I bet that you have tried at least once to convince someone to say”Yes” to you. So let me ask you this question:
What was the ROI of your persuasive techniques?
Did you achieve your result? Are you happy with the outcomes?
Were you a master of persuasion? Or maybe you didn’t reach your goal?
I have reached out to 33 of the best of the best marketing and sales professionals around the world and asked pretty much the same questions.
These experts have answered 14 questions (the average survey took 15 minutes to complete) and I was able to gather amazing data, which we believe will help many businesses and other professionals better understand persuasion and how to apply it correctly.
The amount of data that I have collected was overwhelming and it took me months to develop meaningful results and put this into a blog post.
So, first of all, a massive thank you to everyone who participated. This post would not exist without your help!
About this research:
For many individuals looking to grow their companies, it not really a revelation that the principles of persuasion can help increase their conversion rates and sales (sometimes in double-digits), get past objections, and better understand human decision-making processes.
But how can you apply these techniques to advance your business?
Definition of the 6 principles of persuasion
Before we get into the meat of this report’s findings, let’s go over the meanings of each strategy so we’re all on the same page.
Reciprocity – In Cialdini’s words, the rule for reciprocation “says that we should try to repay, in kind, what another person has provided us.”
Cialdini often uses the following historical example as an example:
In the aftermath of an earthquake in Mexico in 1985, Ethiopia provided tens of thousands of dollars in humanitarian aid. Despite the fact that Ethiopia was in the midst of its own drought and civil war, this assistance was in exchange for Mexico’s diplomatic support when they were invaded by Italy in 1935. In dire straits 50 years later, Ethiopian leaders were motivated by the force of reciprocity to repay Mexico’s generosity.
Social proof – Especially when they are uncertain, people will look to the actions and behaviors of others to determine their own.
Here no surprise instead, this tactic is overly used and the most popular examples are reviews.
Liking – People prefer to say yes to those that they like. This is probably the most obvious of all the techniques, would you buy a product from a company or a person you don’t like? Well, you could argue there are exceptions, but if you could avoid it, you probably would.
Consistency – People like to be consistent with the things they have previously said or done. Again, this technique is very popular, so no comments are needed here.
Scarcity – Simply put, people want more of those things they can have less of. This about gold, the only reason why is so precious is that there isn’t enough if compared to the demand. We were expecting that everyone knew about scarcity, so it comes as a revelation to us that is not as popular as the others.
Authority – This is the idea that people follow the lead of credible, knowledgeable experts.
Do you need persuasion training to master it?
Surprisingly, none of these highly experienced and successful pros had any formal education in the persuasion principles, but they were all acquainted with Dr. Cialdini’s best-selling book “Influence, The Psychology of Persuasion”.
This is shocking, given that Harvard Business School discovered that what people learn in formal education, whether it’s an MBA or a vocational course, has a long-term effect on society and their businesses (at least with regards to business education).
This implies that educators and trainers should be conscious of their position and ability. I could write an entire book on this topic, let’s leave it on the side for the moment and go back to the survey results.
What made you start using persuasion?
At first, I wanted to focus on how these pros got started with persuasion.
I love what Rand Fishkin, CEO, and Founder of SparkToro, has replied, persuasion saved his business from bankruptcy many years ago:
“Early failures in my career, especially going nearly bankrupt for a long time when starting my first business.”
This is a strong sentence that highlights the potential of persuasion and influence and it explains (partly) how Rand built the most popular blog in digital marketing in the world, based on excellent content and the principle of reciprocity (you give away for free your knowledge and experience to others).
He then pushed his personal profile to become one of the most influential SEO authorities in the world.
Along the same lines is Navah Hopkins, Director of Paid Media at Justuno:
“Nothing can advance without cooperation – being persuasive and harnessing one’s persuasion power is how we get more accomplished.”
How can we not agree with Gianpaolo Lorusso, founder of ADworld Experience, the largest PPC conference in Europe?
“If you are in business you have to, in any sector.”
Here we have the reply from Grant Simmons, VP of Performance Marketing at homes.com, who read Cialdini’s book:
“Read Cialdini’s book 18 years ago and it fundamentally changed how I was marketing my clients (had an agency at the time) with ‘better’ messaging”.
Difference between persuasion and manipulation
Saying that someone is manipulative is a criticism of their behavior. What is wrong with manipulation? People influence each other all the time, how can you tell when someone is manipulating from when he is persuading?
My survey also highlighted some other negative opinions of persuasion, closely related to manipulation.
Let’s see what Jill Konrath, Sales Strategist, Keynote Speaker and Author of “Agile Selling” replied:
“Using persuasion techniques is a two-edged sword. While it can be helpful in sales/marketing, it can also be highly manipulative and self-serving.”
Jill has a strong but valid point.
On the same line is Christine Schachinger, SEO Consultant:
“Generally, I do not think about it outside work. That is manipulation and unless dealing with a child who needs help and guidance, I do not practice it with adults who have their own agency. Honesty is the best approach in personal life.”
There is certainly a degree of manipulation but only for the non-ethical part.
Manipulation attempts are made on a regular basis. Here are a couple of examples. Gaslighting is when a manipulator encourages a victim to question her own judgment and instead rely on the manipulator’s advice.
Guilt trips make a person feel a lot of guilt for not doing what the manipulator wants her to do. Charm offensives and social pressure cause someone to be so concerned with the manipulator’s approval that she will do whatever the manipulator wants.
“The first time I tried to convince someone to do something I realized that persuasion is a powerful tool for everyone in business and in life.”
Rudy Bandiera, TEDx Speaker, who even wrote a book about the topic (unfortunately available in Italian only, for the moment):
“[I have used persuasion techniques for] Strong relationships […] with people, relationships of trust”.
And there is nothing manipulative in all of this.
What counts in determining if someone is being manipulated is whether the leverage is being used to place the other person in a better or worse position to make a decision.
As a result, if we want to spot manipulation, we must look at the motive of the individual doing the manipulation, not the method of leverage. The nature and basic immorality of coercion is the desire to degrade another person’s decision-making situation. Using trust and authority for evil becomes unethical.
Examples of manipulative persuasion
It might be that this science has been applied in manipulative ways, especially during the COVID-19 times, there are many examples of doctors faking their qualifications (at least in the UK).
And last year, hotel booking sites were forced to end misleading tactics, in particular with regards to the use of the scarcity principle. They were showing the typical “1 room left at this price” when actually there was more room left. But this is just a lie: just because the principle of scarcity works, doesn’t mean you have to lie about it.
Speaking of trust and relationships, the survey also investigated how and in which settings these techniques have been used by the respondents.
How to determine where to better use persuasion
It’s fantastic to see such a wide range of contexts in which persuasion is used, indicating that it can be applied to a wide range of fields. When persuasion tactics are used, landing pages, partnerships, negotiations, and even social media posts may have a positive result.
It’s great when you have used persuasion in a positive way and helped someone make a better decision. You have written maybe a great ad, created a fantastic piece of content to drive conversion rates on your landing to exception levels.
But my respondents have said that 3.1% use persuasion when writing ads and only 6.2% use it when creating content.
Most of them (81.3%) use it for relationship building.
It’s surprising how “ads writing” and “content creation” are down the graph, it’s almost contradictory, considering that ads are those that trigger the call to action on, for example, Google Ads and Facebook Ads. And content creation is supposed to drive traffic and conversions.
I was expecting persuasion to be used in ad writing or content creation, including guest posting.
But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. To write a piece of content or an ad, you don’t have to persuade anyone, you just sit down and write on your own.
The process for writing an ad comes from your knowledge of the product, the market, and the prospective buyers. Also, the process for writing a blog post comes, at least in SEO, from how many people search for that keyword and whether there are enough search volumes.
But the process for establishing a relationship with someone requires trust and positive vibes, not to mention a shared common interest.
This is when persuasion comes to help the most.
So please use persuasion when you want to establish or improve a relationship with another human being or to negotiate a deal. Remember that persuasion is a behavioral psychology discipline, not an economic one.
I have completed the Harvard “Negotiation Mastery” Course and learned that when people establish a relationship using persuasive techniques before getting down to business, their chances to find a valuable outcome from the negotiation improve by 51%.
How about landing pages?
When it comes to landing pages, the principle of reciprocity occurs and the basic facts remain the same – people would feel compelled to repay even the slightest acts of kindness.
Let’s see an example:
Buzzstream and reciprocity. In the spirit of reciprocity, BuzzStream is making their Advanced Guide to Content Promotion available as a free PDF download – no strings attached:
The email opt-in at the bottom of the page is optional, and BuzzStream is banking on prospects who welcome their free gift to reciprocate with their email address.
Authority for brand reputation, reciprocity for value upfront
And the survey has also asked which principles respondents have been using in which situation:
From many incredible answers, I have chosen this one because it explains how to use persuasion in each stage of the funnel, so thanks Declan Davey, professional copywriter and owner at Declan Davey Ltd.
“Authority for building brand reputation. Reciprocity to offer value upfront in the hope that this will be returned in the future (e.g. offering a free or discounted copy sample). Social proof to build trust with clients. Scarcity to provide urgency to buy now.”
Here is what Anders Hjorth, Founder of Innovell, said:
“I use different techniques for different things but have never really been aware of them. Some of them are algorithmically part of […] success: reciprocity in social media, authority in SEO, social proof on landing pages, scarcity in pricing and empathy in sales!”
Another respondent (who wished to remain anonymous) and we know he is running a digital marketing agency, said interestingly this:
“People buy from other people who have used/experienced the product [social proof] – trust is key, without trust you don’t have a product in my opinion – authority is important, demonstrating credibility will increase your leads/sales.”
Authority and Social Proof help to sell better
This is in my opinion the most useful part of my survey, where I have discovered that Authority and Social Proof help to close more sales.
I have also asked respondents which persuasion principle work better for them when they are the customers (tip: if you want to know which persuasion principle makes Rand Fishkin buying something, I know now it -:)
It’s great to see what Authority, Social Proof, and Linking are the top three factors that trigger a sale, distanced by quite a lot from Consistency, Scarcity and Reciprocity.
But take this data with a pinch of salt: it might be skewed because respondents are top experts in their field. This means their purchasing triggers might be very different from the actual Fred in the Shed consumer.
My survey didn’t interview consumers from a variety of industries, so results tend to show data from experts who are already at the top of their careers. Therefore, authority and social proof play a stronger role in the buyer journey than scarcity (which is mostly applied to eCommerce and hotel websites).
Also, there is an explanation to be given, in my opinion. It’s much more difficult to become an authority and brag your social proof (when legitimate) because it requires years of hard and consistent work. This means the harder a persuasion technique is, the most effective it becomes.
It’s harder (almost impossible) to fake authority and social proof than it is to fake scarcity.
Reciprocity might not be directly linked to the sales increase, but it works towards the “liking” principle
Like I have said above,
“It’s harder (almost impossible) to fake authority and social proof than it is to fake scarcity.”
Also, reciprocity doesn’t help with sales, just because someone does something valuable to you and it’s unexpected, doesn’t mean you’ll find it valuable. And therefore it might not close the deal.
So if reciprocity doesn’t close the deal, what is the value?
Simply, you’ll like that seller more than before and this triggers the principle of liking (which helps more with closing).
Combining different techniques is more effective than using just one at the time
So, the lesson here is that these principles taken in isolation won’t work as effectively as combining them, it’s when you use them together as a strategy that you’ll start to see the magic coming together.
Michael Aragon, Head of Marketing at RTY Art, puts it very clearly:
“Sometimes you have to use multiple techniques at once.”
“It is easier to say what happened when I failed to apply them correctly: low sales.”
Valentina Pacitti, Freelance Copywriter, former at SEMRush:
“you can combine together various techniques to achieve your goal”
Authority building with history
Whether you run a company or not, whether you have a product to sell or not, you might want to become an authority in your niche.
This can be achieved also using persuasion:
Navah Hopkins, Director of Paid Media:
“Combining “authority” and “likability” is the heart of influencer marketing.”
“Personifying a brand and treating every interaction with customers/community as a chance to help your friends, the sale becomes a helping exchange instead of an annoying one.”
“Authority – when I see folks I admire and respect, I want to buy from them”
Steven Whitaker, Senior Data Analyst:
“I had realised that I was mostly likely to trust the opinions of the people or companies that I myself follow on social media when they applied a consistent and authoritative approach to their posts and online presence. As such, I sought to incorporate that into my own approach.”
“if you want to be seen as an authority, you need to build that profile so that people instantly recognise you as an expert.”
But don’t let this advice fool you. If you want to become an authority, it’s long and hard:
Rossella Cenini, Head of Growth at Tenacta Group:
“Not all persuasion techniques work the same way for everyone; [The] User is not an idiot, if he recognizes a pattern, the persuasion techniques will not work.”
But you have one arrow to your bow that absolutely nobody can take away from you, in your path of becoming an authority: it’s the history of your topic.
When you explain the history of your topic, whether it’s in a conference, in a book or in a meeting with colleagues, explaining what happened in the past and how things changed to become what they are now, makes you a knowledgeable expert in your field.
This is the reason why many speakers or book authors start with the past when introducing their topic.
Let me give you an example. Does this sound familiar?
“15 years ago, to win the first page on Google you just needed to stuff the page with keywords, nowadays, after countless algorithms updates, it’s no longer the case…”
This is exactly how to gain the attention of your audience, nobody but an expert who knows the past and the present on a certain topic knows the changes and the dynamics. It knows what works now, what worked in the past and he/ she can predict how things are going to look based on historical facts.
In other words, persuasive magic happens when you are able to combine past, present and a vision for the future of your niche.
Again, have you ever seen why experts talk about trends? Every January of every year, in every field. Take this blog post, for example:
I am not surprised it has been linked 1,162 times!
How amazing is this? People see this article everywhere on the Web and must think “This Author really knows his stuff”.
That’s why Authority is the most useful but also the most difficult persuasion technique to apply out of the six.
How valuable are the persuasion techniques (5= extremely valuable and 1=not valuable)?
Now, we can probably draw the first conclusion and say that persuasion is very valuable, but don’t take our word for it, we have also asked this question in the survey. We were not surprised at all to see this:
It’s great to see that there is consensus in saying that the techniques are very extremely valuable.
Now that we have established the positive impact of persuasion, the next question we have asked was how difficult it is to apply them?
So, if persuasion is so positive and it leads to long-term impacts, how easy is it to actually apply it?
Hint: it’s not easy
This graph shows the level of difficulty of applying persuasion techniques in either one of those settings we have seen. The data shows that the majority of experts found it difficult but not impossible.
The average is 2.9/5 (fairly difficult).
“it’s difficult. it is effective. it’s a long job.”
This is what Rudy Bandiera learned about persuasion during his career.
How can we make sure we apply the right techniques at the right time?
Here is the list of other curated lessons from top experts:
Adriana Dumitache, 1st Party Data Assets Manager at Reckitt:
“It depends what product, situation you are applying it for and who you are talking to”
Monika Schmidt, Consultant and Online Coach:
“persuasion will not work without adding value”.
Remco Tensen, Senior Technical SEO Consultant
“The chosen brand style can get in the way of choosing the best persuasion technique”
Jennifer Hoffman, VP of Marketing at banked.com:
“Scarcity has the ability to help you create demand. It’s human nature to want something exclusive that no one else has. i.e. the concept of being a VIP, no matter the scenario or environment.”
“Just because you *think* you’re applying these lessons doesn’t mean you’re doing them right or well. Practice, willingness to fail and try again, and testing are all required.”
“Create mutually beneficial outcomes we can all feel good about”
Alessandro Mazzù, Personal Profile Consultant and Digital Marketer:
“People are different. You can’t sell to everyone. You have to made a segmentation with a strong study of the customer journey to tell in every step the right message.”
“Being persuasive requires being comfortable – brands should not leverage persuasion techniques that do not come naturally to them (cheeky brands should stay cheeky and vice versa).”
Thanks a lot for making it this far into this report.
3,416 words is a huge project and it took me months and hundreds of emails of work to make this happen, to collect the data, analyze the insights and nothing of this was possible without the help of 33 experts around the world.
As you can tell by now, persuasion is not a manipulative technique that cheats people into buying things they don’t want to buy or make things they don’t want to make. Nor is a magic bullet that makes your business grow quickly.
Just like every other thing in business: “you have to work, to make it work”.
And since we are often limited in resources, time, team (etc..), we are always looking at things that can have an immediate impact on our ROI.
So, here are some actions you can take right away:
- Start building / maintaining your authority using the knowledge and expertise in what you do, start from the history of your topics.
- Use the principle of scarcity (ethically!) in your eCommerce store.
- Build reviews to enhance social proof and raise trust.
- Give things away for free, that are meaningful, unexpected and customized to your prospects.
- Practice, fail and learn how to apply the techniques.