The Power of Persuasion

Influence by Cialdini

I take my personal development pretty seriously and a critical part of my continuing professional development has come from the traditional route of reading – or increasingly listening to* – books.

I appreciate blogs and online materials can better keep pace with the fast paced world of marketing – and I read many of them – but I also like the reassurance of a publication that has been subject to some form of editorial judgement.   

So I’ve read a lot of marketing books and two really stand out as having changed my approach to marketing. One is Inbound Marketing by Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah. The second, which I’ll cover here, is Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Professor Robert Cialdini.

Cialdini summarises the results of numerous psychological experiments conducted by his team and by others to identify six ‘Weapons of Influence’ that are used by marketers, charities and others, ethically and unethically, to influence decision-making and behaviour.

In summary, these are:


If someone presents us with a gift or does us a favour, we are predisposed to want to do something in return**. That’s why charities keep sending you pens and address labels.

Commitment and Consistency

Once we establish a position we try to live consistently with that permission to avoid a state known as cognitive dissonance. Remember those competitions where you had to complete the sentence, “I drink ChoccoShake because…’?

Social Proof

We follow the crowd and we look to others for evidence of how to behave. If (nearly) everyone behaves this way why wouldn’t I? Hence “Eight out of ten cat owners say their cat prefers Whiskas.”


We are influenced by people we like. Is Nespresso any better than other capsule coffees or does George Clooney’s endorsement have something to do with their success?

We also like things that are like us. Subconsciously we might be more receptive to a message from someone with a similar name or who went to the same school. Heaven forbid.


We believe people who are (or who appear to be) in authority. Hence the abundance of people in white coats advertising tooth paste.


If we think an item is scarce we place a greater value on it, even if we don’t really need it, and if we see supply is running out it creates a greater sense of urgency. Which is why the likes of Apple never release sufficient product to satisfy demand and as a result people camp outside their stores to secure the next upgrade.

This may all seem very manipulative and, frankly, it can be. Cialdini’s book is presented as a self-defence manual against the manipulators, but the techniques can be used ethically, particularly in the field of social marketing. Indeed, the UK’s Nudge Unit was heavily influenced by Cialdini’s work.

I’d recommend Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion to anyone interested in marketing, psychology and the ways in which we can be influenced.



* Top tip. I am an enthusiastic subscriber and have accumulated quite a library of titles over the years. When I’m listening to a business book these days I use the Audible app’s features to play at twice normal speed. Content remains perfectly comprehensible and, despite what you might expect, the reader’s voice does squeak!

**Interestingly, our perception of the value of a favour received diminishes over time, while our perception of one given increases. So if you call in a favour too late you may not get the reciprocity you anticipate.