One of the most widely read books among direct response marketers is, INFLUENCE –The Psychology of Persuasion, by Dr. Robert B. Cialdini.
Why so popular?
It’s brilliantly written … and stuffed to the gills with fascinating behavioral experiments and observations, yes. But the real appeal of this book – in my humble opinion – is the way Dr. Cialdini breaks the process of persuasion down into just six easily understood principles.
It’s not a book of 157 different ways to increase sales that you’ll never remember when it comes time to increase sales. It’s just six.
You can learn specific applications of these six principles from the many examples Cialdini provides. But more importantly, you can also apply them broadly, as idea starters, to improve results in virtually any selling scenario.
You probably guessed the headline to this post is an acronym of some kind. Actually it’s a mnemonic device designed to help you to remember the six key principles in Cialdini’s book.
You’ve probably heard somewhere that the number of objects an average human can hold in working memory is seven – plus or minus two. To test this, study these seven words for 20 seconds – option, capsize, large, satisfy, intimidate, gratuity, and fleeting.
These are words you are already familiar with, no? Now look away from your computer screen and try to recite them one after the other.
Any luck? Between trying to keep track of what you’ve already recited and what remains to be recited, you probably got wrapped around the axle, didn’t you?
Of course, the problem of remembering even a short list like this is easily solved by creating an association between the items to be remembered. With the help of a simple mnemonic device, the mind’s ability to store and quickly retrieve data is greatly increased.
SCLARS is just such a device. It allows you to hold the six psychological principles outlined in Dr. Robert Cialdini’s book in working memory while you craft your promotions.
Picture a vampire pointing a clawed grayish-green rotting finger towards the facial disfigurements on his left cheek. He growls the word SCLARS menacingly. That’s how they say scars in Transylvania. Got that little mental movie locked in?
Good. Now say it outloud – SCLARS.
That should be enough to remember it.
Six letters, six principles.
If you already know the six principles you should be able to think of the word SCLARS and you’ll instantly have them all at the tip of your tongue – forwards, backwards, any which way you please.
And you now have a means of holding all six of these persuasion principles easily in working memory, so you can use them more intuitively to enhance your promotions. If that’s you, then class dismissed. You can go on your way.
If you don’t know the six principles, read on for the Cliff Notes …
Cialdini begins his book by describing a female turkey’s reaction to a mechanical polecat. She rips it to shreds. This makes perfect sense. To turkeys, polecats are predators.
He then describes what happens when the same mechanical polecat is modified to emit the “cheep cheep” sound of baby turkeys. As if by magic, Mom adopts the mechanical polecat and gathers it under her breast.
Cialdini calls this the click, whirr phenomenon, and posits that all animals including humans react predictably and automatically to certain stimuli. And that these stimuli – when skillfully directed toward an intended outcome – can cause people to comply with your suggestions, and buy things.
How cool is that?
So what are these stimuli?
S is for Social Proof …
The vast majority of people are conformists. We look around to see what other people are doing, and fall in line. This is especially true if we have an affinity with those who are already in motion.
The signage on the golden arches that reads x million hamburgers served is an example of the social proof phenomenon applied. “Hey look, everybody’s eating greasy hamburger patty sandwiches. They’ve got to be good. Better eat some, too.” Click, whirr.
Other applications of social proof documented in Cialdini’s book include “canned laugh tracks” used to bump ratings on sitcoms … bartenders salting their tip jars with a few bucks at the beginning of the evening … and telethon organizers religiously displaying the number of new donors on a minute-by-minute basis.
It’s easy to see the biological advantage of conformism. Without the aid of tools and technologies to protect them against natural predators and competing tribes, our ancestors teamed up, harmonizing their behavior against common foes, or died.
The advancement of civilization also benefited greatly from an organized hierarchy of power – a few leaders, plenty of followers.
C is for Commitment and Consistency …
It’s human nature to remain consistent. If we take an action that commits us even a little, to some larger series of actions, we are much more likely to take the next step in the same direction. This is especially true if the commitment we have made is visible to others.
This truth is what lies behind the Socratic Method. You see it used in a courtroom by trial lawyers, by sales people, and more subtly in asynchronous persuasion.
The idea is to get those you wish to influence to agree with you, beginning with minor inconsequential agreement and gradually building to the ultimate goal of your persuasion.
Again, Cialdini gives numerous examples of commitment and consistency at play in everyday life.
One I especially like is the story of how he found himself on a before-Christmas mission to get his young son a heavily advertised road racing set. There was just one problem. Everywhere he went, the promised toy was out of stock.
Eventually he ends up doing what every other parent does in such situations. He buys some other gift for his son.
Now, consider commitment and consistency …
Where do you think the good Dr. found himself in January after news of the road racing set’s sudden availability ripped through local classrooms and playgrounds? Click, whirr – back to the toy store. Coincidence?
L is for Liking …
It should come as no surprise that we trust people we like and are more likely to comply with their requests.
Cialdini isolated several key aspects that lead reflexively to this highly desirable precursor to influence.
Physical attractiveness is one of them. Beautiful people are naturally alluring.
Commonality is another. We feel comfortable in the company of individuals who demonstrate a common background, ethnicity, and belief system to our own.
And we like people who like us.
Cooperation, and affirmation of another person’s self-worth are key determining factors.
We are naturally attracted to those who listen actively to what we have to say … who maintain eye contact with us … and who smile warmly and genuinely in our presence.
Honest compliments don’t hurt either, nor does “charisma”, which I define as an overwhelming self-confidence combined with enthusiasm and unshakable belief in the cause you happen to be championing.
A is for Authority …
Of course the most chilling and convincing evidence of deference to authority are the compliance experiments carried out by Stanley Milgram in the sixties.
You can read about them in Cialdini’s book or just type “Stanley Milgram compliance experiment” into a search engine to obtain a reasonably detailed account.
Cialdini’s conclusion is that symbols are what trigger compliance. Doctors, lawyers, politicians, executives, policemen, military officials, professors, all have very distinctive dress, titles, equipment, and language. The very presence of these “trappings” triggers automatic compliance.
Authority is also conferred to an individual through association, social proof, and ubiquity. If a few other authorities say you’re an authority, you’re probably an authority. If lots of regular folks say you’re an authority, you’re probably an authority. If everywhere people turn they see you behaving as an authority, you’re probably an authority.
R is for Reciprocation …
The simple act of giving first, without seeming expectation of return, creates a subtle sense of obligation on the part of the receiver.
It’s natural that the other person will respond in kind. Something as simple as a 1,000 watt smile is a form of reciprocation. The person you’re regarding in this way smiles back without even thinking about it.
If in a negotiation you concede some minor point that wasn’t important to you, you greatly increase the chances of the other party reciprocating on a point that is important to you.
If you see your neighbor struggling to shovel their driveway and without being asked you head over with your snow-blower and blow them out, chances are they will be compelled to return the favor in some way.
Reciprocation greases the wheels of civilization. There are great rewards for playing the game and severe penalties for sitting on the sidelines.
And finally, S is for Scarcity …
For thousands of years, man has kicked and scratched in the dirt for survival. Scarce resources meant that while there was co-operation, there was also competition.
Only in the past fifty to a hundred years has technology advanced to the point where there is a glut of the various commodities required for survival.
It’s the simple law of supply and demand. When things are scarce, they are appreciated and desired. When they are in plentiful supply, nobody wants them.
Thus any shrewd marketer engineers the availability of their product, by time, and by quantity, thus forcing customers to click, whirr – compete for their limited supply.
So there you have it, SCLARS – Social Proof, Commitment and Consistency, Liking, Authority, Reciprocation, and Scarcity.
From this point forward, these six power principles of persuasion will always be top of mind for you, ready to be applied in your marketing.
Without looking, type them in the comments box and tell me about how you’ve clicked and whirred as a result of them.
Until next time, Good Selling!