Book Review - Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion

Book Review – Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion

Psychology has always been of some interest to me and even more so as my entrepreneurial journey continues.  Creating products and services is hard work.  Selling them is even harder.  Understanding why people behave the way they do and how to influence them towards purchasing my products helps me gain a competitive advantage.  As such, I carve out time to read about psychology (amongst other topics).  I recently finished reading Dr. Robert Cialdini’s book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion which I found to be quite interesting.  While I suspect Dr. Cialdini is targeting a broad audience of readers, I was reading the book from the perspective of both an app developer as well as an entrepreneur.  If you’re either one (or both) of those, then I highly recommend reading this book.  Throughout the book he introduces concepts or “rules” for influencing people and then provides multiple examples of the concept in action.  His style for explaining various psychological rules was effective in helping me not only understand them but also how to apply them to by ventures.

One of the first concepts he writes about is “fixed-action patterns” which are basically animal instincts (which we humans have) that are triggered by patterns we see or hear.  He gives an example of how female turkey’s can be tricked into thinking a stuffed toy polecat (polecat’s are enemies to turkeys) should be nurtured by having it make a “cheep-cheep” sound like a baby turkey.  And it works surprisingly well.  But when the “cheep-cheep” stops, the female turkey attacks the stuffed polecat.  All fine and good, but how to apply to business?  Well Dr. Cialdini provides an example of a series of experiments which were conducted where students are standing in line at a copying machine on a college campus and a “test” student wants to cut in line.  In the experiments, the “test” student says a variety of things to get in front of the line and not wait.  The take-away; using “because” in a sentence has a similar impact on humans as “cheep-cheep” does with turkey’s.  And in the sentence, the reason following “because” doesn’t really matter!  In the book he wrote that when the “test” student says “I have 5 pages.  May I use the Xerox machine because I have to make some copies?“, they were almost always allowed to cut in line.  The word because triggered those in line to allow the “test” student to cut.  Wow!  When talking with a prospect or writing sales copy, adding because into your pitch should help you, because it’s effective when influencing others (see what I did there?)

In another part of the book, Dr. Cialdini talks about and gives ample examples of the “rule of reciprocity”.  Basically when we human beings are given something from someone else, we feel indebted to give them something back.  And that feeling can last for a very long time – decades (read the book – fascinating).  For example, sometimes when you go to the grocery store there’s someone handing out free samples of cheese or crackers.  They’re doing that because they know if someone takes a free sample, there’s a high percent of them who will go on to purchase that product.  Here’s another great example of this occurs almost daily in our lives.  We all get ads in social media or an email that gives us some useful information for free on a topic which will help us achieve some goal in our lives.  Then they’ll tell us to click on a link to get more free information (i.e. an ebook, video, etc).  However, we need to provide an email address to them.  With the rule of reciprocity, they’ve provided us with some something (useful free content) with an offer for even more.  So we feel obliged to give them our email address since they’ve already given us something.  Powerful stuff.

There are plenty of other psychological insights and examples in this book.  While I try to read one book a month, this one took me about 1.5 months, partly because of a busy schedule with product launches, partly because some of the content takes a little more mental processing to follow.  While the book is rich in content, it doesn’t read like a text book, and it doesn’t read like a novel.  Aside from the examples I’ve provided in this blogpost, there are other nuggets from the book I’ve applied to my business.  I probably won’t use all of the various rules and concepts from the book, but I’m definitely using some.  This is also a book that needs to be read more than once.  The investment in my time to read (and study) this book was worth it.  I encourage you to read it too because you will find value in it.  And if you’re interested in how tech companies are using psychology in their apps to influence and “hook” children (and the rest of us), check this article out.  Fascinating read – enjoy!

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