Influence: 6 psychological triggers to boost marketing and sales

“Influence”, by Robert Cialdini

One of my favorite books is Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, by Robert Cialdini. The book covers some fascinating psychological hooks that serve to convince someone to something, with examples of how these traps are created and even how to escape.

Despite being intended for marketing and sales professionals, the construction of the story and examples are in different spheres, from Communist China to a Machiavellian shock experiment.

“Click, whirr”

Your brain reacts when activated by any kind of stimulae (Pavlov)

Each trigger’s main objective is to activate the brain’s autopilot sense in what the author calls a click, whirr – an immediate response to a stimulus, which does not go through the rational decision. Therefore, if the environment does “this”, I will do “that” without noticing.

And for those who master these hacks, the “that” is usually just the desired action.

I will briefly explain and comment on the psychological triggers just out of curiosity. There are excellent summaries on the Internet, like this one, and I recommend reading the complete work.

Triggers can be remixed, combined, hidden, or explicit, but when you start to notice, you see that they are in almost any action to convince someone – whether to buy, to participate, or to change their opinion.


Reciprocity: If you do something, I’ll do something

If I do something, you do something in return.

That is why the saying “give first to receive later” exists. This is the basic principle of reciprocity, which can be “adulterated” in several ways.

Many marketing strategies (hello, inbound!) Follow this line: they offer something for free, give valuable material, nurture their potential contacts before finally doing business.

Gifting, the practice of giving gifts to stakeholders and potential customers, also comes from there. And it doesn’t even have to be a big gift: just having received something already lets the person’s brain understand that he is “owing” something to the other.

Commitment & Consistency

Chaplin and consistency: keep doing it

People tend to maintain a standard of consistency once they are committed to following a behavior. This is natural and inherent to human beings.

The big question is when you can hack precisely where it will apply this consistency to lead you to the “inevitable” conclusion of buying the idea, product, or service you are offering.

This psychological trigger serves many purposes: from getting a better performance from people on your team (through a public commitment, for example) to ensuring the repurchase of a particular brand.

Many sales start with a question (“Do you consider yourself a person with a great culture?”) Because they know that once the answer is affirmative, the individual will do anything to maintain the image he has created of himself (commitment and consistency of message ).

It is also the case with many product launches that start with a small and cheaper version and then actually charge it. Once “committed” to that perceived benefit or value, the consumer increases their disbursement almost without realizing it (it is one of the principles of upsell).

Social feedback

Herd bias is inherently affected by this social trigger

“Such a friend likes company X”. We see this every day on social media, but the psychological trigger comes long before the Internet. A recommendation is one of the most powerful ways to convince someone.

If you are looking for a product or service and you are my friend (or have me as a reference in some area), and I refer you to such a supplier, this company has the support of all my share capital to close a deal with you.

When a celebrity runs a campaign, it is almost purely that. When Neymar makes a Nike campaign, what the company wants is to activate the mechanism in the heads of thousands of fans: “Wow, I want to be like Neymar, soon I will buy the item”.

Referral marketing – particularly one of the strategies I like most – is very much based on this psychological trigger.

But social feedback doesn’t just work indirectly. Show off the number of downloads of an app, reviews of books or series, product placement, work with influencers, queuing in front of the restaurant. In the end, we are followers.

Affinity / Similarity

“Oh wow does he look like me”, therefore I’ll believe and buy

This is the most subtle: you buy more or believe more in those you like. You purchase from who has a more social affinity, or even who you think is beautiful or looks more like you. Or who pleads the same causes as you.

And brands are increasingly appropriating points close to us to have more affinity with us. The relationship on social networks, the endorsement of causes, the seller being similar to you both physically and socioeconomically.

Even the design comes into this trigger: when the interface is more beautiful, you tend to buy more (and more quickly).


Did you ever wonder why you believe more on someone with a medical jacket?

Have you ever wondered why mattress store sellers wear a white coat? They are not doctors, I guarantee you. It is because of the authority trigger: people tend to respect (or “buy”) the opinions of those who have or say they have authority over the matter.

The authority can be real or “forged”, as in the case of mattress stores and in thousands of unreliable stories that end with a “says British study”, “say experts” and others. It is an attempt to authorize information with authority.

This class includes titles (Professor, Doctor, Master), clothes (lab coat is the most evident case with the military uniform, but lawyers use well-cut suits also to generate authority) and other elements (well decorated office, glasses , luxury cars, etc.).


Diamonds are expensive because they are rare – we tend to value what is scarce

“Last two rooms available!”, says any hotel booking platform. Humans tend to give more sense of value to what is urgent or scarce. This tactic has been used for a long time. But not just for retail: the luxury market is based almost entirely on scarcity – diamond is as expensive as it is rare.

Limited collector’s editions, “last pieces,” time counted to make the purchase… What is scarce has a perceived value much higher than what is abundant. Exclusivity sells very well too.

A mechanism related to scarcity is the FOMO “Fear Of Missing Out” (you can’t miss it!). The scarce sale has always existed, but the Internet is giving good new examples with tactics such as a counter for last vacancies, a timer with the time running to the end of the offer, the entry in the social network “by invitation only … Until Black Friday is a shortage sale.

What’s your edge?

The book is excellent and uses much more psychological examples (and it’s great to see things working out of your market to establish the correlation).

As with many new learnings, once you have seen it you cannot “unveil” that knowledge – so now I am looking for psychological triggers everywhere, from advertising campaigns to sales speeches to stories told at Sunday lunch.

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