Book Review: Influence – The Psychology of Persuasion

Influence - the psychology of persuasion

The following is a review of the book Influence – The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini, PhD. 

I recently picked this book up for two reasons: firstly, I found out that the author, Dr. Robert Cialdini, was going to be the keynote speaker at Pubcon this year, and although I was unable to attend Pubcon, I knew that if he were selected as the keynote he must be really, really good.

Secondly, he’s a distinguished professor at Arizona State, right in my backyard, and has a grant for ASU students that my lovely fiance was awarded this year for work on her dissertation on Clinical Psychology.

It was as if the universe was telling me to read this book, so I complied…and I’m super glad I did. I definitely recommend you pick up a copy (feel free to click one of the links in this post to do so – full disclosure though, they’re affiliate links).

The book is based on Dr. Cialdini’s research into how effective sales people are able to influence/persuade people to buy things they may not have necessarily wanted. He spent years infiltrating and studying the minds of used car salesman, tupperware parties, boiler room stock traders, waitresses, you name it.

These studies, along with other scientific research & tests, were able to draw some commonalities on different “weapons of influence” that these salespeople will use. These weapons are all based on “shortcuts” that humans rely on to make quick decisions when they don’t have time to fully analyze a decision – for instance, this brand of ketchup is very popular, therefore it must be good, so I’ll buy it. These shortcuts are a necessity of life – without them, we’d have to carefully analyze every purchase decision, which would make routine tasks like grocery shopping take forever – but unfortunately, many less-than-scrupulous salesman (or “compliance professionals” as Dr Cialdini calls them) have found ways to take advantage of these shortcuts and exploit them.

The weapons of influenced outlined in the book are:

  1. Reciprocation – I give you something (like a free sample) and you feel compelled to return the favor (by buying a whole box)
  2. Commitment & Consistency – I get you to publicly admit you believe in something (like a political cause), then you’ll feel compelled to take an action to be consistent with that declaration (by donating to PAC in support of that cause)
  3. Social Proof – if other people like something (this is our most popular model!), you’ll want it more
  4. Liking – if the salesperson is likable/relatable, you’re more likely to purchase from them
  5. Authority – if an authority figure tells you to do something, you’re more likely to do what they’ve asked
  6. Scarcity – items marketed as “for a limited time only” are especially likely to result in an impulse buy, especially if there is competition perceived for the time (think of the Black Friday sales for the first 50 shoppers)

Cialdini rightly points out that these shortcuts can be reliable indicators of quality & desirability to guide our purchase decisions, and that he’s not advocating we ignore these shortcuts altogether. Instead, we should be weary of those who try to exploit these shortcuts through fraudulent or misleading tactics.

As a marketer, the weapons of influence seem like very effective tools to help be more persuasive when explaining recommendations to clients, or helping them market their products better. But like Cialdini, I agree that these weapons should only be used benevolently – when the claims being made are truthful and sincere.

As a consumer, I’ve definitely fallen into many of the traps by so-called compliance professionals, and will definitely try harder to identify these sales-traps as they occur, analyze the decision more clearly, and walk away from products/deals that I only want because of an artificial trigger being manipulated by a salesperson.

Editors Note: I’ve been doing a lot of reading, and am going to try to do “book reviews” on my blog to both share those books I really enjoyed and also help process & retain the information I picked up in each book. It’ll also force me to update this blog more, which would be nice. This is the first one of hopefully many more to come…

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  1. I’ve read over 100 reviews of this book, so I come very experienced. And I can honestly say, this really is a thoughtful and insightful review. Thanks for helping those who have not yet “discovered” Cialdini. You can note from my URL that I’m already pretty prejudiced.

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