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The Art Of Persuasion

By Wayne Davies
21st April, 2009


Author: Wayne Davies

Human beings share six tendencies that allow us to be persuaded.

None of us is immune to these tendencies, which is what makes them so useful to those of us who want to sell products over the Internet. These six tendencies are...

  1. Scarcity
  2. Authority
  3. Reciprocation
  4. Social validation
  5. Friendship
  6. Consistency

This article takes a brief look at each of these six tendencies, and discusses how to use them in your online business.

For a more in-depth discussion see Dr. Robert Cialdini's brilliant book Influence: the Psychology of Persuasion.


We tend to want something more if it's hard to get. This tendency harks back to a time when everything worth having (food, clothing, shelter) was in short supply.

Most people in the western world no longer have to struggle to provide food, clothing, and shelter so our focus has shifted toward luxury items. And our tendency to place value on scarce items has shifted with it. That's why people are prepared to pay huge sums of money for the works of dead painters. After all, once an artist is dead there will be no new works.

You can take advantage of this tendency in your advertising. The easiest way to impose scarcity is to make a special offer, and then place a time limit on it.

A time-limited offer not only forces the prospect to make an immediate decision, but has the additional bonus (for you) of punishing procrastination.


Authority is an increasingly important tool to advertisers.

Anyone who lives in a modern western country is bombarded with information, and tends to rely on 3rd party experts when forming opinions about matters outside his or her immediate area of knowledge.

Popular methods of utilizing authority in advertising include...

Essentially, the advertiser is borrowing authority from a 3rd party. While you can borrow authority to promote any product, you must ensure that your 3rd party is a credible source of information in the mind of your prospect.


Most people are more likely to comply with a request when...

Reciprocation works because most of use feel the need to pay our own way, and are uncomfortable accepting something for nothing. Reciprocation may also reinforce the power of friendship and consistency.

Most advertisers use reciprocation by giving out a free sample, hoping to demonstrate the usefulness of their product. Unfortunately, this technique is so common on the Internet that it has lost some of its power.

As people get used to receiving free samples, and realize that this is merely part of the marketing for that product, the less inclined they feel to reciprocate (that's why I don't offer free samples).

Social validation

Sheep tend follow the leader. People aren't unlike sheep, in that we tend to do what other people do.

We're influenced by the television we watch, the results of opinion polls, and the opinions of the people we meet every day.

Even better, from an advertiser's perspective, is the fact that most people are completely unaware of this tendency. That makes social validation a very powerful tool.

Common ways to use social validation in advertising include...

If your best friend raves about how great a product is, chances are it will carry more weight than it does when the advertiser tells you.


The more you like someone, the more likely you are to comply with a request they make of you. In fact, you may even feel honored by such a request.

Friendship isn't an easy tendency to apply on the web, because you're essentially selling to complete strangers. This tendency requires that you establish a personal relationship with the prospect. Chances are, if you're selling a $20 product on behalf of someone else, there's no direct relationship at all.

Of course, you can still make your website as friendly to the visitor as possible. You'll help the process of winning over new friends if you supply a lot of useful information for free (reciprocation) on your website, and answer queries quickly and efficiently.


A person is more likely to take a specific action if he or she has already made a public commitment to do so. That's because we tend to want to demonstrate consistency in our lives.

Your use of this tendency can be as simple as getting your prospect to complete a short survey.

For example, a person selling banner advertising might ask 3 yes/no questions in a survey...

Do you use online advertising? 
Do you pay for online advertising? 
Do you buy banner advertising?

Elsewhere on the page, the person conducting the survey may run an ad that promotes banner advertising. Not only is the advertiser more likely to get a visit, they're also more likely to get the sale.

Of course, you need to find a way to get the prospect to take the survey in the first place. And the survey needs to have a credible purpose.

In the above example the advertiser might explain the need to understand what buyers of banner advertising want, and offer 100 free banner ads as a reward for taking the survey. This achieves the following...

The final page of the survey should thank the prospect for his or her answers (friendship), and immediately collect the necessary information required to display the prospect's banner.

Once that information is collected (giving you contact information and strengthening the relationship), the advertiser can present a one-off special offer (scarcity) that allows the prospect to add more banner advertising to his or her account at a special low price.

Chances are, the advertiser will get the sale!

Even if the sale is refused, the advertiser can still go back to the prospect with another offer when the 100 banners have been delivered.

The big challenge

None of us is immune to the six tendencies, and they can easily be incorporated into your sales approach.

One excellent method for coming up with unique ways of developing a new sales approach is to take this challenge. Give yourself one day to find five different ways to sell your product.

Each sales approach you develop should include a minimum of three of the tendencies discussed in this article.

This isn't as easy as it sounds! By forcing yourself to find five different ways to sell your product, you'll come up with at least one that is very effective. You can then try all five and see which one produces the most sales.


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