People often ask me if Robert Cialdini’s principles of influence are as effective today as they were when he first wrote about them 30 years ago. I emphatically reply, “Yes!”
The methods of communication may be changing – email instead of letters, text or instant messaging instead of phone calls, online advertising instead of television commercials, to name a few – but humans have not evolved nearly as much in the last century.
The human brain has not changed as rapidly as technology so you can rest assured the principles of influence work every bit as well today as in the past IF you understand them and employ them correctly.
Even though the preferred methods of communication may be changing, things like television ads, phone calls and letters are not going away any time soon so the smart marketer will be looking to use the principles with traditional media during this transition.
A friend recently gave me a marketing letter he received from AT&T because he knew I’d be interested in it from a persuasion perspective. I’d like to point out several places where AT&T is effectively using influence.
At the top the letter had my friend’s name – John – which personalized the communication. Dale Carnegie said the sweetest sound to anyone is the sound of their own name. Our name catches our attention and that’s the marketer’s opportunity to keep you reading.
In the opening paragraph it reads, “Per your request…” Closely read the letter and you’ll realize it isn’t directed to the person who received the letter. It’s written to David Banks of AT&T’s Consumer Marketing Department. Like most people reading something like this I didn’t pay close attention so it took me a couple of reads to figure that out.
If the person reading the letter assumes it’s directed at them then “Per your request” taps into consistency. This principle tells us people feel psychological pressure to be consistent in what they say and do. If you requested something it’s much more likely you’ll take time to read the rest of the letter and consider the offer.
The next paragraph mentions a number of free offers. People love free to the point of irrationality. Dan Ariely wrote about our obsession with free in Predictably Irrational. One example Ariely frequently cites is how often people purchase additional items on Amazon just to get the free shipping. In the end they spend much more money!
Being offered the free items up front is an attempt to engage reciprocity although it doesn’t actually do it in this letter because unless you take AT&T up on the offer you’ve not received anything. It’s only when you get something that you feel obligated to do something in return. Nonetheless, a potential free offer keeps the reader interested.
The fourth paragraph reads, “We don’t want John to miss out on this great deal.” This is the principle of scarcity. People hate the thought of losing out, especially on great deals, so it motivates behavior that wouldn’t otherwise happen.
At the bottom of the page the “Reviewed” stamp adds an element of authority. As noted above, the letter is to David Banks from AT&T’s Consumer Marketing Department and the stamp shows he reviewed and approved the offer.
Last but not least is the “hand written” yellow sticky note affixed to the top of the letter. In a blog post I called 700,000 Great Reasons to Use Sticky Notes, I went into detail about how using these little post it notes can dramatically increase response rates. This sticky note looks hand written and that engages reciprocity because the perception is that someone took a little more time to put the sticky note on the letter and more time to actually write the note.
Now you may be thinking this would never work on you and you might be correct. However, it works on enough people that AT&T and many other smart companies incorporate this type of psychology into their communications. If it didn’t work they’d quickly abandon approaches like this in search of others that do work.
Using the principles of influence won’t make a bad product good or a lousy offer better. But, in a day and age where we’re assaulted thousands of times a day with marketing messages, small tweaks to communications might be the things that grab attention and keep people reading. And that’s the goal of marketing because in the absence of that, nobody would take AT&T up on an offer like the one you just read.