, why did you invite me here today? What was it about my candidacy that attracted you to my application?” And what you will find is they will then put themselves in a mindset of describing your strengths, what were the reasons that you were brought in, that your candidacy was seen to be attractive to this organization. Now when they go through the interview it will be with that mindset.

I have an acquaintance who claims he’s gotten three straight better jobs using that tactic. This applies to sales meetings, too, where you’re in competition with rivals and they’re coming in making presentations. You should ask ahead of time, “Why did you select us to come in today?”

Follow Robert on Twitter @robertcialdini make sure you subscribe to the Employer Branding Podcast.

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