The science of persuasion and marketing

Matt Handal at SMPS

Matt Handal after his presentation speaking with an audience member

Matt Handal delivered a provocative presentation at the SMPS conference yesterday:  The Science of Influence:  How to get people to do what you want.?

His point is that researchers have indeed discovered important elements of the human mind that are hard-wired into our subconscious and, by recognizing these forces, we can greatly improve our marketing effectiveness.

Handal?s presentation will undoubtedly be helpful his career because of one of the six basic principals he advocates:  Authority.  He demonstrated the power of authority when a research subject received instructions to shock another subject for ?wrong? answers.  The research subject, an electrician, certainly knew and understood the dangers involved with high-voltages shocks and the subject receiving the shocks (actually a research associate) made it clear that the shocks were painful ? especially since he explained that he had a heart condition.  Ultimately, under orders from the research co-ordinator ? the authority figure ? the electrician delivered incredible shocks which he knew would be totally harmful.

This example also reveals some of the ethical challenges in using the persuasive insights from social science.  You can use these resources for manipulation, criminality and downright unethical purposes.  On the other hand, since they are so powerful, you would be foolish not to consider how to apply them in your marketing processes.

Each of the six principals probably deserves its own blog posting, but I?ll summarize them here.  I?ve covered some of these in other postings but all are worthy of review and attention.


If you give something that the other person doesn?t expect, and then (not immediately) ask for a return favour, you will generally receive a ?yes? ? and that ?yes? can be hundreds of times more valuable than the original gift.  ?Free estimates? certainly don?t count for reciprocation, at least in the residential sector, because they are expected.  But humans generally don?t want to incur obligation and wish to repay debts, so generosity really has its rewards.

Commitment consistency

Once you agree or make a commitment to something or some organization, you generally will stay with it, because change disrupts your expectations and perceptions.  This is why ?incumbents? have such a great advantage.  You can?t win against this by fighting it ? you need to respect it and appear to validate the original commitments.

Social proof

If others are doing things, then you will go along, because this is what the crowd is doing.  It is why testimonials are so powerful in marketing, especially if the testimonial-giver is part of the same community of the person who you are seeking to influence.


If things appear scarce, then they appear more valuable.  This works as long as the scarcity is true or the person receiving the ?scarcity? message doesn?t discover that it is just a marketing ploy!  ?Information scarcity? ? that is  suggesting to someone that they will exclusively know certain things ? adds to the value; in other words, sharing your secrets with selected people can be incredibly valuable in enhancing these relationships..


If you like someone, you?ll be more prone to do business with them.  You don?t need to be likable for the other persuasive forces to be effective, of course, but it doesn?t hurt to be appealing and gracious.

Powerful stuff, indeed.  Clearly, many marketers don?t get it ? focusing on things that are standard, predictable, and don?t appeal or respect any of these psychological forces.

Why should you take this stuff seriously?

Because it works, far better than any other marketing lessons you can learn.  (And using ?because? ? giving a reason, even if it isn?t valid ? will indeed improve your marketing effectiveness.  Yes, a research study proved that.)

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