Yes! – Bite-Size Persuasion Techniques
Book Review: Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive by Robert Cialdini, Noah Goldstein, and Steve J. Martin
Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive is a fantastic book that’s chock-full of tips that turn research findings in behavioral psychology, social science, and related areas into tips to make us more persuasive in our personal and professional lives.
My friend Guy Kawasaki, no slouch at persuasion himself, turned me on to Robert Cialdini’s writings. It’s safe to say that if you have enjoyed my articles about the practical uses of brain research in marketing and sales, you’ll find plenty to chew on in Yes!
As the title suggests, Yes! is composed of fifty short chapters. Each begins with the description of a particular line of experimental research that shows something about the way we humans think and make decisions, and segues into a discussion of how one might use that information to be more persuasive. The targets of this persuasion might be employees, bosses, customers, family members, and even oneself. I’ll single out one such example:
The Magnetic Middle
Neuromarketing readers will enjoy the way Cialdini and co-authors highlight research that sometimes confounds our expectations for human behavior. Take an energy consumption experiment, for example, which provided feedback to a group of California homeowners on how much energy they were using compared to their neighbors and monitored their consumption behavior. Not surprisingly, perhaps, the homeowners who were well above average reduced their consumption when they learned of their profligate ways. It was a bit more of a surprise that homeowners who were consuming less than average amounts of energy didn’t take the positive feedback as encouragement to continue conservation. Rather, they increased the amount of energy they used enough to become almost “average.” Cialdini refers to this as the “magnetic middle.”
The researchers continued the experiment by adding a simple approval/disapproval message to the feedback: those with high energy consumption saw a frowny face (“:(“) while the energy savers got a smiley (“:)”). The high energy consumers cut back in about the same amount, but the mere inclusion of the smiley face caused the low energy users to keep on conserving. Cialdini extends this idea by suggesting that companies and public agencies need to be cautious about how they present data about typical behavior. While letting employees know that the average worker at the firm arrives late for work only 5.3% of the time might reduce chonic tardiness among the worst offenders, it might also cause some punctual employees to slide toward the average. Cialdini suggests that whenever a message like this is delivered, it be accompanied by feedback suggesting that the positive behavior (in this case, perfect or near-perfect punctuality), is noticed and valued.
Multiply this example by fifty, and you have Yes!. Some of the research Cialdini cites will be familiar to Neuromarketing readers, but most of it will be new. In every case, of course, Cialdini puts his own unique spin on how research can help us with the persuasion process. The division into 50 short chapters prevents Yes! from painting a bigger picture, but the format does make for easy reading and lets casual browsers look for interesting nuggets of wisdom without reading the book from start to finish.
Persuasion vs. Manipulation
At times, the line between ethical persuasion and less ethical manipulaton can blur, and Cialdini frequently cautions the reader about this. In the book’s closing chapter, Cialdini cites the example of a gas station which took advantage of a shortage to charge its customers ten times the normal price for fuel. The owner garnered huge short-run profits, but as soon as the shortage abated, customers abandoned the station and it eventually went out of business. Cialdini suggests ways that the owner could have used ethical means that would have made him profitable in the short run but preserved, or even enhanced, his standing with his customers. The flip side of the message is also clear: taking unethical advantage of your customers is a short-run strategy at best.
Face-to-face sales is an area rife with attempts to manipulate the customer, but Cialdini’s message is reinforced by my own experience. Every truly successful salesperson I’ve encountered has been successful not by stringing together one–time sales, but by building lasting and mutually beneficial customer relationships.
Research to Reality
What I like best about Cialdini’s approach is that he isn’t afraid to make the leap from abstract research to practical advice. Even if this research-based advice isn’t itself proven by double-blind studies, at least it has more of a foundation than most of the pearls of wisdom dropped by marketing pundits and sales gurus. Making the “research-to-reality” leap is something that I try to do as frequently as I can, and it’s refreshing to see an academic willing to go out on a limb to offer practical advice. Should you read this book? The title says it all: Yes!
Around the Web
Cialdini’s book has received plenty of attention from business bloggers and other reviewers – here are a couple:
Bob Sutton – “I recommend the book highly, as it presents all kinds of clever and effective influence tactics.”
NPR.org – “The Science of Getting a ‘Yes'” (22 min. audio interview)