Secrets from the science of persuasion

Picture 1 My fave book of 2010 is "Yes! 50 secrets from the science of persuasion" by Steve J. Martin. Steve was nice enough to send me the book when he read my blog post on one of the chapters on the power of "social proof".

The book has lots of fascinating insight into consumer behavior, based on scientific study. What is great is the way it is told as 50 stories about business and work-life, making it really practical.

Here's my top 4 stories.

1. Premium products help sell cheaper ones

Williams Sonoma found that sales of their basic breadmaker doubled after they introduced an improved, more expensive model. Research shows that people make "compromise" choices, between the ideal and their minimum needs.

A classic example is buying wine in a restaurant. You might avoid the top-range one with the eye-watering price. But you don't want to be a cheapskate, so you also skip the cheapest bottle. You buy in the middle.

One tip to use this is to show cheaper and more expensive products together, to make it easier to compare prices. And consider starting with the most expensive, so the mainstream product in the middle looks good value when you come to it.

Steve also has a tip to get the best room when booking a hotel for business. Show the room you want, but also a more expensive alternative, to demonstrate you've shopped for value!

2. A personal touch pays off

In our digital age, the personal touch at work is more rare. But it can really work. Researchers showed this by sending out a survey for people to complete. The survey was accompanied either by a post-it with a handwritten message asking for it to be completed, or by itself.

36% of the group getting the survey by itslef completed it. What about the other group with the post-it note? 75% of that group completed the survey, more than double the response rate.

So, when you really, really want something doing, consider the old-fashioned route of a letter with a hand-written sticky on it, rather than an email. Even in the digital age you can add a personal touch. I head that the finance team at innocent smoothies did this when sending electronic payments. In the reference box they didn't put the usual technical jargon (e.g. "Bill ezbg43557s"). Instead, they put "With love from innocent".

Picture 2
3. Taking the blame is no shame

How many times have your heard ice cream companies blame a cold summer for poor results? Its common to try and find excuses when performance is below objectives.

However, researchers have found that focusing on internal and controllable "failure factors" is a better route to take. First, they tested 2 types of company reporting. Report A explained poor performance on some of the strategic decisions taken. Report B blamed the economy. People seeing Report A viewed the company more positively on a range of criteria. This is because this approach showed the company was in control of its destiny, instilling confidence.

The researchers went further and looked at statements from annual reports over a 21 year period, and what happened to stock prices of the companies concerned. Again, they found that focusing on factors in the control of the company to explain performance worked better, with superior stock price results.

In conclusion, you could but the most expensive book about persuasion on Amazon. Or, you could buy Steve's book. I personally recommend it 😉