Pre-suasion | Robert Cialdini


Published: 2016

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Robert Cialdini is the psychologist who in 1984 wrote the legendary book called Influence. Cialdini’s second “solo book”, Pre-Suasion, was released in 2016 and provides a new understanding of effective persuasion. The new big idea is that it’s not the message itself, but rather what happened before the message was delivered that matters. It’s not necessary to change the listener’s attitudes or beliefs with arguments but rather redirect the listener’s attention before the message is presented, so that the target immediately feels “yes”.

STATE OF MIND > ARGUMENT. ”Priming” is when exposure to a stimulus affects a response to a subsequent stimulus, without conscious guidance or intention. It is before the delivery of a message that the window to a changed state of mind is greatest.

SYSTEM 1 & 2 MUST MATCH. According to psychologist Daniel Kahneman, people have two decision-making systems. System 1 is fast, associative, intuitive and often emotional. System 2 is slow, conscious, analytical and rational. Since system 1 takes less energy, it is also the state of mind that listeners are normally in. In the long term, systems 1 and 2 should be matched in all offers.

POSITIVE TESTS CAN ”LOCK IN PERCEPTION”. When Cialdini asked test subjects if they had certain characteristics, such as stubbornness, the test subjects searched their memory and thought it was true. When asked if they saw themselves as adventurous, 75% answered yes in a larger study. People can recognize themselves in many different behaviors and this type of “positive test strategy” can become self-fulfilling.

“We’ve covered a lot of data showing that (1) what is more accessible in mind becomes more probable in action, and (2) this accessibility is influenced by the informational cues around us and by our raw associations to them”

HONESTY AND TRACK-RECORD IS ”PRE-SUASIVE”. Warren Buffett has a long history of successful business and ethical decision making, making audiences receptive to what he says. Buffett is also in the habit of addressing his mistakes and Berkshire’s problems early in each annual report, and then presents the consequences for the future. When he later describes Berkshire’s strengths and successes, a trust is established.

LOWER THE GUARD. Decision making is often about minimizing uncertainty. To get past this built-in skepticism of new things, marketers often try to create a “bridge” between existing perception and desired perception. Associating your product with a popular celebrity is one way and relationships with the buyer is another. Human connection is also created when Warren Buffett describes a potential weakness but adds “With that warning, I will tell you what I would say to my family if they asked me about Berkshires future”.

METAPHORS IS UNDERSTOOD INSTINCTIVELY. Gun Semin has said that “The main purpose of speech is to direct listener’s attention to a selected sector of reality. He who wants to persuade should put his trust not in the right argument, but in the right word”. Cialdini cites an opposition politician who described the city’s crime wave as a “wild beast driving through the city and must be stopped”. An insurance salesman who also understood the power of metaphors said that people did not die, they ”walked out of life”. ”When you walk out, your insurance money walks in”.

FOCUS ILLUSION & RED HERRING. Everything that draws focused attention is overestimated. And when we pay attention to something, we lose attention to something else. The US head of military communications has said that journalists were allowed to report from the front lines in Iraq with the aim to reduce the uprising around the US entry into Iraq. The reporting then mainly concerned personal portraits and 71% of all news from the war was not in any meaningful way about broad political issues. The lack of weapons of mass destruction occurred in only 2% of all reports. This is what is called a “Red Herring”, something that misleads or distracts from an important issue.

“The amount of news coverage can make a big difference in the perceived significance of an issue among observers as they are exposed to the coverage”

POST-SUASION. One study showed that test subjects who had first read a happy story were more likely to fancy a painting than those who had not. Five days later, the researchers followed up with the test subjects. Only those who in their exalted state had ranked the painting still felt strongly about it. Those who had not rated the painting – and therefore had not “locked in” the experience – felt nothing special about their experience five days later.

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