The persuasive power of “priming”

Screen shot 2010-09-30 at 09.05.07 Today I read another gem of an article by persuasion expert Steve Martin, in BA's Business Life mag. Steve is co-author of the book Yes!, which is one my finds of the year. His latest piece is about the power of "priming" people before you interact with them, in order to be more persuasive.

Priming involves getting people in the right mood before you interact with them. To illustrate the power of this approach, he quotes research on people playing Trivial Pursuit. Half a group of people were asked to think about the attributes of university professors. And the other half were invited to visualise football hooligans. The first group performed 30% better, as they were primed to be in the right frame of mind.

Priming also applies to consumer behaviour. Steve explains that wine merchants sell more French wine when they play French music in their store, and more German wine when they play German music. Amazing eh? And we all know what happens when you are offered a bigger plate at the buffet… you stack it high and eat more than if you had been given a small plate.

The final application of priming Steve describes is when planning a workshop, which is something I spend a lot of time doing. His finding confirm how important the right setting is. For example, creative workshops work better with a high ceiling. In contrast, action oriented planning meetings with a tight focus work better with low ceilings.

In conclusion, think about priming if you want to get the right results from interacting with people, be they colleagues, clients or customers.