In the ongoing quest to improve my work, I recently finished reading Robert P Cialdini’s classic book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, looking for tips. Cialdini suggests there are six different ways to influence people / close a sale, and he lists them as follows:
- Reciprocity (People tend to return a favour, e.g. giving out free samples leads to greater sales)
- Commitment (Once people have already decided to buy, it’s much easier to raise prices with ‘extras’ at the last minute, a common technique used in car showrooms)
- Social proof (If other people you trust are doing it, you’re more likely to do it as well — which is why referral schemes and, of course, social media, works)
- Authority (Celebrities and doctors sell stuff)
- Liking (Attractive people sell stuff)
- Scarcity (Hurry! Stocks are limited! This offer won’t be repeated tomorrow!)
If you’re interested in learning more, I highly recommend you read the book — it’s full of examples of how to use people’s ingrained behavioural patterns to influence them. It’s also great at teaching you how to spot these techniques so you can avoid them.
But Cialdini got me thinking. What are the choices that I make, as a copywriter, when sitting down to start a brief?
Cialdini’s arguments appeal to logic — but where’s the logic in that?
All six of Cialdini’s ‘weapons of influence’ are appeals to argument — to logic — in other words, they’re appeals to the head, not the heart.
For example: You should buy this, because your peers like it. You should buy this because custom dictates that since we have done you a favour, you should return it (Cialdini actually explains this is an important evolutionary trait and, therefore, logical), and so forth.
Cialdini’s ‘weapons of influence’ show us how we make purchasing decisions based on rational choice, even subconsciously.
But I don’t think all decisions are made this way. After the fact, yes, we try to rationalise our decisions. But the truth is very often we’re led not by the head, but by the heart.
Head or heart?
Fans of Mad Men will know that every Don Draper pitch or advert is essentially the same. From the ‘nostalgia’ of watching old memories displayed on a Kodak Carousel to a tug on your heart strings remembering your childhood in a Glo-Coat advert, or watching your own children growing up as they eat a bowl of Life Cereal, Don’s pitches are successful because they make emotional — not rational — appeals and touch us at a deeper, more instinctual level.
Which technique is better?
When people ask me how to sell something, I usually point them towards The Oatmeal’s one frame cartoon, How to (not) sell something to my generation.
The Oatmeal formula is very simple and it works:
Be sincere, knowledgeable, and helpful. Explain: “Here is the product and here are the features”. If the product is good, if the person wants it, the product sells itself.
And of course this works, especially on the web. As The Oatmeal points out, pushy sales techniques don’t work in such a saturated, crowded market. They look desperate. With a million and one reviews and competitor sites online, it’s easy to browse thousands of sites and compare like-for-like.
Usually, when making a rational purchasing decision, I don’t want you to try to persuade me. I simply want to know what the product is, what it does, and what it can offer me — and this is how I structure most copy on most sites. Anything else looks like a cheap con trick.
Sometimes rational appeals aren’t enough
As the Don Draper method proves, sales aren’t always made by making convincing arguments.
They’re about touching something deeper within us — making an emotional connection between seller and purchaser and, ultimately, making sure the purchaser knows that they will feel something with this product.
After all, isn’t that what we want? We buy a new car, we buy new clothes, we buy a new breakfast cereal… we want to feel good about our purchase.
You may argue that some things are better sold with appeals to the heart (a new Porsche) while other things are sold with appeals to simple logic (does this new Dell give me more bang for my buck than the Sony? I’ll read a few reviews and find out!).
But anyone who believes it’s as black and white as this is over-simplifying. Apple, for example, have carved out an empire by building computers that appeal to the heart, while everyone else was building functional but ugly machines that appealed to the wallet. Consumers spoke with their wallets. They chose Apple.
And it’s this last point that’s the most important:
Appealing to people’s desires enables you to charge them based on perceived, rather than actual, value.
When you make a rational appeal to logic, a product is only worth as much as you value the functionality it gives you. (“This new laptop is twice as fast as my old one, has slightly better battery life, this is worth £750 of my money”).
But when you appeal to a person’s emotions, you are able to charge them as much as that feeling is worth to them — and that could be a great deal more. (This shiny new MacBook Air will make me feel great about myself. I love the way it looks! I simply have to have it at any price, even though the components are only worth £750!)
Based on this logic, then, it’s always best to include an appeal to the heart in any good marketing campaign — simply because it enables you to set prices based on people’s desires, based on perceived, rather than actual, value.
The Oatmeal’s formula therefore needs an addition:
1. This is the product.
2. This is what it does.
3. This is how it will make you feel.
A product that appeals to both head and heart is more likely to be successful than one that simply appeals to the head alone.