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“The Art of Pre-Suasion”: Key Insights from Robert Cialdini’s New Book

If you’re involved in sales or marketing in any form, you’ve almost certainly heard about Robert Cialdini and read his classic book “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.”


And if you haven’t, make it the next one on your list—you won’t regret it.


The concepts he wrote about in the book, especially the “Six Principles of Influence,” have been used for over 30 years and used in everything from advertisements to landing pages to job interviews and more.


Being involved in conversion optimization, we’re big fans of his work. Although the book is not aimed at marketers, the insights it contains are put to use every day by marketing and sales professionals to ethically persuade prospects to take action.


And now—30 years later—he’s come up with a sequel.


“Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade” builds upon the science of persuasion, and it is destined to become another classic.


Here are a few key insights taken from the book that you can put to use in your own marketing material.



The Seventh Principle of Influence


Perhaps the most important information in the new book concerns an addition to the original “Six Principles of Influence.”


We’ve written on a number of these principles in the past, including social proof, and they are incredibly useful for landing pages and sales copy of any kind.


This new seventh principle is “Unity.”


Unity in this sense is where the prospect has a sense of shared identity with the influencer.


If you’re familiar with the original six principles, this might sound similar to the “Liking” principle, in which similarities with other people create a greater ability to persuade.


But Cialdini suggests that Unity is something far deeper.


He suggests that family ties are one of the most important types of Unity because people are influenced far more when something involves their family.


He uses the example of a letter that Warren Buffett sent to shareholders where he addressed them as though he was addressing a family member, which made the letter more persuasive.


But Unity could also involve groups based on ethnicity, shared interests, etc. If an individual identifies with being a member, Unity has a more powerful effect on them.


According to Cialdini, in this principle, the members feel at one with the other members.


In this article in ConversionXL, Alex Birkett suggests that this is essentially step number 3 in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which is the “need to belong.”


If we belong to a group or feel that we do, we are more likely to be open to attempts at persuasion.


The article also goes on to highlight some of the real-world techniques you can incorporate into your own marketing, including:


  • Using specific jargon to connect
  • Suggesting exclusivity
  • Differentiating yourself from the rest
  • Using family ties and language related to the family
  • Use location-based ties


It’s a good read—check it out if you get the chance.



The Importance of Timing


Another big focus of the book is the importance of timing, especially in relation to the “Reciprocation” principle of persuasion.


Cialdini gives an example of the reciprocation technique where the dean of a university he was visiting called him and told him all about the great office he would have when he arrived. Directly after describing the office, the dean then asked Cialdini to teach a class.


Even though Cialdini would have less time to work on his book if he taught the class, he agreed.


He later realized that if he had been asked the day after the conversation, he probably would have refused. But being asked in the moment influenced his response.


This was “timing” at work.


When it comes to reciprocation, it is more powerful when it comes directly after the favor. He looks into this in other examples.


One of these was where residents in Holland were asked to complete a survey. When told they would receive a cash reward for doing so, the response rate was low. But when they were given the gift in advance, there was a higher response rate—even though they could have easily kept the money.


In “Pre-Suasion,” Cialdini suggests that people react differently based on the mindset they are in.


He highlights an experiment where two groups of subjects watched one of two movies (one group watched a romantic movie and one a scary movie) and then saw an ad encouraging them to visit a museum.


Depending upon which movie they watched, they reacted differently—even though neither movie was related to museums.


The ad highlighted that the museum received over a million visitors a year. But while this impacted on the scary movie watchers, it did not affect the romantic movie watchers as much.


Again, this shows the importance of timing—getting prospects into the right mindset played a huge role in their ability to be persuaded.



Getting Prospects into the Right Mindset


In an interview with Cialdini by Dan Schawbel, Cialdini describes “pre-suasion” as “the process of gaining agreement with a message before it’s been sent.”


It’s all about creating a state of mind that is consistent with the message you are about to deliver, getting people attuned to the message so there is more chance that they will react positively.


He highlights a good example where researchers asked a group of people to help with a marketing survey and 29% agreed. They then asked another group of individuals whether they considered themselves to be helpful before asking them to do the survey—and 77.3% agreed.


Why? Because most of them responded to the first question that they were helpful, and they were then in the right mindset to want to prove this.



How Can You Use This in Your Own Marketing?


There are a number of ways you can put the principles to use in your own marketing. Roger Dooley provides some insights after reading the book, which is worth checking out.


He uses another example from the book where recruiters for a religious cult asked people “Are you unhappy?” before trying to get them to join.


This put people in a negative frame of mind and made them focus on the things in their lives that were bad. As a result, they were more open to the idea that the cult could help them.


You could, therefore, focus on the negative in a question to get your prospects into the right frame of mind. Rather than ask potential customers whether they are happy with their current solution, ask them whether they are unhappy with it—which could increase their interest in changing it.


It’s certainly worth testing.



Focus on Avoiding Loss


Another principle Cialdini highlights in the interview is that when presented with uncertainty, people are more likely to avoid losses than they are to get gains.


This is a tactic that you can use directly in your marketing materials.


So, rather than focus on the benefits your prospects will get, focus on what they will be missing out on.


Cialdini uses the example of an advertisement for a Bose Wave Music System that was unsuccessful. But when the words “Hear what you’ve been missing” were added to the ad, it became more successful.



Read the Book


Make sure you add the book to your reading list and take a look when you can. It’s a welcome return from Cialdini, and the experiments he includes provide some fascinating insights into the art of persuasion.


If you’re involved in sales or marketing of any kind, it’s a must-read.

Author avatar
Jason Corgiat
Jason Corgiat founded LeapGo to be a website development company that offers a consultative approach. “We don’t expect our clients to know everything. They come to us with expectations that we will look out for them and make suggestions based on experience or data. We structure all of our services to create accountability on our part. It’s a refreshing change for most clients when we ask them to hold us at a high standard.” Jason’s experience and ability to identify and solve problems quickly and efficiently is what draws people to him. When asked, a recent client stated “Working with Jason has been a great experience. He and his team came in and completely turned around a failing web property of ours. We though it was dead and were about to shut it down but now it’s one of our most profitable websites.” Small business website to corporate ecommerce, local SEO to multi-million dollar digital marketing campaign, Jason has been a part of it all. Since founding his web development company in 2001 Jason has made many public speaking appearances, been on the radio, quoted in several magazines and most recently had a 7 page interview published in a website design book by author Bruce C. Brown.

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