Six Weapons Of Influence: Part 1

As a marketing professional, it’s easy to lose track of who we are: influencers.  It’s our job to educate, promote and ultimately sell products or services for our clients.  To this end, we need to use all tools at our disposal to responsibly influence the public to convert.  Take a step back from clicks and impressions for a moment and add to your arsenal some powerful weapons of influence.

Dr. Robert Cialdini has been studying the factors that influence decision making for 30 years.  He was on Obama’s “dream team” of scientists during his campaign, and is now a Regents Professor at Arizona State. While Dr. Cialdini’s studies are numerous, a particular work of his has been influential and oft-quoted due to it’s real world applications: The six principles of influence.

Simply put, these real-world study backed principles can be a powerful tool when designing ad copy, landing pages, and optimizing your overall conversion rate. Read on for some studies that will make you reconsider your approach in asking visitors for a goal completion.

Principle #1: Reciprocation

We all know how this works.  If someone gives you something, you often feel that you “owe” something back to that person.  How can we quantify this feeling of indebtedness?  Social Scientist Randy Garner detailed his 2005 attempt to measure reciprocity in a study called Post-It® Persuasion: A Sticky Influence.

He sent out a generic 5-page survey focused on academic life to a group of 150 randomly selected educators at a university.  One third had a hand-written sticky note asking them to kindly complete the survey.  Another third had a blank sticky note attached.  The final third had no sticky note.  Can you guess the results?

- Hand written note | 69% response rate
- Blank sticky note | 43% response rate
- No sticky note    | 34% response rate

Yes, the response rate was doubled just by adding a little note.  Not only that, but “…the quality of the answers they gave was significantly better,” says Dr. Cialdini.

Application for conversion optimization:

What can you offer a visitor that might increase their need to convert by means of reciprocity?  This varies widely by your vertical, of course, but take note of a great examples I’ve come across:

Join.Me, a free screen sharing site offers pro features for an additional fee.  in roughly 1 in 10 visits, you’ll be upgraded to free for that session as “on us,” they say in a message to the user.  This is a brilliant way to both take advantage of that principle while showcasing features one might not otherwise see.

Other simple ways to use this principle include: coupons for a percent off for new visitors, complimentary access (free trials), premium or ad-free content for a limited time.  Remember, a small personalized message to your client detailing what they’re getting from you, for free, will work in your favor!

Principle #2: Social Proof

Have you ever been  in a situation that requires you to make a decision on a topic you have no expertise in?  Welcome to life.  In situations such as these, often we look to others around us to see what actions our peers are taking.  Cialdini conducted an experiment to see how this might manifest in influencing some unsuspecting hotel guests.

Four types of printed signs were placed in guest bath rooms at a major Arizona resort.  The signs urged patrons to re-use their towels in different fashions.  Sign #1 cited environmental reasons as to why the towel should be re-used.  Sign #2 noted that the hotel would donate a portion of their energy savings to an environmental cause if towels were re-used.  Sign #3 Said the hotel already gave a donation and asked “Will You Join Us?”  Finally, Sign #4 said that the majority of guests “reused their towels at least once” during their stay.  The results?

Sign #1 | Environmental | 38% reuse rate
Sign #2 | Will Donate   | 36% reuse rate
Sign #3 | "Join Us"     | 46% reuse rate
Sign #4 | Other Guests  | 48% reuse rate

The idea of others already reusing their towel was the biggest influencing factor into convincing others to do the same.

Application for conversion optimization:

Tons of options here.  I think that Amazon.com takes advantage of this quite well by offering sorting by “most popular” and “what do customers buy after viewing this item?” to their product pages.  This gives your intended action (conversion) social proof, and may increase the likelihood of you performing that action.

Other examples: giving data on your pages like “X% of users perform this action,” or simply “our most popular item!”  Allow users to sort products by popularity and time: popular this month, week and day.  Be creative by using analytics data, especially demographics and purchases, to your advantage and publicize what’s hot and who’s doing it — conversions will follow.  Looking to boost this effect?  Here’s a tip: people are more likely to imitate something from someone similar to them e.g., gender, age, background.

Principle #3: Commitment + Consistency

People like to be consistent in what they say, and what they do.  In 1987 a social Scientist by the name of Anthony Greenwald attempted to quantify this well-known aspect of human nature in a simple experiment on voting.

Greenwald approached eligible voters on election-day eve and asked whether they planned on voting, and reasons why they would or would not cast their ballot.  100% of people asked said they would vote — but did all these people actually follow through?

Asked if they would vote | 86.7% actually voted
Not asked (control)      | 61.5% actually voted

We can conclude that the mere act of saying you’ll do something significantly increases the chances of you actually doing it!  On the topic of restaurant reservations, Cialdini noted that asking people “Will you call if you need to cancel?” is far more effective than “Please call if you need to cancel.”

Application for conversion optimization:

If any part of your conversion process requires a user to self-categorize, e.g., “I am an adventurous person” or “I love trying new restaurants,” you can use these declarations further down the road to push for a conversion.  A customized conversion page noting “You said you loved trying new food – check out these hot new restaurants!” takes advantage of this principle.   This can be particularly effective if you’re able to segment these users out based on their statements, then later remarket to them via GA.

Looking to boost results using this method?  You may have already guessed this but, as you become older, you become more set in your ways thus are more apt to be persuaded using the above method.  This was confirmed in a 2005 study by Stephanie Brown.  Take this into consideration when segmenting your visitors by age.

Stay tuned for part two.

Will Goldfarb About the author
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