3 Studies In Persuasion That Will Change How You Market Your Business

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We’ve all encountered persuasion before, especially in a retail setting…

You have questions about a product that you’re interested in, so you seek out someone to get advice. At some point, however, your conversation turns from a helpful exchange to a horrible pitch.

Instead of gathering information, you feel like you’re being manipulated into buying – and you turn skeptical.

So, what causes this transformation? And how does your mind know when you’re being sold to?

Here’s one clue:

Recently, a couple of marketing and behavioral science professors – Kurt Carlson of Georgetown University and Suzanne Shu of the University of California, Los Angeles – set out to test the validity of a common sales tactic:

The idea that you should cram as many positive descriptors into a message as possible.

For instance, you’ve likely heard the benefits of having prospects or clients say “yes” (whether vocally or mentally) as often as possible in sales situations. The common belief is that this approach ensures your conversation stays positive.


Well, Carlson and Shu found fault with this theory.

In fact, their study revealed that in ads, speeches, and messages with persuasive intent, going beyond three claims triggers skepticism and reverses an initially positive impression.

They made this discovery after studying responses from several persuasive scenarios.

Hundreds of research subjects were asked to read descriptions on items such as packaging for a cereal brand, a billboard promoting a local restaurant, or a shampoo ad for a magazine. Each message had as few as one, or as many as six reasons to buy in.

The results led to what’s referred to as the “charm of three,” explained in this study excerpt:

“Having some claims can be seen as informative, but a large number of claims is easily perceived as a persuasion tactic. Consistent with the persuasion knowledge model, once a target perceives that a message that might otherwise have been seen as informative is actually a persuasion tactic, the meaning of the message is switched and coping begins.”

Now, of course, the “charm of three” probably isn’t applicable to all persuasive settings. It is, however, worth keeping in mind when writing your next marketing piece.

Okay, so now let’s look at the above sales situation from the opposite perspective…

Those times when you’re trying to persuade prospects who know they should take you up on your offer – but don’t follow through for some reason.

Maybe it’s a money situation… A lack of information… A trust issue… Or possibly they’re just frustrated with part of your sales process…

Whatever the case, adding one piece of social proof to your marketing can help fix this problem.

Now, I’m not talking about something as common a testimonial, case study, or review. What I’m sharing with you today targets a far deeper desire…

In fact, it hits at the heart of three fundamental human motivations (as detailed by Steve J. Martin in The Small BIG: Small Changes That Spark Big Influence):

  1. To make accurate decisions as efficiently as possible
  2. To affiliate with and gain the approval of others
  3. To see oneself in a positive light

You see, our brains are wired to follow the crowd, so mimicking the actions of others is often seen as a shortcut to good decisions and acceptance (see motivations #1 and #2).

As such, it’s critical that you explain, in your marketing, how many others similar to your target audience already took action on your offer.

Of course, you must be honest. Please don’t fabricate numbers to create fake appeal. Doing so only leads to lost credibility.

One example Martin shares in his book comes from Britain’s Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs, the agency tasked with collecting the country’s taxes. Martin and his team were brought in to help reduce the number of late-payers.

Previously, most efforts focused on repeated threats of fines and legal action.

Martin and his team, though, tapped persuasive science by simply adding one sentence to the agency’s standard letter. It told recipients of the large number of citizens who paid their taxes on time.

This single line led to collecting 86% percent of the outstanding debt. For comparison, in the previous year, just 57% of the outstanding debt was collected.

One sentence that explained what most others are doing literally brought in billions in overdue revenue.

Incredible, isn’t it?

You may have seen a similar concept carry over to hotel towel use. After all, how many times do you see signs suggesting you do the environment a favor and reuse your towel?

Well, researchers Dan and Chip Heath from Stanford University discovered a way to actually get more people to take this action.

The change in behavior only required (again) a single sentence. In their study, they increased towel reuse by 26% with a sign that said:

The majority of guests at the hotel reuse their towels at least once during their stay.

Notice again how this sentence tells what many others are doing.

So think about it…

How can you incorporate the actions of others into your offers?

By Tom Trush

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