Persuasion power: A look at the science behind influence and decision-making

brain image
Image from the SMPS Foundation paper: The Neuropsychology of Influence and Decision-Making

There’s much science behind influence — and if you understand and implement some powerfully simple concepts, you’ll dramatically improve your marketing results. I’ve covered several of these concepts in previous posts, but it is worthwhile to reiterate them — so for the next week, I’ll explore these concepts based on a paper: “The Neuropsychology of Influence and Decision-Making” by Jonrobert Tartaglione, Influence 51, for the Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS) Foundation.

The report is free for SMPS members. It costs $49.00 for non-members.  The “report on the scientifically informed understanding of client decision-making behavior” is undoubtedly worth every cent of its cost, if you need to pay for it, and certainly helps justify the annual SMPS membership renewal.

The paper starts out with “The Five Principles of Influence”. The first: “The Human Brain is Not a Computer”.

Contrary to popular belief, the human brain does not function as a computer does. While humans possess the capacity for rationality, we rarely operate as perfectly rational creatures should. In fact, humans are less accurately characterized as rational creatures and more accurately characterized as rationalizing creatures.

In other words, while if we were rational we would absorb and verify each piece of information, we would be totally impartial “giving no preference of priority to any particular hypothesis or idea, and continually working to attempt to disprove longstanding theories to ensure they hold up to scrutiny.” This is the scientific method, and it is how scientists behave — or are supposed to behave — in conducting their research.

Conversely, Tartaglione asserts that the human brain works more like a press secretary.  We “give preferential treatment to pieces of information that support our pre-existing ideas.”  (I think of Sarah Sanders in Washington now — and, yes, we’ll get to some political stuff in the next post because there are some intriguing bits of science that link marketing, political views, and influence.)

“Our brains are not designed to maximize accuracy, but rather to find an optimal equilibrium between accuracy and efficiency,” he writes. Our brains do this through biases and heuristics.

Biases are: Systematic and predictable deviations from rationality

Heuristics are: Mental shortcuts.

Once you understand how the brain operates — how it employs biases and heuristics to make judgements and decisions — you can better anticipate how one will think, react and ultimately choose. This advanced knowledge will allow you to more effectively structure choice sets and persuasive appeals to maximize your chances of getting a “yes”.

I’ll get into more of these things tomorrow.

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