Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade by Robert Cialdini

Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade by Robert Cialdini

PRE-SUASION is a scary book.  Dr. Robert Cialdini presents scientific research that explains, in great detail, how consumer behavior can be changed.  Here's the key finding: It's not so much what you say during your sale's pitch--it's what comes just BEFORE that matters.

It is possible, the professor shows, to cleverly sensitize someone, so that they give much greater attention to certain ideas. For a short time, our "readied" minds will be open to accepting information, and give it more attention than otherwise: "After we attend to a specific concept, those closely linked to it enjoy a privileged moment within our minds, acquiring influence that nonlinked concepts simply can't match."

This influence can even be something you aren't even aware you saw or heard. It might be a banner ad that only displayed briefly; it could be music, it could be color, it could be a big number displayed.  Once our attention is "readied," we will pay attention to related ideas--and give them credence:

"Once an eye opener concept received our attention, closely associated secondary concepts become more accessible in consciousness, which greatly improves the chance that we will attend and respond..."

The professor cites one test where a web page for a furniture store showed clouds in the background. This comfy background got the customer to think of comfort. This sensitized the customer to be more open to the quality and comfort of the furniture on sale.

If you want to encourage helpfulness, a simple photo of two people standing next to each other will sensitize you to be more helpful.  Similarly, If you see a photo of an athlete, you will subconsciously become more goal-oriented.  

An influencer could even use video games. Certain "pro-social" video games have been shown to influence behavior afterwards: "After playing such games, players become more willing to help clean up a spill..."  Conversely, violent games "plant aggression-related thoughts in players' heads..."

The professor identifies another principle--it's a little trickier--but even more alarming. He puts it this way: "What's focal is assumed causal."  That is, what a person sees prominently tends to be considered the CAUSE of some result. For example, if the leader of a team is shown, the leader is granted credit for the team's accomplishments--more than actually warranted.  

Here's a frightening example: What if you are on trial, and the video filmed by the detectives shows only YOU?

Research shows that if you are the only one shown on the video, viewers will tend to assume you are the cause of the crime--just because you're the only one in the video!  (Practical tip: If you find yourself being interrogated by the police, the professor recommends moving so that the detective is also shown in the video, or refusing to be videotaped. If questioned, the author recommends blaming this book!)

These findings should scare you; putting the methods in a "cook book"  should scare you more. Dr. Cialdini admits that by providing such powerful tools to marketeers, he is creating an ethical issue.  Won't firms jump on these techniques to manipulate the consumers?  Yes, he admits he is worried about that too.

The professor had initially hoped that companies would hesitate to use these tactics to manipulate customers, for fear of getting exposed. To his dismay, however, he discovered that companies will use them anyway!  So, at the end of the book the author presents arguments for ethical conduct, which he hopes companies will adopt. For example, he cites evidence showing how dishonest companies will have worse employee morale, turnover, and employee productivity. He also urges company boards to include metrics such as honesty as part of management compensation.

All in all, I found PRE-SUASION to be a well-researched, scholarly book (maybe a little TOO well researched?)  The book is well-written, and easy to follow. Dr. Cialdini includes tons of endnotes with scientific research supporting his conclusions. The tactics suggested here have lots of marketing implications.  Many of them scary ones.

Advance Review Copy courtesy of the publisher.

Photos courtesy of: Christopher Campbell,  Abo Ngalonkulu,  Laura Lee Moreau

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