Cialdini, Marketing, Persuasion and… the Strange Power of Belief?

Last week I mentioned the new fad: touting psychology as a new thing in sales and marketing.

In reality, there is quite some research available – mostly not online but in print instead.

One of the most famous books on the topic is Robert Cialdini’s Influence – The Psychology of Persuasion (recommended read!).

In one section, he describes how our psyche works when we believe things.

Specifically, how we can be persuaded to perform specific actions, if only we believe that those actions are natural for us.

He brings up the example of a study where people in New Haven, Connecticut, were asked to donate money to the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation.

As expected, a certain percentage of respondents donated.

But here’s the kicker: when a similar group of people in New Haven were asked, they were first plied with the notion that people in New Haven are known to be charitable.

The result?

Suddenly, far more people donated.

People are prone to conform to the perception others have of them, even if they have no actual proof of that supposed opinion

Fascinating, isn’t it?

It gets better.

Here’s terrific example of how it works, and it’s also why as a marketer you have a huge ethical responsibility:

A guy called Reynolds suddenly received a message from PayPal, stating that his end balance was $92,233,720,368,547,800.

Obviously, it was a mistake in the systems, as he soon found out when he logged in.

What’s interesting though, is what happened next. Here’s a quote from the article:

Still, Reynolds said, the imaginary epic windfall left him feeling charitable. After opening the email, he donated $30 to the Democratic slate for Delaware County Council.”

“I was moved to be really generous by good fortune,” said the father of three.

So, good fortune befalling us can make us feel generous – that’s nothing new.

It happens all the time, when people feel grateful for all they have in life, and decide to do something good for someone else. It’s a normal human response.

But think what happened: Mr Reynolds didn’t have any good fortune bestowed on him – he only thought so, until his illusion was shattered.

And yet, he still felt good, and it made him donate $30 to charity.

If you think about it, that gives us a scarily powerful tool

If you can make people believe that a certain attitude or behaviour is natural to them, they are much more likely to conform to that expectation and act accordingly.

As marketers, entrepreneurs and business people, we have a responsibility to treat people well

Making people believe things that aren’t true is a filthy strategy and you shouldn’t use it.

Instead, go with facts: This is the problem; that’s the solution; this is what can and can’t be solved with the solution.

Play straight and profit.

If you need some help with that, here is where you can get no-hype, no-lie, ethical copy that gets you sales.



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