The Six Principles of Persuasion: Applying Psychology to Events

"We have words in commerce for ‘persuasion’ and ‘influence,’ says award-winning professor and brain science expert Dr. Brynn Winegard. “They are ‘sales’ and ‘marketing.’”

Marketers need to influence people into realizing how certain products or services can add value to their lives, and salespeople need to persuade people to buy into those products and services.

However, influence and persuasion can be tough to master –especially in a way that is ethical and honest. And especially when Harvard professor Gerald Zaltman tells us that 95% of all purchasing decisions – of all human cognition, really – actually takes place in the subconscious mind.

95% of all cognition takes places in the subconscious mind. 
– Gerald Zaltman

What this means for marketers, salespeople, and event planners is that to be successful at what they do, they need to speak to the brain. But first, it’s important to get better at understanding it.

Learning more about the Six Principles of Persuasion is a good place to start.

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What are the Six Principles of Persuasion?

The six principles of persuasion were originally coined by Dr. Robert Cialdini, who is a leading social scientist and best-selling author. His book “Influence” explains 'the psychology of why people say yes and how to ethically apply these principles in business and life'.

Let’s find out what each principle actually means and how they can be applied to events.

Reciprocity

We all know the old adage: Treat others the way you want to be treated.

In Cialdini’s book, he uses the example of tipping at restaurants. Research shows that when diners are given a mint at the end of their meal, tips increase by 3%. And when given two mints, they go up 14%.

When we’re at restaurants, we’re don’t actively think, “I’m going to increase the amount of my tip based on the number of mints this waiter is going to give me later.” It even sounds silly to say out loud. But we really aren't as conscious of our thoughts as we think. 

Cialdini goes further to point out that when a waiter leaves one mint, but then turns around and adds on another and perhaps says something like, ‘Oh, here’s an extra one just because you’ve been so great,’ tips increase by 23%.


From June Liu, Unsplash

People just have a natural tendency to reciprocate behavior. What’s more, the tendency to “pay someone back” for something is often strongest when the initial gesture done onto them feels genuine and personalized.

And as audiences and buyers, it’s easy to tell when businesses are being inauthentic. What Cialdini recommends then, is this: Be the first to give.

And whatever it is you give, make sure it feels sincere, valuable, personalized, and ideally, unexpected. Some examples:

  • Tag people and pay them a genuine compliment in your social media posts.
  • Give things away during your event that you know will feel useful and not just like an after-thought; handy resources, special promotions, free tester products, VIP access to something.
  • Offer time in your calendar to speak to others seeking advice.

You may not always directly or immediately get any money or “ROI” back for such things, but here’s what you do get: A space on the right side of a person’s mind. And that’s exactly the kind of thing that makes people want to talk positively about you with their peers, or to consider starting what could eventually turn into a great, long-lasting relationship.

Consistency or Commitment

Humans don’t like to be perceived as quitters.

In writing this I remembered how I often like to message my friends with the phrase, “Public declaration for more dedication!” when I tell them about my new goals. Why do I do that? Well, it adds a kind of pressure on myself to stick to my plans.

When we make public commitments, we’re more likely to make good on them. It increases our accountability, and it fuels the human urge to be consistent with the promises or ambitions we set.

But what if you’re on the side that wants other people to make commitments to you, your business, or your event?

Well, studies suggest that the most effective way to do it is by asking for small, voluntary and public commitments that can built up over time. Rather than, for example, asking for one very large commitment to be made immediately and all in one go.

Think about Earth Hour. Earth Hour happens every year and gets millions of people all over the world to turn off all their lights for just one hour. The ask is simple, but it is symbolic of a much larger mission: "to drive major legislative changes by harnessing the power of the people and collective action." Earth Hour doesn't even ask you to turn off all of the electrical appliances in your home; just your lights. And only for one hour, once a year. But by asking for a small commitment, it gets people to move quickly and cooperatively towards a much bigger objective. 

  • Inviting high profile speakers to your event? Have them promote it with a small post on their social media.
  • Want to convince others of an event idea you need funding for? Have other people sign a petition for it.
  • Want an event to turn leads into buyers? Give them access to things they can download and read, articles to share with friends, things to click, lower-end products to try, you get the idea.

Start small and work your way up and around.

Consensus or Social Proof

We often look to the actions and opinions of others to help shape our own.

Of course, it isn’t always right to follow the crowds and do something just because others are doing it. This classic social experiment (video) by Brain Games on National Geographic captures this perfectly: A girl sits around in a waiting room waiting to see a doctor. She has no idea that the scene is completely staged, and everybody who comes through the room has been instructed to stand up at the sound of a beep, which goes off every few moments. She doesn't know why they stand when the beep goes off, but eventually, she follows their behaviour anyway. Even if she doesn't understand why. 

This is the power of social proof. Following in the footsteps of others can give us a sense security, belonging, and validation that we often crave. And this is also true when it comes to purchasing decisions.  

“All your friends are doing it!”
"Thanks to the thousands of you who voted!" 
"Check out what our clients have to say!" 

Social Proof can be a powerful tool, especially when it leverages the people we know and trust. In Chatter Matters’ Word of Mouth Report, it claimed that one of the most meaningful forms of advertising is “recommendations from friends and family”, where 83% of consumers say these are what make them more likely to purchase something. 

Some ways to incorporate social proof in your event include:

  • Adding positive testimonials on websites or landing pages
  • Getting acclaimed people as keynote speakers
  • Creating or subscribing to certification systems or award systems
  • Inviting people with large followings to take over your social media
  • Sharing your milestones, awards, accomplishments

Authority

As established, people will follow the lead of others. But they will follow them most especially when they believe those people are credible, trustworthy, and knowledgeable. This is less about the quantity of people, and more about the “quality” of expertise associated to a certain person, for a specific subject.

What makes someone an authority? Titles (e.g. PhD, MD, CEO), clothes/style (e.g. military uniforms), and indirect cues (a kind of je ne sais quoi) are all factors at play. 

Companies often use this principle to gain credibility. And if they themselves don’t have the kind of authority they want to exude, they could turn to others who do have it and then they link up.

Take the B Lab. The B Lab is committed to making businesses the world over be more socially and environmentally responsible. And to help achieve their mission, they’ve set up a certification system that they want the whole business world to adopt. They already have over 3,000 B Lab certified businesses, which they call "B Corps", but they want to go even bigger.

How do they achieve a sense of authority, credibility, and leadership in what they do?  

They talk to the big guys. B Lab is actively targeting billion-dollar multinationals from all over the globe to buy into their cause and certification program. And already, they've got quite a few big names jumping on board.

How can you leverage the authority principle for your own events and business objectives?

  • Invest in aesthetics – the look and feel of your invitations, landings pages, and other marketing assets. Dress up in the kind of “uniform” that garners respect and authority.
  • Partner with other organizations who have a sense of authority you perhaps lack.
  • Arrange the right keynote speakers who will draw in crowds based on their expertise or career.
  • Leverage certifications, awards, or other third-party providers of certain titles that can add to your company’s authority.

Liking

People prefer to say yes to people they like. But what makes a person “likeable”?

Well, we often like people who are similar to us – those who feel familiar and have shared goals, appearances, and ways of living. But at the same time, we may also gravitate towards those who may not be much like us but who embody versions of ourselves that we aspire to be. And, as humans, we also like people who make us feel good about ourselves –the people who give us genuine compliments, words of encouragement and inspiration, relatable or funny anecdotes. 


From Jacqueline Munquia, Unsplash 

And if we want to get others to like our business, it would help if they liked our people. If we put personable and “likeable” faces and personalities to represent who we are, what we do, and why we do it.

Play on similarities, actively seek and bring out the best in others, make them dream, show them versions of their lives that they could have – a life where a particular problem is solved, a difficult situation is eased, a missing piece to a puzzle is found. Some ways to do this include:

  • Have an engaging “About” or "Team" page that add personality to your company or event
  • Have a clear and explicitly stated mission, vision, or overarching theme that will attract like-minded people and connect diverse audiences with big, centered ideas
  • Localize events and marketing to feel culturally familiar to audiences
    • Get speakers who represent the audience demographics
    • Hire entertainment that is culturally nuanced
    • Bring up topics or news that are relevant to whomever you’re speaking to
  • Pay extra attention to the positive attributes of others and pay them genuine compliments where compliments make sense to be paid
  • Find ways to connect with similar interests (hobbies, industries, common pain points)

Scarcity

It’s great to showcase what you have and what is available. However, there is something special about the rarer things in life. The valuable things that are hard to obtain, or that we stand to lose if we fail to do a certain action.

Very often, people want more of what they have less of. Ever notice how so many things that you adore and aspire for as an adult are related to things that you didn’t get a lot of as a child? Or, perhaps, why you’re so attracted to certain books or TV shows that tell you stories of people whose lives are so different to yours? Or, how come a ‘fear of missing out’ can feel so crushing?

“Limited seats!” “Only today: X% off!” “One night only performance!”


From Artem Beliakin, Unsplash

When SocialCam was launched in 2011, it was available only to a select group of people. If you wanted to download it, you could only do so if somebody invited you first. For some, this approach could seem too limiting. But in reality, it was a great success; the company later bagged more than a million users in four months, eventually getting acquired by Autodesk for $60 million. Spotify adopted a similar strategy during its earlier days, but in their case if users couldn’t wait to get invited they could instead pay for access by subscribing to a premium account. That seems to have worked out for them as well. 

It might not always work, but putting deadlines (available for X duration only) or exclusive/limited access to your events and event registrations is definitely worth looking into. 

Final Takeaways

It's easy to assume that most of our decisions are based on conscious thoughts and rationality. But really, most of what goes on in our minds and what influences our decisions are in fact hidden from our consciousness. 

And as marketers and event planners who aim to successfully influence and persuade others in an ethical and engaging way, then it definitely helps to understand more about how the human brain works. 

If you like this article and you want to check out similar posts on event psychology and more about events, you can find them here

About the Author

Kyra Albano

Amsterdam-based MarTech consultant passionate about the optimisation of technology, cross-cultural communications, and business strategy towards a better future. When I’m not busy working I love to to surf, write, and explore all sorts of new places!

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