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PersuasionThe evidence of theories of persuasion or influence is everywhere in business. However a lot of the time it’s not understood.

For example you know companies choose celebrities to endorse their products. You know brands want you to ‘like’ them on Facebook? You’ve seen shops give you 3 slightly different versions of more or less the same thing. But do you know why? And can you use this knowledge in your own business online.

If not then you will be the end of this 2 part article).

The reasons for all of these things comes back to the laws of persuasion or influence.

Writers such as Kevin Hogan and Robert Cialdini have covered the concepts in depth, starting with Hogan’s 1996 book The Psychology of Persuasion.

These laws (10 of them) are well utilised in every form of business, but how do they look online?

In this 2 part article I’ll present examples of how each of the laws are implemented online to help companies ‘persuade’ buyers to part with their money and how you can do the same.

This article will look at laws 1 through 5.


Law 1 – The law of reciprocity

When someone gives you something of perceived value, you immediately respond with the desire to give something back

You don’t have to look very far to see examples of companies giving away things of value to potential customers.

How I do it

On my site I have written hundreds of articles, ebooks, videos etc and provided them all for free. It’s not just because I’m nice (of course I am) – it’s called ‘Content Marketing’ not ‘Content Philanthropy’. It’s a marketing technique designed to build trust and build on the concept of reciprocity. People who contact me looking for websites are grateful for the stuff I’ve put up on the site and in some way feel a need to reciprocate.


How you can do it

There are many ways to integrate reciprocity into your business. You don’t want to put yourself out of business by giving too much away for free. But the key here is ‘something of perceived value’. You need to think of things that customers will perceive as valuable but don’t necessarily cost you too much to do. Here are some examples:

  • Embrace content marketing (write articles, ebooks, videos, do a podcast or free webinars).
  • Engage with your audience on social media – retweet their content, like their pages etc.
  • Get active on blogs and forums helping people in your industry with their problems.
  • Give away a basic version of your offering for free (think ‘freemium’ models like Dropbox.com).
  • Offer a free report to relates to one of your services (i.e. we offer a competitor analysis for free to potential SEO clients)


Law 2 – The Law of Time

 People will behave differently depending on whether their primary time orientation is present, past or future.

When a customer comes in contact with you or your business they are likely to be reverting to their inbuilt ways of thinking about things in terms of the ‘past’ ‘present’ or ‘future. A person that dwells on the past might think ‘I’ve seen products like this before, they aren’t as good as they look’.

The most common conversion that needs to occur is to get people away from thinking about ‘past’ and instead thinking about ‘future’.

Enter the experts.

How Apple does it

Check out the ad for the iPad 3 from Apple’s website. People watching this ad may have a computer and not think they need an iPad (thinking about the past). They may have an iPad 1 or 2 and are happy with that (thinking about the past).

Check out how the ad shifts your perspective from the past to the future by:

  1. Language ‘A more personal experience with technology than people have ever had’ and ‘distances itself from other devices’
  2. Usage – The majority of things they are showing in the ad are things that people probably aren’t doing on their computer (i.e. shopping, books, navigation etc).
  3. It talks about how the new features change the game.
  4. Tries to get people to forget about the device and focus on the use.



How you can do it

This is clever stuff so how do you do it? Here are a few common ways:

  • Define a clear value proposition that differentiates you from others. The headline and copy on your site will focus on this and how your experience is different to any experience your prospects would have had with other companies in the past.
  • Purposely call out some dodgy practices of others in your industry. Internet marketers do this a lot – ‘The gurus try to sell you info on making money online without actually making money themselves – we have made money and this is how’.
  • Paint a picture of a brighter future. Imagery can show happy clients, people enjoying doing things without worrying about what problem it is that you are solving.
  • Focus your giveaways on benefits instead of problems – i.e. you have a carpet cleaning business – instead of a free download called ’10 reasons to clean your carpets regularly’ (this will encourage past thinking) how about ’10 immediate benefits of carpet cleaning’ (to trigger future thinking).
  • Showcasing happy and successful customers who’s lives have been improved as a result of your offering (getting people to imagine a better future as opposed to dwelling on a dismal past).

Law 3 – The law of contrast

When two things, people or places that are relatively different from each other, are placed nearer together in time, space or thought, they appear to be more different from each other.

This is a fundamental technique used in retail stores everywhere. Let’s use the king of online retail Amazon as an example.

How Amazon does it

Check out the following comparison charts shown on Amazon Kindle product pages.

First, the chart shown on the page for the $79 Kindle (the cheapest one).



Notice the comparison chart above (taken from half way down the page) compares the $79 Kindle with 5 other products all of which are more expensive than the entry level Kindle. This re-enforces to the buyer that they are getting good value by contrasting it with higher priced products.

Now let’s have a look at the comparison chart on product page for the $379 Kindle DX (the most expensive one).



Fascinating! Did you notice:

  1. It’s common for ecommerce sites to have thumbnails that are all the same size but Amazon weren’t silly enough to put the same size image on the $189 Kindle as the DX – the DX is clearly bigger contrasting it with the smaller (cheaper) one.
  2. Hold on, what about the others? There were 6 Kindles last time I looked but now it appears there are only 3? Amazon don’t want to make it obvious to the buyer that the chosen one is significantly more expensive than all of the others.
  3. But the most fascinating of all is they didn’t even put a price for the base Kindle!
This is the law of contrast in action both in a positive and a negative.  The $79 Kindle page uses the technique to portray their product in a positive light by showing that it’s cheaper when compared with other products. The $379 Kindle page avoids the negative consequences of comparing the expensive Kindle with it’s much cheaper versions.
Once you know what you look for you will see this everywhere in physical retail and more and more online as well.
How you can do it
There are a lot of ways you can contrast your offering to make it more appealing. Here are a few:
  1. You can show comparison charts of how your offerings compare with more expensive competitors.
  2. When you list your plan or product varieties on your site you can include ‘premium’ versions that are significantly more costly than entry level offerings. These may be for only 1% of buyers (and you may not even expect to locate such buyers) but it will help the 99% re-enforce their decision.
  3. You might have separate sections of your site for different customer groups (it’s not uncommon for companies that service B2B and B2C customers to have a totally different business section of their websites so it’s not immediately obvious how the business offerings compare to the consumer ones).

Law 4 – Law of friends

When someone asks you to do something and you perceive the person has your best interests in mind, and/or you would like them to have your best interests in mind, you are strongly motivated to fulfil the request.
This law can relate to trust building but can also relate to social proof. For example if you are utilising the law of reciprocity and giving value away, you are also building trust and once that trust is built your audience is much more likely to buy from you.
But they are also more likely to buy from you if someone they know and trust already has bought from you or they specifically tell them to buy from you. Here we are talking about referrals and social proof.

How others do it

You don’t have to go far to see this in action online. Here are some great examples.
Love this one.
People know and trust Gary V – If he uses it, you should too.
And this one from 37 Signals, the creators of Basecamp.
Basecamp don’t just show random testimonials, they first make you choose your style of working. Once you choose ‘Face to face’ for example you are taken to a page which shows testimonials and videos of other companies who like to work the way you work. This is going to be a lot more meaningful to you than just showing a broad testimonial saying the product is good.
Perhaps the best example of this in action is Facebook advertising.

Facebook ad showing one of my friends who likes fishing.

Facebook knows that if they show that one of my friends likes something then I am going to be much more likely to also like it. So it shows me ads that my friends like and shows me which friends like it.

Google does a similar thing in the search results, if a result is something that one of your friends on Google+ has given a ‘+ 1′ to then Google will show the profile pic of your friend and show that they gave it a +1. They know you are much more likely to be interested in that particular site if your friends are.

How you can do it

There are so many ways you can integrate the law of friends into your business. Here are just a few:

  • Include social proof on your site. Show how many people like you on Facebook (if a visitor has friends that like you, Facebook is kind enough to mention that as well).
  • Include testimonials ideally from similar people to your target customers.
  • Embrace advertising techniques like Facebook like campaigns that utilise the law of friends.
  • Expand your social media efforts – the more +1s, Tweets and Likes you get the more this law will come into play.
  • Give customers in incentive to refer others – the people they refer will be much more likely to purchase.

Law 5 – The law of expectancy

When someone you respect and/or believe in expects you to perform a task or produce a certain result, you will tend to fulfil their expectation whether positive or negative.

I saw this exact situation on Twitter this morning. Someone had forgotten about a prior appointment and the response from the person was ‘Hi, I’m sure you’ll make it good. Everyone is expecting you! They can’t wait! Icon Sad

This sets an expectation that the person will attend the appointment and they feel obliged to do so.

This kind of thing is prevalent on company websites as well.




Notice MailChimp don’t spend a whole lot of time trying to convince you to sign up for their product. A 3 word heading, 2 sentences then a Sign Up button. Why? Because they ‘expect‘ you to sign up. The confidence in their product is obvious, they don’t need a 5,000 word sales page, they know you’ll sign up – why wouldn’t you.

How you can do it

The law of expectation is about confidence. If you were supremely confident about your product you wouldn’t need huge sales pages to sell it, you would ‘expect’ people would sign up and that expectation would be clear on visiting the site.

So the keys here are:

  1. Start with a great product and an audience who really wants it!
  2. Don’t oversell, point out the benefits and provide more detail if people want it (don’t assume everyone needs to be convinced some deals sell themselves)
  3. Make the call to action very clear – it’s not about clicking for more information it’s about signing up…right now.
  4. If you are in a position to offer it for free or a free trial then this can work very well.

To be continued…

Original Article: http://awebsitedesigner.com.au/misc/selling-online-with-the-10-laws-of-persuasion-part-1/





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