Six Weapons of Influence: Part 2

If you haven’t already, I’d recommend reading part one to round out your knowledge of influence as a weapon — the majority of our site visitors view part one first (see principle 2). If you already have, read on and learn how we can use the final three principles to influence visitors and deliver return for our clients!

Principle #4: Liking

Dr. Cialdini has noted that “People prefer to say ‘yes’ to those they know and like,” which probably comes as no surprise to most of us.  However, if someone is unknown, individuals tend to favor those who possess similarity to themselves, or are physically attractive.

This was put to the test in 2005, when Randy Garner mailed out surveys with a request to return them.  The surveys included a note from someone who had either a similar, or dissimilar name to the recipient.  The results were significant:

- Similar Name      | 56% response rate
- Dissimilar Name   | 30% response rate

Just like the sticky note experiment, a small change yielded a huge boost in response!

Application for conversion optimization:

Cialdini suggests that marketers can use this information to tailor a product or service to an individual.  We all know that relevance is a key figure in any good search campaign, but how can we tailor it to a user?

By using demographic targeting, we can display a dynamic image that changes with the users age and sex.  Using a bike helmet as an example, the default product page can have variable text content, image creative, and even product selection (color, style) to match up with demographics.  A younger, male rider may want a stylish, aggressive look with content focused on technology, while an older female might be interested in a more standard design, with content focused on safety.  Stereotypical?  Sure.  The only way to be sure is to test, though using liking as a principle gives you a fantastic starting point

Principle #5: Authority

Similar to principle two, social proof, authority is the notion that people wish to follow experts and leaders in a given field.  Have you ever seen weight loss pills with a photo and testimonial from a doctor?  What about an endorsement from a fit looking gym model?  Giving the appearance of authority lends credibility to a statement or marketing scheme, even if that authority is bunk.

Hopefully you already know about the Milgram Experiment, conducted at Yale in 1974.  If not, I recommend reading the wikipedia page in full to learn how powerful (and terrible) authority can be.

Application for conversion optimization:

Increasing conversion using authority first and foremost requires one thing: honesty.  An advertiser or brand that uses false authority once will never be trusted again.  A temporary boost in conversion is not worth the distrust and potential backlash from users.

That said, using authority can be a powerful way to influence users.  Let’s start with something basic that everyone can use:

Badges, when implemented properly, have been shown to increase conversion rates on sale pages.  A+ Rating on BBB, Angies List Choice, SSL Secured, #1 Seller, Most Popular and Privacy Guaranteed are a few you’ve probably seen.  How can we take this a step further, though?

Citations to primary sources, especially when those sources are governmental (.gov) or educational (.edu) lend credence to your statements in the eyes of both visitors and Google.

Expert opinion from a leader in a specific field, though potentially expensive, have the potential to yield massive results as well.  Why do sponsors give gear to professional athletes for free?  Obviously, just by seeing a “expert” use a particular brand of clothing or gear, one is more likely to think that brand is reliable and performs well — a statement that speaks for itself.

A search for “lance armstrong bike” yields “brand” as the second autocomplete entry on Google.  Obviously people want to know what the expert rides (mostly Trek, by the way).

While obtaining an expert’s endorsement may not be feasible for all advertisers, be creative.  Sending your product, free, to major figures in your field (if applicable) can be a gamble that pays off surprisingly well.

Principle #6: Scarcity

Potentially one of the most well-known and overused principles of persuasion, and one we’ve all seen is the idea that a product or service is hard to get, or hard to find (presumably due to popularity.)  Depending on how you use scarcity, you can either come across cheesy and insincere (One Day Only!  Limited-Time Offer!), or let things speak for themselves like Apple, who makes their first run of new iPhones in a limited quantity that tend to sell out quickly.

The classic, and hilarious example of scarcity comes courtesy of the Coca Cola company, who, in 1985 switched over to the “New Coke” formula and showed just how much of an impact scarcity had:

Blind taste tests showed that 55% preferred the new Coke formula over the classic one.  When tests were non-blind, that number jumped a further 6%.  They assumed this meant that when people heard it was new, they wanted it more.  I can’t fault them for making the assumption, but the results were shocking.

The Coca-Cola Company was flooded with angry calls, letters and public call-outs.  People booed “New Coke” ads during sports games, formed “Bring back old Coke” coalitions, and hoarded cases of the old formula.  Even Fidel Castro made a comment, calling new coke “a sign of American capitalist decadence.”  To top it all off, Pepsi executives had a field day with the switch, declaring they had won the cola wars.

Application to Conversion Optimization:

There is a conflict in wanting to be scarce, but also wanting to be available for purchase.  Like most principles, tweaking the application to suit your product or service is key, but use the below ideas as starting points to use scarcity to your advantage.

1.  If you’re offering a discount on a product or service, don’t overdo it.  Have you ever seen a storefront draped with a “Going out of business sale” sign for months at a time?  It’s hard to believe they’re discounting prices when the sale runs to eternity.  J. Crew, Express and other clothing retailers are guilty of running continual sales/discounts that seem to flood my inbox.  Keep your promotions strong, but scarce and it will pay off in the long run.

2.  Set up a script to detail the stock remaining for your product.  If you’ve got thousands, and only expect sales in the tens, it’s probably not going to help you.  However, it can have an impact when those numbers start to dwindle.  Consider this, you’re headed to check out a TV you’ve done thorough research on, but aren’t sure if you wish to purchase.  When you arrive at the store, you see that particular model, and underneath it, only one remains.  Next to it, you see rows of boxes for competing TVs.  Even without the prior research, it’s likely that you’ll view that particular TV as better.

I hope you enjoyed the final three principles of influence and how they can help you increase conversions.  If you’re interested in reading more, I recommend checking out Principles of Influence (the book), or checking out influence at work, which provided great examples and citations for these articles.

Will Goldfarb About the author
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