Ask any marketing professional to list their “top 10 must-reads”, and you’d be hard-pressed to find one who doesn’t find space for Robert Cialdini’s Influence. Often credited with bringing social psychology into the mainstream, it has sold over 3 million copies and been translated into 30 languages.
In his new book, Pre-Suasion, Cialdini has produced another future classic. One that could (again) revolutionise the way organisations and individuals prepare and deliver their attempts to influence others.
The central idea of Pre-Suasion is that, by guiding preliminary attention, it is possible to make someone more receptive to your message before they encounter it.
Take for example the ‘Valentine Study’.
An attractive young woman approaches two random samples of middle-aged men, all walking alone along a busy Paris street. Pointing to a pack of ruffians, she claims that they have stolen her mobile phone and asks the men to get it back for her.
In the first sample of men, a meagre 20% approached the pack.
But in the second sample, almost 40% did.
Why The Difference?
Minutes before, all the men had been approached by another attractive young woman asking for street directions.
The first sample were asked for the whereabouts of ‘Martin Street’.
The second: ‘Valentine Street’.
How did one word double the amount of men receptive to the second woman’s plea?
Because the word Valentine, with all its romantic associations, had channelled the men’s thoughts into the kind of ideas one might associate with lover’s holiday, St. Valentine’s Day.
This meant the second woman acted as trigger. Her request perfectly aligned with the men’s psychological states at the time, making them more susceptible the request than their Martin Street peers. .
So sex sells right? Nothing new here?
The mere request of an attractive woman wasn’t enough (as some would speculate). Most men needed an appropriate ‘pre-suasive opener’ before going vigilante.
Something “Martin Street” couldn’t achieve.
Which explains, as Cialdini notes, why throwing half-naked humans on adverts for products that have no sexual associations (washing-up liquid and the like) is often a completely ineffective attempt to boost sales. *
Whereas bare flesh on adverts for products like lipstick and scents are, generally speaking, much more likely to be successful. Primarily because they tap into the same associative behaviours seen in the Valentine Study.
Who Is Pre-Suasion For Then?
Anybody who communicates.
Yes, the business applications are evident throughout. In fact, there are countless practical examples that marketers could (and probably will) apply straight away.
But that doesn’t make this a “business text”. It is first and foremost a book on social psychology.
And for those of you who have been using Cialdini’s “six principles of persuasion” for years, then Pre-suasion will act as an invaluable guide on how optimise them.
Oh, it’s also worth mentioning that there’s now a “seventh principle of persuasion”. So even if you’re a bit sceptical of this revolutionary way to influence and persuade, it’s probably worth picking up a copy for that fact alone.
* It’s worth noting that advertisers can “construct associations” between two seemingly incompatible concepts – creating “strategically fashioned pairings”. For example an attractive celebrity and a sports drink.
A lazy attempt to sexualise washing-up liquid won’t, however, have quite the same effect.