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Take A Look At This Persuasive Marketing Piece

I still get lots of junk mail. I’m sure you do too. I usually glance at it mostly to see if any is effective. Most isn’t but every now and then I come across a persuasive marketing piece. A few weeks ago, I received something from Amica Insurance about auto insurance. The mailer did several things I’ll point out.

The Envelope

The envelope said only 1 in 25 drivers qualified for their special offer. That’s good use of scarcity. It feels good to be in an exclusive club and get benefits not everyone gets.

It then listed my potential savings of $596. That’s good and much more eye catching that saving $50 a month. Last but not least, I’m given a deadline – September 1 – to respond. Another application of scarcity.

Inside the Envelope

When I opened the envelope a yellow sticky note catches my eye. According to two independent studies the use of sticky notes doubles response rates.

In red it says there are important facts to review. Not only did I see facts, I saw how much I might save if I were currently with State Farm, Liberty Mutual or other well-known insurance carriers.

The Mailer – Page 1

When I open the actual mailer inside the envelope I’m immediately hit with the fact that American drivers overpay for auto insurance by an average of $368. More scarcity because people will take more action to avoid losing money than to save money.

I’m told I can get a free quote. Even though no insurance carrier will charge you to quote your insurance the word free is a big trigger for people. We love free stuff!

The Mailer – Page 2

The next page says at the top “Better drivers deserve a better value.” That appeals to the fact that we all believe we’re better than average. We believe we’re better looking, smarter, kinder and better drivers. If we’re better then we deserve better.

The box that follows lists four features of the policy. Most of the features are included with the majority of auto policies but, because people don’t read their insurance policies, the coverages stand out as novel. I also like that Amica limits it to four. More than five and people will forget them but fewer and people might feel like there’s not much that’s different with an Amica policy.

And Dinari DuPont personally signed the letter! Well, not actually but it looks like it.

Conclusion

Overall, I give Amica an A on their marketing piece. I think it has too much information but what it does share incorporates a lot of persuasive psychology.

Here’s my challenge for you over the next week. Don’t just toss the junk mail that makes its way to your mailbox and don’t delete all the spammy looking emails that hit your inbox. Take a few minutes to read some and see if you can pick up on the persuasive psychology that’s being used to try to move you to action.

Do this and two things will happen:

  1. You’ll become better at spotting how marketers, salespeople, politicians and others are trying to change your thinking and actions.
  2. You will begin to see opportunities you can use to ethically influence people.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE, LLC. An international speaker, coach and consultant, he’s one of only 20 people in the world personally trained by Robert Cialdini, Ph.D., the most cited living social psychologist on the topic of ethical influence.

Brian’s first book – Influence PEOPLE: Powerful Everyday Opportunities to Persuade that are Lasting and Ethical – will be available for pre-sale then live sales in August 2019.

His LinkedIn Learning courses Persuasive SellingPersuasive Coaching and Building a Coaching Culture: Improving Performance through Timely Feedback, have been viewed by more than 70,000 people! Keep an eye out for Advanced Persuasive Selling: Persuading Different Personalitiesthis fall.

If You Haven’t Seen It, It’s New to You

Some of you reading this might remember the NBC commercial with the tagline, “If you haven’t seen it, it’s new to you.” Almost 20 years ago that commercial had one goal – entice viewers to watch summer reruns. Catching a tv show you missed by watching summer reruns might be a foreign concept for many people today because virtually all television shows and movies can be viewed on demand. But 20 years ago it was your only hope of catching the shows you missed.

The NBC commercial came to mind as I listened to Roger Dooley’s Brainfluence Podcast. During episode #138, The Customer Loyalty Loop, Roger was interviewing Noah Fleming and Noah referred to Schlitz beer back in 1919.

Noah shared the story of a marketing consultant, Claude Hopkins, who was walking the floor of a Schlitz plant and saw some really interesting things happening. When he asked why Schlitz wasn’t talking about those things in their advertising their response was basically because all beer makers did those things and they were nothing special. Claude’s response was, “Yeah, but nobody’s talking about them,” so Schlitz built a marketing campaign around those cool things.

Sometimes marketing is no more than sharing what you do in a compelling way. A more recent example would be Liberty Mutual’s commercials that highlight how some auto insurance doesn’t give you enough reimbursement to replace your car when it’s totaled. They’re correct and the commercials touch a nerve with the buying public.

Liberty tells you their insurance will replace your car. But here’s the catch – you have to pay extra for that coverage and almost every insurance company offers the same coverage for a price. Kudos to Liberty though because they’ve talked about something all of their competitors do but in a compelling way that makes Liberty stand out. No doubt many more people have contacted agents who represent Liberty Mutual for a quote because of those commercials.

So what’s the point? Whether it’s NBC summer reruns, Schlitz beer or Liberty Mutual’s new car replacement, what each company was touting may not be new but those offerings are new to you if you’ve not encountered them before.

When something is viewed as new, novel or unavailable elsewhere that’s an application of the principle of scarcity. This psychological concept tells us people value things more when they’re rare and it compels us to act in ways we wouldn’t normally. Once people realize they can get something like new car replacement from any insurance company the Liberty advantage will disappear because it will no longer be viewed the same way.

When you’re marketing your products or services look for ways to share the novelty of what you’re offering. That novelty might not be one thing, it might be a combination of things, but either way you stand a much better chance of gaining people’s attention and making the sale.

What Reciprocity Is and What It Is Not

We’re knee deep in the holiday season, the traditional time of gift giving in many parts of the world. There is also quite a bit of reciprocation that happens during this season. I write that because quite often we give gifts to other people because we know they will be giving us a gift. God forbid we aren’t ready to exchange gifts because most people feel awkward when they receive a gift but don’t have something to give in return. To avoid that feeling have you ever run out to buy a gift or holiday card from someone and quickly stuck it in the mail because they gave you a card or gift first? That’s reciprocity working its magic on you.

The principle of influence known as reciprocity defines human behavior that’s been around as long as mankind: we feel obligated to give back to those who first give to us. We’ve been conditioned to give in return because over the course of evolution we learned we are all better off when we help those who’ve helped us first

I’m sure every person reading this understands the principle of reciprocity and my definition only serves to make them think, “I already know that.” What most people don’t really understand is how to engage the principle because all too often I read articles and blog posts from marketers, sales trainers, and others who like to cite Robert Cialdini’s work…but do so incorrectly!

I recently read a blog post on getting consumers to say yes using reciprocity and two examples were used:

“But 4 get 1 free”

“Free gift/shipping when purchase for $60 or more”

Neither example is an application of the principle of reciprocity. Do you know why?

As noted earlier, reciprocity is engaged when you’ve given to someone or done something for another person first.

That feeling of indebtedness makes the other person want to “return the favor” so to speak. Neither example used in the article I cited above did anything for the consumer or gave them anything in advance. In each case what they were actually offering was a reward. Rewards are predicated on an, “If you…, I will…” basis. Both of the above examples were actually rewards that could read:

“If you buy four you’ll get one more for free.”

“If you buy $60 or more in goods your shipping will be free.”

Think about it for a moment. You can’t get “one more for free” or “free shipping” unless you do something first.

Make no mistake about it; rewards motivate behavior. There are decades of studies to back that up and it’s a fact that rewards are more effective than the threat of punishment.

The word “free” is a big motivator too. Dan Ariely brilliantly points that out in a chapter from Predictably Irrational called “The Cost of Zero Cost: We Often Pay Too Much When We Pay Nothing.” All too often we’ll go out of our way to get something free. For example, have you ever purchased extra items on Amazon so you’d spend enough to get free shipping? People spend a lot more money to get “free” stuff!

Rewards change behavior but some studies show you can engage people with reciprocity by giving a much smaller gift in lieu of a large reward and get a better result. In workshops I often share a study in which owners of a construction company were either offered a $50 reward for completing a survey or given a $5 check up front in consideration of their time. Only 23% who were offered the $50 reward completed the survey but 52% who received the $5 check up front did so. And the savings was anywhere from 57% to 77% depending on how many ultimately cashed the $5 check.

As a business owner, if you knew you could more than double your response rate and save 50%, 60%, 70% or more by going the reciprocity option instead of the traditional reward route, wouldn’t you choose the reciprocity option? Of course you would…and now you will going forward.

I don’t point this out to be nit picky or combative. Rather, I point this out because when I teach people about persuasion I tell them, “If you use the principles ethically and correctly you will get more people saying yes to you.” If people think they’re using principles correctly but they’re not, then they won’t see the results they hoped for. That leads to people thinking, “It sounds good when Brian says it, or when Dr. Cialdini writes about it, but it doesn’t’ work in the real world.” It does work but only if you do it the right way.

Here’s my final thought – if you want to engage people in a low cost, easy to implement, sure fire way to motivate the behavior you want, save yourself time and money by going the reciprocity route in lieu of using traditional rewards.

Does Branding Really Influence Behavior?

I think you’d agree that we live in an information-overloaded society. What you may not be aware of is the extent of the overload.

William C. Taylor wrote an article – “Permission Marketing” – for the magazine Fast Company and told readers, “This year, the average consumer will see or hear one million marketing messages – that’s almost 3,000 per day.” When I share that quote with audiences they’re astounded. When I tell them the quote is now 17 years old they’re blown away! That’s right, the estimate in 1998 was that you were bombarded with about 3,000 marketing messages each day. More recently a New York Times article – “Anywhere the Eye Can See, It’s Likely to See an Ad” – put the number at 5,000 a day!

With so much information assaulting our senses each day it begs the question, does branding really influence behavior? You might be surprised that it does in a big way.

I recently read Brainfluence: 100 Ways to Persuade and Convince Consumers with Neuromarketing by Roger Dooley and was particularly interested in the brain science on the age old Coke versus Pepsi debate. Many times over, in blind taste tests people preferred Pepsi…even Coke drinkers quite often preferred Pepsi. However, when people knew which brand they were drinking that changed. Dooley wrote:

“When the subjects saw which brand they were drinking, though, nearly all of the subjects said they preferred Coke. Significantly, the subjects’ brain activity changed as well.”

Did you catch that last sentence? They didn’t just say they preferred Coke, their brains actually preferred it! What we think about brands actually changes how we experience the product or service! Here are a few examples of incredibly strong brands:

  • Southwest Airlines – Despite the “cattle call” for seating, people love to be “free to roam about the country.” Passengers’ passion has resulted in 42 consecutive years ofprofitability for Southwest in an industry that’s struggled mightily to achieve profits.
  • Apple – Apple consumers are religious in their zeal for the brand making it the most profitable company in the world in 2014. Other phones may have better features at times but it’s nearly impossible to get Apple lovers to make a switch.
  • Harley Davidson – If people are willing to tattoo your company logo on their body you know you have a good thing going! I remember hearing someone say, “I can accept the fact that someday I might die and my wife may remarry. What I can’t accept is another man riding my Harley.”
  • Starbucks – The coffee giant transformed coffee drinking and doesn’t even advertise. That’s because their customers do it for them. The familiar Starbucks logo on the cup is all they need to spread the word and you probably see it more than you realize each day.

Of course very few brands have the cache of Coke, Southwest, Apple, Harley Davidson, Starbucks or many other successful brands. But, the science shows that a strong brand impacts people’s brain activity resulting in behavior changes even when people are not aware of it.

So what does this mean for you? You’re probably not competing on the scale of the aforementioned companies but what current and potential customers think of you and your company matters.

Each of us can brand ourselves to a great degree. Here are several ideas based on some things I do.

If you call my office you’ll hear this at the start of my voicemail message – “Wouldn’t you agree that much of your professional success and personal happiness depends on getting others to say ‘yes’ to you? Ask me about The Principles of Persuasion Workshop where you’ll learn to hear ‘yes’ more often.” People ask about the workshop and I’ve had compliments on my voicemail.

My email autosignature always has my branding message at the bottom – Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes.” Again, it’s not uncommon to get a comment but what’s more important is people see the message and even if it doesn’t consciously register it impacts their brain.

I wear shirts with the Influence PEOPLE logo prominently displayed. When people ask about it I have a platform to share what I do. Nobody can sell me better than me and nobody can sell you better than you.

Does it work? Absolutely! Before starting Influence PEOPLE my personal brand was – When it needs to be done well. That was on my email and voicemail and I regularly had people say, or write, “I need something done well so I thought I’d contact you.” When someone repeats your branding slogan back to you it’s working! I’ll never forget the first time I met Gerald Ladner, a State Auto regional vice president at the time. His first words to me as he shook my hand and let out a laugh were, “I have to meet the guy who advertises he’ll do it well!”

Make no mistake; a catchy slogan won’t make up for a poor product or service. However, when the differences between you and a competitor are seemingly small, when people don’t always know why they do what they do, a well-crafted, consistent brand can be the difference in choosing you over the competitor. I encourage you to give it serious thought because as we approach the New Year, there’s no better time to make a change than now.

Keynote Speaking and Training

“When Brian Ahearn speaks, people listen. That is so because he knows his material thoroughly, and he knows how to present it superbly. The upshot is that the genuine insights he provides are not just immediately understandable, they are also immediately actionable and profitable.” 
– Robert B. Cialdini, Ph.D., author of Influence Science and Practice 

Wouldn’t you agree; most of your professional success and personal happiness come about when people say “Yes” to your requests?
  • Prospects become clients when they say “Yes” to your proposals.
  • Ideas become projects when management says “Yes” to your presentations.
  • You get raises and promotions when the boss says “Yes” to your reasoning.
  • And peace reigns in the home when your spouse or kids say “Yes” to you.

All of these situations and many more can happen with much greater frequency when you understand how people think and respond. Once you understand that the next step is to ethically apply scientifically proven methods of persuasion to your communication. I can help you understand that science and its application to your professional and personal situations. In other words, I can help you learn to hear “Yes.”

For example, did you know using “because” can make you more persuasive? To find out how watch this short clip where I talk about the power of “because” in the communication process.


My company is called Influence PEOPLE because we don’t try to persuade things. PEOPLE stands for Powerful Everyday Opportunities to Persuade that are Lasting and Ethical. In this video I unpack the PEOPLE concept.


Does this really apply to you and the situations you routinely face? Here’s what small business owners had to say about that after a presentation I gave at The Ohio State University.

To view more presentation videos click here.
Are you looking for a keynote speaker, training, or consulting on how to apply scientifically proven principles of influence to sales, marketing, management or leadership?  If so, reach out to me by email, BFA654@gmail.com, or phone, 614.313.1663, and we’ll talk about your specific needs. 
Brian, CMCT 
influencepeople 
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.

Will J.C. Penney’s New Business Strategy Positively Influence Sales?

Have you heard J.C. Penney is going to radically change its business strategy? The giant retailer is getting rid of its traditional sales in favor of low prices all the time, slashing many items by 40% or more! In addition, they’re going to do away with confusing pricing for a simpler approach. No more $14.99 items, they’ll be $15, and those $19.99 items you love will be a nice round $20 or $19. Yahoo Finance ran an article, J.C. Penney gets Rid of Hundreds of Sales, which gives more details on Penney’s new strategy and some of the reasoning behind it.

On the surface you might think this is great for the consumer but don’t forget, Penney’s isn’t doing this for customers, they’re doing it to help the bottom line. The company believes sales and profits will be stimulated by the new strategy of lower prices and simplified pricing. To help with the implementation, the company has brought in some heavy weights in the retail industry from Target and Apple. This is obviously no ill-conceived idea but I want to look at whether or not it will positively influence sales.

Let’s start with doing away with the “the sale.” The sale is as all-American as baseball, apple pie, and motherhood! People love a big sale because it makes them believe they’re getting a great deal and that makes the buying decision easier for the consumer.  When you buy something on sale, part of the purchase decision is triggered by the contrast phenomenon. While $26 might sound reasonable for a certain item, it looks really good when compared to the normal $45 price, and you know saving $19, more than 40%, is a great bargain.

The downside is Penney’s is losing the bang for the buck, so to speak, because there will be no higher price to compare to and thus create the desire to take advantage of the deal. Considering nearly three quarters of Penney’s sales revenue came during promotions last year where prices were slashed by 50% or more, you begin to see how much they could lose if this strategy backfires.

And what’s up with that pricing? Charging $39.99 for an item doesn’t fool anyone because we know it’s practically $40. Selling an item for $14.99 can’t possibly induce more sales than a $15 price can it? It sure can!

In William Poundstone’s Priceless: The Myth of Fair Value (and How to Take Advantage of It) he cites a study in which sales were tracked for an item which sold for three different prices: $34, $39, and $44. Unit sales were highest for the $39 price as was the total revenue. When the item was priced at $39 total revenue was 9.5% higher when compared sales coming from the $44 price. When the $39 revenue was compared to the $34 price, total sales revenue was a whopping 50.6% more than when the item was sold for less! There are different theories as to why sales tend to be higher for items ending in $9 or $.99, but one thing is undeniable – it works. If it didn’t work retailers would have abandoned the strategy a long time ago.

As noted earlier, with former Target and Apple executives this change looks like it makes total sense on the surface and the new strategy might work. But let me bring to mind something many of you probably remember, New Coke. The new flavor for the world’s best-selling soft drink was a well-planned, thoroughly tested idea. Because New Coke was preferred by a margin of 2 to 1 in blind taste tests over regular Coke, it was thought to be a sure thing when it hit the shelves.  After all, what could be better than improving the best-selling product in the world? And yet it was an abject failure, considered one of the 100 worst marketing ideas of the 20th century. And you know the rest of the story as New Coke gave way to Classic Coke, the old standby!

J.C. Penney’s new strategy may not have the same kind of response as Coke, but my gut tells me after the initial PR wears off, Penney’s will be no better off and perhaps worse off because it will have abandoned some of the psychology that goes into the buying decision for many consumers.