Tuesday, May 24, 2011

But that’s not all! The art (and science) of persuasion

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When I was in elementary school, there was a brief period where I was a member of the Campfire Kids (imagine a knockoff Girls Scouts where boys were allowed to join too). And of course, like the Girl Scouts, every year we had our candy drive. What candy I couldn’t unload on my dad’s coworkers, I’d try to sell door to door. As part of my pitch, I got to let them know that if they bought a box of candy, they’d also be getting a coupon to the local pizza place! Little did I know that I was practicing an age-old persuasion technique called “That’s-Not-All.” 

For today’s post, I am going to let you in on some of the most commonly used persuasion techniques that people employ to get what they want. In fact you may have been using these techniques for years without even realizing it. Hopefully this will help you put a name to the technique, and prevent you from falling prey the next time a salesperson (even that cute little girl trying to sell you candy) tries to use one on you. Or, in a more evil moment, you may find yourself employing one of these techniques to ensure that you get what you want.

That’s-Not-All (Burger, 1986)
The lady on the QVC shopping network tells you about a great new waffle maker that can be yours for only two payments of $29.99. A pricey product perhaps, but immediately after she tells you the price, she lets you know “but that’s not all!” You will also get a free recipe book. And “that’s not all!” You will also get a $10 discount if you order in the next 10 minutes. Suddenly that over-priced waffle maker seems like a great deal! Not only that, you feel like you almost owe it to them to help them out and buy the product after they’ve done you a favor and given you all those extra deals. 

Except those extra deals aren’t really extra at all, they are always part of the package. They just present the items strategically to make you feel like you’ve been given a gift. If the lady had simply let you know that you could have a great new waffle maker and a recipe book for $50, that might not have seemed like anything special, but by making a large request and then immediately following it up with additional items and/or great discounts, suddenly it seems like a deal you just can’t pass up.

The classic experiment:  Burger sold people either a cupcake and two cookies for 75c, or he sold a cupcake for 75c and then threw the two cookies in for free. In the first condition, 40% of people bought the product, in the second condition, 73% went for the deal. In another experiment he switched it up and instead told them the cupcake was $1, but then let them know he’d give them a discount so itd only be 75c (in the control, it was just a cupcake for 75c). Again, 44% of people bought the cupcake in the control condition, while 73% bought them in the discount condition.

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Foot-in-the-Door (Freedman & Fraser, 1966)
A man comes to your door to ask if you’d be willing to sign a petition supporting a candidate you know who is running for mayor. You agree. The next week he is back asking if you would be willing to put a small sign in your front yard in support of the candidate. Again, you agree. The following week he is back with an even larger sign that will take up half of your front lawn, a sign you would never have agreed to if he’d brought it that first day. But again, you find yourself agreeing to this request.

Why? By getting you to agree to a small request first, the man got his “foot in the door.” This works because of people’s need for consistency – you said yes the first time so you must support this politician, why would you say no now? Putting a small sign up is no big deal when you’ve already voiced support for the candidate by signing a petition. And once you have that small sign, is it really that big of a difference if you make the sign a bit bigger? You obviously support the candidate or you wouldn’t have put a sign up in the first place, right? You’ve also created a bond with the requestor when you agreed that first time, and thus you feel you owe him more than if he hadn’t made those previous, smaller requests.  

The classic experiment: Freedman and Fraser phoned a group of housewives in California to ask if they’d be willing to take a three minute survey over the phone about their household products. A few weeks later, they were called again, this time to see if they’d let 5-6 men come to their homes and look through their cupboards to take inventory of their household products. A ridiculous request, but women who’d first done the phone survey were more than twice as likely to agree to have strangers come into their homes than women who’d only received the second phone call with the larger, more invasive request.

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Door-in-the-Face (Cialdini and colleagues, 1975)
A friend of yours asks if you would be willing to train for and run a charity marathon with her. Given your dislike of running, and your busy schedule, you quickly tell her no. She immediately asks if, in that case, you would be willing to sponsor her run for $10 per mile. You find yourself agreeing. Little do you know that she just scammed you with the “door-in-the-face” technique.

In using this technique, your friend made an unreasonably large request (something you were definitely going to turn down) and when you did indeed say no, she immediately follow it up with a smaller, more reasonable request. One reason this might work is because people feel guilty for saying no in the first place, and they can get rid of that guilt by saying yes to the more reasonable request. Another reason this technique might be effective is because people tend to use the first request as a reference point, and in comparison, the second, smaller request seems like a big improvement and much more reasonable.

The classic experiment: Cialidini and colleagues asked people if they would be willing to chaperon a group of juvenile delinquents at the zoo for a day. Except, one group of people were first asked if they would be willing to volunteer two hours per week for the next two years to help these juvenile delinquents. In the group that heard the unreasonable request first (and of course, said no), 50% agreed to chaperone for the day. In the group that only heard the smaller request, only 17% agreed. 

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You’ve been shopping all week for a new car and finally have a sense of what a good price is for the car you want. One of the car lots is having a big sale over the weekend so you go check it out. Sure enough, the car salesman lets you know that the car you’ve been lusting after is $500 cheaper here than in any of the other lots! They’ve only got a few left on the lot so if you can give them a small deposit, they can hold one for you. While they take your check to their manager, you go outside and imagine yourself flying down the coast in the driver’s seat of your new metal beauty. Then the salesman returns with a printout of the cost breakdown for your car, and you see that the price he quoted you was sans amenities and you will be paying $600 more than you were quoted to get the car you actually want. 

Do you walk away and go find another dealer? After you’ve imagined yourself in this car and agreed you were going to buy it? Probably not. Saying no now goes against the image in your head and the commitment you made to the dealer. Instead, you are more likely to downplay the additional costs (“Other dealers are just going to do the same thing to me,” “I could spend that much in gas just driving to all the different dealers looking for the best price,”). By initially offering you less than what something is going to cost, and getting your commitment, the salesman has increased the likelihood you’ll take it anyway when he lets you know the true cost of the product.

The classic experiment: Cialdini and colleagues asked people if they’d participate in an experiment, 56% of the people they asked agreed. After they’d agreed, they were informed that the experiment began at 7am, and they could withdraw from the experiment if they wished. No one withdrew right then, and 95% of the people showed up at 7am. This is in contrast to the 24% of people who agreed to participate when they were told up front that the experiment began at 7am.


Have you had one of these techniques used on you? There are other techniques I didn’t get a chance to discuss – do you have other favorites you use to persuade people?

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