Weapons of mass persuasion

Anyone who has been to a restaurant in the last 50 years has no doubt received a dinner mint or other sweet treat when being served with the bill. When this happens, have you ever thought, “I guess I shouldn’t have had the Caesar salad after all?”

The truth is, while the server may have been trying to prevent the onset of halitosis, he or she is more likely to be employing – whether consciously or not – one of the time-tested methods of persuasion known as reciprocation. As outlined in his best-selling book, Influence, Robert Cialdini describes six such methods of persuading people to do your bidding (although it is usually less sinister than I just made it sound).

And when it comes to being able to attract customers, build loyalty, or simply persuade clients to come around to your way of thinking, these so-called “weapons of influence” can be valuable additions to a meeting planner’s marketing or communication arsenal.

Let’s take a look at the first three of Cialdini’s weapons of influence (or weapons of mass persuasion as I like to call them) in a bit more detail to see how they might be able to help you in your event planning career:

Reciprocation – This is the principle behind the dinner mint scenario mentioned above. People tend to return a favour. When you get something for free, most of us feel an obligation to give something back in return – either by buying a product, leaving a nice tip or providing a word-of-mouth recommendation (i.e. Facebook likes and Twitter re-Tweets in exchange for a coupon or discount). It is also a favourite tactic of successful content marketers – give your target audience a free e-book or special report and your readers are more likely to return the favour by subscribing to your newsletter (and providing their all-important email address) or by ordering an information product. Planners could offer potential clients free planning tip sheets or 10-minute consultations (with no obligation, of course) as a way to build credibility and loyalty. It could also result in more referrals and added business.

Commitment and Consistency – If you can get people to commit, either verbally or in writing, to a concept, goal or idea, they are more likely to honor that commitment and behave in ways that are consistent with that earlier commitment. This strategy relies on a psychological phenomenon known as cognitive dissonance whereby our subconscious mind finds it difficult to allow us to act in a manner we know to be inconsistent with who we think we are. For example, if you can get a potential client to agree early on that a certain venue or catering option would be the best or only choice, you may be able to negotiate higher fees or markups at a later date as they will have “pre-committed” to the original idea and be less likely to back down from (reasonable) increases.

Social Proof – It is a universal fact that people will do things that they see other people doing (as my mother used to constantly bring up, i.e., “If your friend Dewey decided to jump into a tank filled with live sharks, does that mean you would do it too?”). This is the principle behind celebrity endorsements, testimonials, Facebook likes and Twitter followers. The more you can show prospects that other people use and benefit from your services, the more likely they will be to make the transition from prospect to client. Be sure to include customer testimonials on your website, re-Tweet positive comments about your last event or start a Facebook fan page for your business.

Give these first three weapons of mass persuasion a try in your next marketing or social media campaign. And stay tuned to this space for a synopsis of the last three of Cialdini’s strategies to see how they can help you build your business or promote your next event.

About the author:

Sean Moon brings more than 20 years of senior communications experience to the MediaEdge team. His experience includes several years as an editor with the Canadian Press, 10 years as the Corporate Communications Director of an international nutrition marketing company, several years in the magazine advertising industry and more than five years as a communications and PR consultant. He has also worked extensively in magazine production, corporate event planning, public relations and marketing communications.

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