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May 16, 2013 / glennlim thots

The 6 Principles of Persuasive Marketing

ImageIn his seminal book “Psychology of Persuasion” (1984), Dr. Robert Cialdini outlined 6 key principles of influence that are still being practiced in today’s business, sales & marketing strategies. These principles form a theoretical understanding of the art of ‘conversion’. Eg) How does your business convert browsers into potential shoppers, and further convert them into buyers?

In the world of conversions, every little bit of persuasion counts. Here’s how you can use Cialdini’s 6 Principles of Persuasion to boost conversions:


People tend to return Favors. Which explains the pervasiveness of free samples, gifts, upfront benefits, incentives, free subscriptions etc. These are timeless marketing gimmicks that work the human psychology of ‘doing unto others what one wants others to do unto them’. Cialdini often cites the the example of Ethiopia providing thousands of dollars in humanitarian aid to Mexico just after the 1985 earthquake, despite Ethiopia suffering from a crippling famine and civil war at the time. Ethiopia had been reciprocating for the diplomatic support Mexico provided when Italy invaded Ethiopia in 1935. It is hard to so ‘no’ to someone’s request who has first given you something beforehand.

2) CONSISTENCY (or Commitment)

People are more likely to give in to a current request in order to honour an earlier smaller agreement. This is because this behaviour is perceived as being Consistent with their values & self-image. This is typical ‘foot-in-the-door’ syndrome at work, where smaller agreements tend to lead toward greater commitment at a later stage. Marketeers would get prospective clients to agree to ‘yes’-es that seem insignificant (like putting on a sticker, signing up your email address etc), and later on groom you to be their customer when the time is ripe. The timeless “Sir can you spare me 5mins for a survey we’re conducting” is classic salesmanship.

3) VALIDITY (or Social Proof)

People will do things that they see other people are doing. It is part of social conformity theory where we assume if lots of other people are doing something, then it must be OK, or even good (‘Safety in Numbers’). We rely on this social proof to validate the value of a product or service. In a way, we diffuse the risks of commitment by relying on evidence the community feeds back to us. That’s why we eat at a restaurant if it’s busy with a long queue. Or choose a certain route when we see people using that particular street to get somewhere. Or buy a particular brand when we observe its popularity and increased sales.


People will tend to obey authority figures. That’s why brands always try to associate themselves with notable people (celebrities, educators, prominent people) to add credibility to their products/services. Eg) Advertisers of pharmaceutical products employ doctors to front their campaigns;  A sporting company may engage an Olympic winner to sell their sports-wear etc. Job titles (Prof, Doctor etc), uniforms, and even accessories like cars or gadgets can lend an air of authority, and can persuade us to accept what these people say.


People are more likely to be influenced by people we like. Likability comes in many forms: people familiar to us, people similar to us, or we may just simply trust them. Marketing strategies like commission-based sales, referrals and MLM all use this principle where their sales agents come from within the community. People are more likely to buy from them because they are friends, family, relatives, or their neighbours, colleagues, or someone whom they know.


People tend to buy a product/service when their availability is limited, or when they stand to lose the opportunity to acquire them on favorable terms. We are more inclined to buy something if we’re told that it’s the last one, or that a special offer will soon expire. Online businesses like Ebay utilise this technique in their online auctions by incorporating time-limited scarcity. Luxury brands often market their products in limited edition range. Employing this principle creates and generates demand from shoppers. It works especially well for Singaporeans because of our ‘Kia-Su’ syndrome.


I hope you learnt just as much as I did in my own study & research in this field. May you reap yourself a bountiful result as you apply the above principles!…Glenn Lim


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