The psychology of marketing: influence and the power of persuasion

In recent blog posts we’ve explored several tactical methods for improving conversions rates,and while these practices certainly have proven benefits, we can’t focus all our energies on traffic-generating strategies. A key component of a great inbound marketer is the ability to understand the science behind what drives a consumer during the buying process.

Integrating behaviourism into your marketing strategy is a fail-safe way to increase your conversion rate and boost your web sales. Understanding the key psychological principles behind consumer behaviour can mean the difference between good content and persuasive content, which will better influence target audiences and allow them identify with a product or service.

Dr Robert B. Cialdini is Regents’ Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Marketing at Arizona State University and best known for his book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion in which he famously lists his “Six Principles of Influence.” Despite being published in 1984, the book’s foundations remain steadfast and relevant even as the digital marketing world evolves.

Cialdini’s Six Principles of Influence:

1. Reciprocity

The theory of reciprocity is that people generally strive to return favours, pay back debts and treat others in reflection of how they have been treated. Customers respond well when they are given something for free without being asked for anything upfront, hence the prevalence of free samples in marketing.

Action: From a digital perspective, evaluate what you have to offer (whitepapers, samples, free features, etc) and present it at no cost to your viewer. This small “gift” will generate a feeling of obligation with your audience who, as a result, will be more willing to concede their business.

2. Commitment

We, as humans, have an inherent need to be seen as consistent. Delivering on a promise is congruent with our self image, meaning that we want to see ourselves as an individual who stays true to his word. Once we have publicly committed to something or someone, we are much more likely to follow through with it.

Action: Havepotential customersmake a preliminary public commitment. Perhaps, before they receive an offer or sample, the consumer must share their pledge or support to your brand on one of his or her social networking sites.

Another option could be the length of a commitment. If you are a company who collects customers through memberships, consider lowering prices or offering rewards to customers who sign up for six months instead of three. The longer the commitment, the harder it will be for a customer to churn.

3. Social Proof

Social proof is apsychological phenomenon where people assume the actions of others in an attempt to reflect the appropriate behaviour in a given situation. For example, if everyone in the office is working late, we will be more inclined to stay late too. Social proof is a type of conformity; we are particularly susceptible to this principle when feeling uncertain and are even more likely to be influenced if the person we are modelling our actions after appear to be similar to us.

Action: The power of social proof can drastically improve conversion rates of a website, and the best part: there are several ways to incorporate it. Testimonials, reviews, feedback and social widgets (i.e. shares, likes, tweets) allow potential customers to be influenced by the opinions of the masses.

4. Authority

People have a tendency to obey those in positions of authority — a police officer, professor, government official.  This is why the most influential type of spokesperson is the Credible Communicator. This person is an expert in his or her field and demonstrates two key traits: knowledge and trustworthiness.

Action: If you have the ability to employ an expert as your spokesperson or communicator, do so. (For example, we often see pharmaceutical companies invite doctors or medical professionals to front their campaigns.) Or position yourself to be an expert by soliciting reviews from satisfied customers, bloggers or even friends and family.

Additionally, you can develop brand trustworthiness by saving your most compelling argument after you have mentioned a weakness. By admitting to a shortcoming, your viewers will see your brand as fair, honest and relateable.

5. Liking

According to Cialdini, “liking” someone is extremely meaningful as it affects the chance of being influenced by that individual. Liking someone is usually based on sharing something akin, whether that is a personality trait, goal, or value. Highlighting the parallels in you and your audience’s relationship is an effective way to further improve conversions.

Action: “About Us” or “Our Mission” pages serve as an opportunity to tell potential buyers about yourself/company and promote the similarities you share.

6. Scarcity

Perceived scarcity will generate demand as people tend tocrave more of something unavailable to them. The simple idea that something may be limited will alone spur action. For instance, we may purchase something immediately if we are told it is that last one, ensuring we do not miss the opportunity later on.

Action: Scarcity language is an important catalyst when persuading a viewer to take action.  “Only 2 Left at This Price” or “Offer ends in (x) hours” are examples of phrases that focus on the rarity of the offer and encourage buyers to act with a greater sense of urgency. TryA/B Testingyour landing pages to see which phrases promote more conversions.


Cialdini’s principles are paramount when you are looking to influence and persuade others. These truthsgive insight on howreach your audience on a deeper, emotional level and encourage them tofollow throughwith a desired action. It is important to be responsible with this strategy; if a customer feels they have been misled you’ll lose not only their business but run the risk of losing new business through bad reviews and feedback. Always use these principles honestly and ethically without misrepresentation.

Have you applied any ofthese sixprinciples of influence in your marketing strategies? Have you used any other physiological methods to improve your conversion rate? If so, leave a comment below and tell us how it worked for you!