Influence – The Psychology of Persuasion
By Robert Cialdini
Image thanks to amazon.com
I’m not a marketer; I have avoided it, sometimes intentionally, sometimes not. 14 years ago, I started an MBA program, mostly because my salary was stagnant. This makes sense when your undergraduate degree is in Comparative Literature with a minor in Chinese language. Of all the concentrations, I was least interested in Finance and Operations. I was most interested in Organization and Marketing. This was due to my half-formed belief that those disciplines were more people and creativity oriented. Much to my (and many of my friends’) surprise, I gravitated toward Finance and Operations. Who’d a thunk it?
Learning what little I did about Marketing, it has always struck me as… morally corrupt, premeditated, devious, and manipulative. This book describes how true that really is. There are knee-jerk responses that we all have that can be used to a marketer’s advantage, and to our disadvantage. How does the saying go? A fool and his money are soon parted.
The book was originally written in the 1980s, and it shows. Many of the examples would be lost on a younger reader, but they were fine for folks like myself, firmly into middle-age. For example, authority figures influence us. A good example in the book was of an experiment where a person in street clothes asked passers-by to pick up garbage and throw it away. The same person, this time wearing a security guard’s uniform, requests the same thing using the same language. They compared the compliance rate and showed that we really do respond. Another less successful example was of actor, Robert Young, selling decaffeinated coffee on TV. “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV.” I remember it. But unless you’re over 40, chances are it just goes over your head.
What I like about the book is the explanations of (if not why then at least) how we react to certain manipulation. Prof. Cialdini studied this stuff, so he wanted to figure out the mechanics. Why do companies give out free samples? Why do sales people engage you in conversation before the sales pitch? Why is there a laugh track on most comedy TV shows? Why have Tupperware parties? Why does a salesman always say there’s only one left in stock?
Even more useful is that Cialdini arms you against these tactics. He explains the psychology, and how you will automatically react to certain behaviors. Then he explains how you can de-couple yourself from the automatic reaction, and resist the sale.
Since the book was originally written in the 80s, some of the information is pretty well-known, at least to me. That doesn’t make it a bad read, however, just a bit obvious.