Cialdini: “What’s focal is casual” — and why it is vitally important for marketing and business development

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fluffy clouds
Would fluffy clouds in the image background influence your purchasing decisions? Yes.

Do fluffy clouds in advertising determine what type of sofa you would purchase? Would you respond differently to a cry for help if a few minutes earlier someone had approached you for directions to “Valentine St.” instead of “Martin St.” The answers to both of these questions are definitely “yes,” according to persuasion guru Robert Cialdini.

In an interview with Matt Handal, Cialdini says research indicates that marketers can set the stage for behaviours through seemingly disconnected activities to focus attention on the product/service’s desired attributes.

Take the fluffy clouds in the sofa advertising, for example.

When we see something as more important, we tend to see it as more causal. A study was done by an online furniture store that specialized in sofas. To try an experiment, they sent half of their visitors to a landing page that had fluffy soft clouds in the background.

The other half were sent to a site that had pennies in the background. Those who were sent to the site with clouds then rated comfort as more important and more of a causal reason for them to choose a sofa.

Those who were sent to the site with pennies rated cost as more important and more of a causal feature for them to choose a sofa. In the end, those who saw the clouds ultimately preferred to purchase more comfortable furniture. Those who saw the coins preferred to purchase more inexpensive furniture. What they were focused on initially changed what they registered as important and causal for them.

Think about this concept for a moment. It suggests details and settings really matter. Here’s another example, that you may find somewhat disturbing.

Handal observes from Cialdini’s book Pre-Suasion:

Let’s talk about another scary thing in your book. Let’s say I’m walking down the street and an attractive woman asks me for directions to Valentine Street. I’m a nice guy. I’m going to give her directions. But then it turns out I’m more likely to confront four men when asked to later by a completely different woman who complains they stole from her. I’m more likely now to go up and start that confrontation or conversation with these guys just because several minutes ago somebody asked me for directions to Valentine Street. It’s like I have less control of my own decisions than I previously thought.

However, if the same process occurs and the person asks for direction to “Martin Street,” the reactions are truly different.

Cialdini responds:

Martin Street didn’t influence the guys to help another young lady in distress 100 meters down the road. But Valentine Street did because Valentines is a day associated with romance. Romance became prioritized for them versus risk. That is scary. Their attention was moved around by what a communicator did first.

Valentine’s Day is a day associated with romance. Romance became prioritized for them versus risk, just because they had been focused on a romantically-linked holiday a few minutes before. That is scary. Their attention was moved around by what a communicator did first.

I think you can see some of the powerful impact these thoughts have — and I’ll continue with the explanations in the next post.  You can read the entire interview with Handal here — it takes some digesting to capture all of its insights — and undoubtedly Cialdini’s book should be on your reading lists.

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