Robert Cialdini on the Psychology of Influence

October 16, 2012 by Kelsey_Libert - No Comments

Brett starts off the talk by asking everyone in the crowd to introduce themselves to three new people. What a great way to launch into some early morning networking!

Now, diving right into the keynote speaker. Somehow I managed to get front row, dead center seats to the Kickoff Keynote with Robert Cialdini, President of Influence at Work.

Dr. Robert Cialdi on Psychology of Influence

Dr. Cialdini begins by explaining the psychology of persuasion, which means the ability to move people in our direction, to increase the likelihood that they will say yes – without changing the merits what we have to offer, one bit. Only changing the way we present the merits of what we have to offer. He says he can’t tell you what you should put into your offer, you know that. But he can tell you how to best deliver the merits of your case, that’s what his topic will be today.

The Psychology of Influence 

If you include one of these six universal principles of influence, you will increase the likelihood of success.

  1. Reciprocation
  2. Liking
  3. Commitment and Consistency
  4. Scarcity
  5. Authority
  6. Social Proof

Let’s take a quick tour of the principles:

I. Reciprocation

Reciprocation – a rule that exists within all human societies, that obligates me to give back to you the form of behavior that you’ve first given to me. For example, if you invite me to a party, I’m obligated to invite you to my party. If you do me a favor, I owe you a favor. In the context of obligation, people say yes to those they owe. It means you need to go first with your customers, clients, prospects – invest in them, give something to them first, and they will stand ready and eager to give back in return. There is a rule that was installed in them since childhood, you don’t have to do it, it’s already in there. It says you must not take without giving in return.

If you give a smile, you get a smile, but only if you go first.

We should be giving information, samples and features to people. Is there anything you could do in a restaurant, at the end of the meal, to significantly increase your tips? Something associated with giving first. For example, a mint! If there is a mint on the tray for each diner, tips go up 3.3%. It’s not what was give, it’s that something was given. I like this study because the researchers didn’t stop there. Instead of going to each table with a mint, in this case there were two mints on the tray – something unexpected. Tips went up 14.1%. The more that you give that’s unexpected, the more people stand eager to give back to you.

People want to give back, to those who have given to them.

In the case of reciprocity, you go first. What you give first should be unexpected.

II. Liking

The principle of liking. People say yes to those they know and like. By giving us one simple thing we can do to significantly increase the extent to which people like and want to corroborate with us: to uncover and unsurface similarities that truly exist between us and the people we’re dealing with.

People like those who are like them.

You can tell them who you are, so they can see similarities between whoever they are, and you. There was a study done of negotiators, and they found that in a certain negotiating environment, there were 30% where both parties walked away with no deal. They changed that drastically from 30% deadlock to 6% deadlock (over email) by simply having the two parties exchange info about themselves before they began the negotiation. Tell us what hobbies, interests, schooling you’ve had. Here is the implication: get across features of who you are, professional, but personally. You can do this in the “about us” section on your website.

The About Us section is invariably solely professional information, we’re advising people to put personal information.

III. Commitment and Consistency

Commitment and consistency – there is a tendency to want to be consistent with what we have already said and done, especially in public. Back to the restaurant – solving the problem of no shows. People who say they’re going to do something, and don’t. In order to reduce this, one manager had the receptionist change two words when they take reservations. Previously “please call if you have to change or cancel your reservation,” changed to, “will you please call to change or cancel your reservations” (and to pause).  The no shows, dropped from 32% to 10% for two words – that’s the public commitment! Change the language that you use, that harnesses the power of psychological influence.

Don’t let people get away without making active, public commitments to you.

They should be clicking even on preliminary choices with you, in a way that is public and visible.

The power of persuasion, under conditions of uncertainty. There are so many options, people are much less confident with who they should engage in business with. It makes people unsettled. In e commerce that’s especially common, because there are so many new actors.Here’s what happens as a consequence, there are three psychological consequences:

  1. Tendency to freeze when you’re unsure, and are not confident in what you should be doing next, or best in that situation.What you see is a lot of people sitting on the fence, unwilling to take a step in your direction, even if you have the best offering. If they’re unsure, they just freeze.
  2. Loss aversion – the reason they freeze is because they don’t want to lose. There is a tendency to be reluctant to take any step that might cost you something.
  3. Uncertainty eventually causes an impulsive choice, when you’re finally pushed by some deadline to get off that fence. You don’t do it by looking at the whole array of factors, but you just pick one.

IV. Scarcity

In the final three principles, those single things that if you put them in your message, will cause people to jump – to get into the game:

  1. Principle of Scarcity: people want more, of those things they can have less of. It spurs them into action if they think this is something that is rare, or dwindling in availability to them. Think Groupon – it’s limited in time and in numbers – it’s saying you better move, you can’t afford to stay on the fence or it will be gone – it spurs people into action. Scarcity confirms value.  Isolate what is unique, and scarce about what you have to offer. What is it about your product or service, that is scarce or rare?
  2. When you do present the unique or uncommon benefits, it’s not enough to tell people what they will gain if they move in your direction. Especially under conditions of uncertainty, people are more mobilized to act, by losing those unique benefits and features, than gaining them. You will be able to save by insulating your home. Instead, they said, you will lose a dollar a day if you don’t insulate your home. Same merits – $1/day, but psychologically it was not the same. Losing versus gaining. There were 150% more people who insulated their homes under loss language than gain language. Another thing we have to change is the word at the top: new. Marketers think “new” is the power word for moving the audience in the right direction, and their wrong. What new does is creates uncertainty – it tells your market there is no history of this product, no track record, none of your friends who can tell you about it. Only a certain (small) percent of the population is first movers. Two things you should be saying: “new and improved” which satisfies all of your needs, you’re familiar with it, and it’s better than ever. Use the power of your opponent, or the problem in your situation, to your behalf. Another great campaign is, “Hear what you’ve been missing” by The Bose Wave. The key here is: when people are uncertain, they are reluctant to lose.  If you tell them honestly what they will forgo, if they fail to move in your direction, you will significantly increase the likelihood of success. 
  3. Exclusivity of Information  – information is that exclusive, is more persuasive than the very same information that has already been distributed across the market. You need to move immediately with that information, and tell them, “I just learned this,” “I just got this today, and it’s not even published yet.” People will lean in to hear the merits of your case. But, you have to preface this with its exclusivity. 

V. Authority

Another principle that impacts uncertainty is the Principle of Authority, which says, people defer to those individuals who are experts on the topic. “If an expert says it, it must be true.” You can leverage this by having testimonials by acknowledged experts in the industry. Pointing to the comments of legitimate authorities that align with your position, produces a significant jump of movement in your direction. There is one kind of authority communicator that is the most effective communicator we have uncovered in over a century, it is: the credible communicator, who has to elements of knowledge and trustworthiness.

If you are an authority, you are entitled to raise those principles of authority to the surface, before they encounter the rest of your message.

For proving the knowledge portion of a credible communicator, you can’t be a self promoting, bragger. If you have a third party deliver that information, to testify for your credentials, that’s how you can break this stigma. If this third party doesn’t exist, you need to send that person a letter of introduction, that precedes the meeting by several days, saying, “I’m looking forward to our interaction on Thursday on topic xyz, my background and experience on xyz are as follows.”

For proving trustworthiness, you need to provide the information in an unbiased way, that you’re not trying to serve your own interest. If you’re a straight shooter, what will evolve is a perception of you as a trustworthy source of information. If you don’t have that time, there is a strategy that produces instant trustworthiness. What is wrong, is to front load your message with the strengths and most powerful arguments, the most compelling features of your case. Before you mention the most powerful arguments in your case, mention a weakness in your case, a drawback to what it is that you’re offering, and then, you pivot on the word “but, however, at the same time,” and bridge into the strength of your case. Now, people are open to hearing the strengths, after being shown the weakness.

The top five advertising cases of all time around the globe, the first one was Avis, “We’re #2, but we try harder.” Another one was from L’Oreal, “We’re expensive, but you’re worth it.”

In both of these cases, they mention a weakness, they pivot on the word but, and nullify the weakness with an advantage.

It enriches you with the power of credibility when you present your weakness first. Because “but” says, take the information I just gave you and put it away, and focus your attention on the next thing I’m going to say. That is why you want your strengths after the word but, and your weaknesses before.

VI. Social Proof

One last principle that solves the problem of uncertainty, the principle of consensus. People look to peers, comparable others, “what have they done, or said?” If you can provide information about a consensus, you reduce their uncertainty. For example, 98% of online purchasers, read the reviews of prior customers. We want to follow the lead of many others, and similar others.

The consensus principle is at the core of the social media (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn) revolution. Potential buyers are now able to access the consumer responses.


It’s easy for marketers to use economic factors when seeking to motivate customers toward their products.Yet, there are other methods you can use that don’t cost anything – you just have to know what the behavioral sciences.

That’s a wrap on the kickoff keynote with Robert Cialdini! If you want to learn more about behavioral science, check out his website Influence at Work. Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more.