This is a brief summary and commentary of the book “Influence” by Dr. Robert Cialdini. First published in 2006, it is still mentioned as a seminal book in the understanding of persuasion, therefore a valuable resource for marketing of any type.

I Read the Book for 3 Reasons

  1. To gain new insights into marketing
  2. To compare the insights with current digital marketing practices
  3. To determine if any of my methods are aligned or at odds with his teaching

My methods are based on observations and experience with no official academic credentials. Cialdini is a Distinguished professor in Marketing and Psychology.

This isn’t meant to be a comprehensive summary, review or rating of the book. Those are easily found on-line.

Cialdini identifies six categories of influence and calls these “short-cuts to decision making”. He maintains that our ever increasing pace of daily living results in our increased reliance on these short-cuts.

I believe Cialdini’s “short-cuts,” are essentially the same concept as “heuristics,” which are the subject of Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking Fast and Slow”. Kahneman’s work is the more academic of the two and reveals more non-intuitive insights. If you’ve got the time, both are worthwhile reads.

I found virtually all of Cialdini’s conclusions to be obvious common sense. A lot of bestselling nonfiction authors simply call our attention to aspects of our lives that are common sense. There’s nothing wrong with that. The ability to quantify, qualify and communicate the obvious is kinda genius in my opinion.

Cialdini’s Six Factors of Influence

  • Commitments
  • Reciprocation
  • Compliant Behavior of Similar Others
  • Feelings of Liking or Friendship
  • Authority Directives
  • Scarcity

Cialdini repeatedly refers to the companies and individuals that use these tactics as the, Compliance Professionals.  Perhaps he is trying to coin a phrase to add buzz to his book.  Unfortunately, this term is already established for an entirely different purpose. The National Society of Compliance Professionals is a nonprofit, membership organization dedicated to serving and supporting compliance officials in the securities industry.  Perhaps an editor should have checked.

Commitment: This is our tendency to not deviate from a prior position. It is a social construct that equates consistency of commitment to moral character. If we make a promise to do something, we rarely back-out. If circumstances require us to change our mind, we experience a sense of guilt.

I’ve see this in action with on-line digital products. A personal example:

A very compelling case was presented for a product. I charged the item on my credit card. Later, I concluded the quality of the content was not up to my expectations. This wasn’t actual deception on the part of the seller. The item was simply priced as a premium, and in my opinion the quality did not equal the price. But, I made the decision (the commitment) and I never considered cancelling the charge on my card.

Reciprocation: This is the tendency to feel compelled to offer something in return when someone has offered you something. This is a big trend in digital marketing. It often takes the form of content marketing. A company is providing you lots of high quality free information. Periodically they hit you with an offer to purchase their product. At some underlying emotional level, you feel obligated to reciprocate. As long as you’re paying a fair price for a quality product, there’s absolutely nothing shady about this.

I’m a fan of this idea, both as a recipient and a provider. It’s a way to build a relationship with you audience prior to actually becoming a customer or provider.

Compliant Behavior of Others: This is easily characterized as “everyone else is doing it, so it must be okay”. Digital markets can use this by pointing our how many customers they have, their market share percentage or name-drop some famous names. If everyone else is purchasing this, then it must be a good product and I should purchase it too.

This influence worked on me when I decided to read this book. The volume of positive reviews made me believe the book was a, “must read.”

I don’t believe there is anything inherently exploitive about this either. Just make sure the numbers are real and relevant.

Authority: The tendency to believe the opinions of those in positions of authority. This isn’t a bad thing. If the person is a physician or attorney it would be smart to respect their opinion. This factor can also be abused. When a popular actor that played the role of a doctor, endorses a specific brand of aspirin, why should that carry authority?

Authority also influenced my decision to review this book. Some of the glowing reviews were by authorities in business and marketing.

Friendship: We are more likely to take the advice and grant a request of someone we consider a friend.

Are you really friends with your internet marketer? It depends.

I support the notion that any company that provides a quality product or service, and forms authentic digital connections with their consumers – is forming a virtual friendship.

Are there plenty of company that just want your buck and to never hear from you again. Yes!  Not long ago I conducted a little research on a product manufactured by a company that will remain unnamed.  The vast majority of the reviews of this product were abysmal. Typically, the product broke within a week.

Scarcity: This is the idea that we have an increased desire for something that is in limited demand.

This is leveraged by digital marketers in the form of specials that are available for a limited time or quantity. Some web sites actually have a countdown timer that allegedly indicates how long the special offer will be available. But you can go to a new browser window and start up a new session with a fresh countdown.

What about e-books that are discounted the first two weeks after release. This is intended to build momentum, perhaps word-of-mouth.  After this initial period, the price goes up to the full advertised price. What if 3 months later the author decides to run another special at 50% discount? What if they continue to experiment with the pricing over the next 12 months, searching for the sweet spot. 

If you’re in a business that depends on repeat customers, that doesn’t seem like a way to build trust.

At the end of the book, Cialdini makes a comment about certification. Curious, I searched on-line and discovered he has formed a for profit company called Influence at Work. They offer a variety of services related to what is called the Cialdini’s Principles of Persuasion.

Quoting from their website: “The process of earning the designation of the Cialdini Method Certified Trainer is rigorous and demanding. Many try and only a few are selected.” (I’m not making this up.)

My first thought: How many of his methods of, “influence,” has he used in the book to persuade me to pursue this certification.

Using the book as a pitch for his company’s other products, tempts me to move this work from the category of “popular academics” to “marketing pitch”.

I guess the book did teach me something after all.

The Bottom Line

It’s useful to understand the psychology of influence, so we can understand our own responses and determine if we’re being manipulated.  We can also utilize these psychological tools in our own business, in authentic, non-manipulative ways.