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Pre-Suasion by Robert Cialdini

Charles Cherney

Passionate about teaching after graduating from Harvard, I ultimately found myself drawn into the world of real estate in Cambridge and Somerville...

Passionate about teaching after graduating from Harvard, I ultimately found myself drawn into the world of real estate in Cambridge and Somerville...

Oct 24 6 minutes read

Pre-Suasion (2016) is by Robert Cialdini, who was made famous by his earlier book Influence (1984 and revised in 2006). In Pre-Suasion, Cialdini "identifies what savvy communicators do before delivering a message to get it accepted." The best persuaders become the best," he posits, through pre-suasion - the process of arranging for recipients to be receptive to a message before they encounter it."

It's hard to believe that customers in a wine shop are more likely to purchase a French wine if they hear a French song playing in the shop. It's hard to believe, but it's true. "What we present first changes the way people experience what we present to them next." often leads to Y, so it is worthwhile to pay attention to X.

As it happens, most people prefer a good choice rather than multiple good choices. Many select the first good choice that comes along. "Although in an ideal world one would work and wait until the optimal solution emerged, in the real world of mental overload, limited resources and deadlines," making a satisfactory choice that suffices is the norm. One and done is not uncommon. Being first in line has its advantages: "captured attention does indeed provide pre-suasive leverage to a communicator."

It will come as no surprise that information about one's own self is a persuasive attention magnet. That is, the messenger is likely going to be more successful if he or she talks to you about yourself. For example, the guiding vision of the Charles Cherney Team at Compass is "Making Your Next Move a Reality." In our message, we are speaking to you about your move. You are the hero; we are the guide. Cialdini drives home the point that your audience is more likely to pay attention to you when your audience understands that it is the star of the show. Self-relevance is "the superglue of attention."

Other realities play a role when it comes to attention. For example, take mystery."Considered the most famous painting of all time, da Vinci's Mona Lisa has raised unanswered questions from the start. Is she smiling? If so, what does the smile signify? And how did the artist produce so enigmatic an expression? Despite continuing debate, one thing is clear: The unresolved mysteries account for a significant portion of the attention."

Or consider the power of exposure to certain words or images. In one study, individuals who were shown a photo of a runner winning a race before making fund-raising calls for a university outperformed other callers who were not shown any such picture. Remarkable.

Cialdini writes, "The basic idea of pre-suasion is that by guiding preliminary attention strategically, it's possible for a communicator to move recipients into agreement with a message before they experience it." For example, "visitors steered to a furniture store website with fluffy clouds in the background of its landing page preferred comfortable sofas - because fluffiness and comfort were related in their previous experience." We are all capable of being influenced by these kinds of realities. No one is influence-proof.

Cialdini ultimately takes a step back in the book and explores how the principles of reciprocation, liking, social proof, authority, scarcity and consistency are effective general generators of acceptance and play key roles in influencing decisions.

Reciprocation. People say yes to those they owe. "In one study, shoppers at a candy store became 42% more likely to make a purchase if they'd received a gift piece of chocolate upon entry."

Liking. People say yes to those they like. Being friendly and attractive and humorous matter. And so, too, does highlighting similarities and providing compliments.

Compliments. Compliments nourish and sustain. "Consider what happened in one hair salon when stylists complimented customers by saying, 'Any hairstyle would look good on you.' Their tips rose by 37%. Compliments cause people to feel that you like them, and once they come to recognize that you like them, they'll want to do business with you."

"People don't care how much you know
until they know how much you care."
- Theodore Roosevelt.

Social Proof. "The principle asserts that people think it is appropriate for them to believe, feel, or do something to the extent that others, especially comparable others, are believing, feeling or doing it." We say to ourselves, everyone else is buying a lotto ticket for the big drawing, so I will as well. Or consider this: Restaurant managers can increase the demand for particular dishes on their menus simply by labeling the items as "most popular" dishes.

Authority. "The messenger is the message. When a legitimate expert on a topic speaks, people are usually persuaded." Especially if the messenger is deemed trustworthy.

Scarcity.  "We want more of what we can have less of." At one large grocery chain, brand promotions that included a purchase limit ("Only x per customer") more than doubled the sales for seven different types of products compared with promotions for the same products that didn't include a purchase limit.

Towards the end of the book, Cialdini touches on a couple other things that can be said about the universal principles of influence. The first is unity. We favor someone that is one of us. Unity is not about similarities but about shared identities. "People often fail to distinguish correctly between themselves and in-group members." Family first. The other is place. Being of or from the same place as another often makes us favor someone over another. We perceive a connection.

Overall, reading Robert Cialdini's book has heightened my awareness of the power of attention and influence and pre-suasion.  A worthy read. 

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