[...] those who had read three claims rated all the subjects of the ads (regardless of whether they were breakfast cereals, politicians, etc.) significantly more positively than participants who had read the ads with one, two, four, five, or six claims. It appears that adding additional positive claims to a persuasive appeal increased its effectiveness up until the third claim was encountered. But after that, further persuasion attempts increased skepticism, which in turn heightened resistance to the overall persuasion appeal.
[...] problem-free may not be as good in business as problem-freed.
The findings from this study suggest that changing the pills in blister packs from a single color to multiple colors and setting out clear instructions to users about which pill to take at a specific time could be beneficial to both patients and healthcare professionals. For example, patients could be instructed to take white tablets for the first three days of treatment, blue tablets for the next three days, and then complete the course by taking red tablets. Although nothing would change about the active ingredients of the pharmaceutical itself, the structure set out for taking the medicine could be a small change that potentially leads to an increase in patient compliance.
In situations where the choice being made is relatively simple and the motivation to achieve the task is quite strong, a flexible rather than fixed sequence typically leads to better goal achievement. But where the change that is required is harder or where motivation levels might be lower, creating a rigid sequence and structure should be more effective at increasing completion levels.
[...] a predetermined sequence eliminates, or at least reduces, the number of unnecessary “decision points” that can arise when people pursue a plan. And one thing that today’s information-overloaded citizens appreciate is the need to make fewer, not more, decisions. In additional studies, Jin and colleagues found evidence to support this idea: People who followed a fixed sequence typically reported that limiting the choices made during the pursuit of a goal actually made the goal (a) more likely to be achieved and (b) feel easier in the process.
One reason for this is because in the early stages of a task, focusing on the smaller number appeals to the human desire to behave as efficiently as possible. An action that moves someone from 20 percent completion of a task to 40 percent completion has doubled their progress—which seems like a very efficient action indeed. Contrast that with moving from 60 percent completion to 80 percent, which, although the same 20 percent difference, represents progress of just a quarter of the total completed.
As a result, a manager or supervisor, keen to keep her staff motivated to reach a particular sales goal or performance target, might find that their early motivation can be maintained by providing feedback on the progress that her team members have already made by telling her staff, “We’re only one week into the new quarter and you’ve already achieved 15 percent of your quarterly target,” rather than “We’ve made a great start in our first week and now we’ve got 85 percent of the way to go.”
One of us has a friend who, like many couples with children, faces the continual trade-off between spending today vs. saving for an earlier and potentially more comfortable retirement. Their SMALL BIG solution is to create a unit of spending called “retire one week early.” When this couple contemplates expensive decisions, they compare the cost of the decision to the opportunity cost of retiring a few weeks earlier. Not long ago they told us that friends of theirs had recently moved to a more expensive house, prompting them to consider doing the same. However, when it became obvious that if they were to move the cost would be the equivalent of them having to retire four years later than their target, it quickly became evident to them that it was something they didn’t want to do.
Behavioral scientists Kimberlee Weaver, Stephen Garcia, and Norbert Schwarz thought that people tend to believe that offering extra features and information will strengthen their persuasion appeals largely due to the “additive” effect each extra feature brings. However, they also believed that the people who evaluate their proposals will fail to appreciate these extras because—rather than providing an additional effect—they see them as providing an “averaging” effect instead. Rather like when you add warm water to hot water you end up with a more moderate temperature, sometimes attempts to clinch a deal by adding extra features to an already strong proposal can lead to a reduction in the overall attractiveness of your proposal.
It seems that as choices increase in complexity our attention is directed to the very first piece of information presented, be it the number of items, price, amount of time, or any other unit or measurement.
[…] one small change anyone can make to potentially increase the success of a presented proposal or an offer is to carefully consider what the target audience will be comparing the proposal or offer to when they are making the decision.
Interestingly, this strategy can be just as effective even when the comparisons are ones that your audience is going to reject anyway. For example, when constructing a proposal for a client, a management consultancy might weigh several alternative approaches and, through a process of elimination, converge on an optimal recommendation. At this point, having thrown the ideas they eliminated in the trash, many of which might be too costly or take too much time to complete for the client’s liking, they would then work up the proposal focusing on their optimal choice. However, based on what we know about the persuasion process and specifically perceptual contrast, this would be a mistake.
Instead, the consultancy would be advised to take the ideas they decided to throw out and present them first, albeit briefly, at the start of their pitch. This small change could make for a big difference when it comes to presenting their chosen pitch because that proposal would now be seen in its proper perspective. For example, by first presenting an option that the client might think is a bit too costly, or one that the client might think will take too much time, will have the desired impact of making the target proposal seem even more like the “Goldilocks” proposal that it is—just right.
Finally, a small change to the way times and agendas are framed may result in more acceptances and fewer declines for future meetings you are hosting. While speculative on our part, changing that upcoming 2-hour gathering to one that is scheduled for 1 hour 55 minutes might result in a few extra attendees.
Less obviously, there might be other ways to use the intriguing influence that numbers that are slightly less than whole numbers often have on others’ decisions. A personal trainer might find that a client is a little more compliant to a training program framed as 9.9 kilometers on the treadmill rather than a round-ended 10 kilometers. A doctor may measure helpful differences in a patient’s adherence to exercise by advocating a slightly lower number of steps on their pedometer—say 9,563 rather than the more usual 10,000. In these scenarios, these goals should seem disproportionately more attainable to the client or patient, and therefore they should be more motivated to work to achieve them.
Most obviously, those responsible for setting prices in retail environments may benefit from the knowledge that a small shift in price—which might literally be just one cent upwards or downwards—can disproportionately alter a consumer’s judgment of the cost of that product as well as their purchasing decision. For example, a business that sells lower-priced, high-margin products such as own-brand goods may be able to improve their profitability by making small changes to the price endings of their products that increase the perceptual difference between the left-most digit of their price and that of a premium product. Of course, should it be the case that the goal is to increase the likelihood that people will choose a more expensive product, then the opposite would be true. Notice that in the pen study many more folks chose the more expensive pen when the left-most digit was the same for both options.
So where did this strange practice of odd-ended pricing originate? One potential explanation can be traced back to the standardization of the American currency in 1891. When imported goods from Britain underwent a currency conversion from pounds to dollars, they would end up with an odd price. The perception that British goods were often considered to be of a higher quality meant that odd price endings became associated with a mark of superiority. Another commonly cited reason for the introduction of odd price endings was that it was a pretty good strategy to reduce employee theft. Odd pricing would force employees to issue change, therefore making it more difficult for them to pocket a payment without recording the transaction on a sales slip. Records show that when the department store Macy’s adopted 99-cent sales in the early twentieth century, they reported a rise in sales, leading to the practice then being adopted by retailers around the world.
The impact of giving a gift, service, or even information first and in an unexpected way can have a huge impact. In our earlier book, Yes!, we described one study that demonstrated how food servers in restaurants could modestly increase the level of gratuities they received (by 3.3 percent) by leaving a candy for each diner when they brought the bill. If they leave two candies, tips increase further (by 14.1 percent). But a third approach showed that doing something unexpected could lead to even more impressive results. After leaving a single candy for each diner at the table, if that same server returned with a second candy a few moments later, the unexpectedness of this extra gift led to an impressive 21 percent increase in tips.
In order to test their ideas, the researchers set up a series of studies in which participants were asked to solve a series of word jumbles (anagrams). One group solved the puzzles they were given in a room with a low ceiling height (8 feet), with the other group working in a room with a higher ceiling (10 feet). Some of the anagrams participants were asked to solve related to the concept of freedom and creativity—for example, words like liberated, unlimited, and emancipated were included. However, for others, the words related to the concept of confinement—for example, restricted, bound, and restrained.
The researchers found that the participants solved freedom-based anagrams quicker and the confinement-based anagrams slower when they were in the high-ceiling room. The opposite was the case in the room with the low ceiling; there, participants’ response times when solving the confinement-based anagrams were quicker than the freedom-based ones. A follow-up study also found that the participants located in the high-ceiling room were able to make relational connections between abstract ideas—a key feature of creative thinking—much more easily than those in the low-ceiling room.
[...] when they are unsure of themselves, people allow the authority’s opinion to dominate all the other factors—indeed, even shutting down cognitive consideration of those other factors.
The researchers believe that one potential reason why potential will often capture attention more than reality is due to the fact that reality has happened, making it completely certain. Whereas despite the obvious disadvantages that potential can inject into a message or a communication, the uncertainty that the audience experiences when evaluating the person with potential serves to offer a wonderful advantage—namely, a tendency to arouse more interest.
Despite participants’ predictions to the contrary, five times as many given the short-expiration date certificate visited the bakery to claim their coffee and cake than those given the long-expiration date certificates. People may have preferred the offer with a longer expiration date because it afforded them more time to redeem the offer; however, in reality, it actually caused fewer of them to do so.
One reason is that, because people are so focused on dealing with whatever is vying for their attention at a specific moment in time, they wrongly believe that once they have gotten that albatross off their back they will have more time in the future to carry out more enjoyable activities. Of course what they fail to realize is that that albatross was one of a flock, and another one will invariably take its place, meaning that they will be just as busy in the future and, as a result, simply end up not completing even enjoyable activities.
[...] a little late is certainly better than never.
Another potential area for deploying future lock-ins is in subscriptions to common services such as Internet broadband, cable TV, and cellular phone plans. In order for customers to get the most attractive deals, suppliers often require them to be immediately locked in to a fixed-length contract of, say, 18 or 24 months. When learning about these instant lock-ins, some customers might object because they have focused on the immediate and concrete costs of the deal. However if that contractual lock-in was to occur three months after the beginning of the contract, it might not only reduce the overall number of customer objections, but also benefit the supplier by allowing them to keep each customer for an extra three months. And everybody wins, since the customers would have flexibility in that first three months to decide whether they were satisfied with the service.
Whereas individuals tend to think about near future events in very concrete terms, they are much more likely to think about events that seem far off in the future in more abstract terms.
[...] persuasion science points the way to a small but often ignored strategy to encourage people to follow through with their initial commitments: Have them form a specific plan for where, when, and how they will go about accomplishing the task to which they have committed. Behavioral scientists call these specific plans implementation intentions.
Recognizing that escalations in commitment can often lead to poor outcomes and a potential loss of money and resources, many will adopt strategies designed to mitigate its influence. One of the most common is to arrange for one individual to make the initial decision about whether to enter a negotiation and then assign a different individual to carry out that negotiation.
[...] there are two other aspects that are also crucial ingredients to the likelihood of a commitment made being fulfilled: how action-oriented that commitment is and how publicly it is made by the person or group committing to it.
[...] for a commitment to stand the best chance of being lived up to, it needs to be owned by the person making that commitment.
One common strategy that we noticed all the health centers in our study utilizing was to provide patients with an appointment card with the time and date of their next appointment. Usually, the appointment details were written out by a healthcare receptionist. We wondered whether this approach was unwise, given that the principle of consistency states that people are most motivated to be consistent with those commitments that they actively make themselves.
Accordingly, we tested the impact of another small change—one that served to actively, rather than passively, involve the patient in the appointment-making process. What was this small change? It was for the receptionist to simply ask the patient to write down the time and date of the next appointment on the card themselves. When we tested this approach over a four-month period, we measured a significant, 18 percent reduction in no-shows in that group.
[...] researchers posing as visitors to a beach would place a beach towel and a radio on the sand in close view of a sunbather before heading down to the shore to take a dip in the sea. In one condition, one of the researchers would ask the sunbather (who was really the subject of the study) to watch the radio. Most agreed and verbally signaled their commitment with a friendly, “Of course I will.” In a second condition the researcher simply went for a swim without making any kind of request of the sunbather. Then the real experiment began. Another researcher, posing as an opportunistic thief, would run past, snatching up the radio and making off with it. The small act of asking for a verbal commitment made a big difference as to whether sunbathers who witnessed the fake theft gave chase. Only 4 out of 20 of those who weren’t asked to make a verbal commitment made any attempt to right the wrong. Contrast that with the 19 out of 20 sunbathers who were asked to watch the radio and who, consequently, leapt into action. Why? Because they had verbally agreed to a commitment, and giving chase was entirely consistent with that previous verbal commitment.
It turns out that there are potentially several reasons why having a longer-standing relationship with another person could lead to reduced rather than increased levels of understanding of their likes, dislikes, and preferences. One obvious explanation concerns the fact that a large amount of our learning and knowledge exchanges with others occurs in the early stages of relationships, when the motivation to get to know each other is quite high. As time passes, so might those higher levels of motivation, with the result that exchanges of new information occur less regularly. Therefore, some changes in a person’s circumstances and situations could go unnoticed.
[...] an experiment we conducted in partnership with a team of British physicians found that simply including a patient’s first name in an SMS (short message service) text reminding them to attend a health appointment led to a 57 percent reduction in no-shows compared to reminders that didn’t include their first name. Interestingly, including a patient’s full name (e.g., John Smith) or a more formal salutation (e.g., Mr. Smith) made no difference at all. It was only when a patient’s first name was used that it had an effect.
Accordingly, when seeking to improve timekeeping and efficiencies in her office, an executive would be advised to consider her workers’ perceptions of how much of a problem it is when meetings start late. If the perception is that it’s a problem that occurs too often, then her message should focus on depicting the positive traits of those employees who do arrive in a timely fashion. However, if the common belief is that lateness isn’t too much of an issue, then her message should instead focus on the negative traits of latecomers.
As we mentioned earlier, people are motivated to conform to social norms. Yet, people often seek to define themselves based on what makes them unique. This means that in situations in which they are led to think about the implications of their behavior for their identity, they are typically more attentive to the costs and benefits of deviating from, rather than conforming to, the perceived norm. Thus, attempts to influence other people’s actions should be more successful when messages are framed in terms of deviating from the perceived social norm rather than conforming to it.
Taken together, this research suggests that companies looking to gain new market segments need to be careful to avoid situations in which adoption of the product by the new segment might cause its current users to abandon it in order to disassociate themselves from the new adopters. More generally, this research suggests that anyone looking to discourage certain behaviors—be it unhealthy eating, littering, or showing up late for work—should consider pairing those behaviors with an undesirable identity.
Perhaps more interesting, though, was the finding that when the study participant made an independent judgment that went against the consensus of the group, the areas of the brain associated with emotion were activated, suggesting that there is a real emotional cost to going against the group and the price we pay is a painful one.
Following the crowd is not an action that is simply fueled by a need to keep up with the Joneses. It is more fundamental than that, striking at the heart of three simple, yet powerful, underlying human motivations: the motivation to make accurate decisions as efficiently as possible, the motivation to affiliate with and to gain the approval of others, and the motivation to see oneself in a positive light.
[...] the latest persuasion science research reveals an often overlooked insight that goes a long way to explaining why strategies that simply attempt to inform people into making a change carry a high likelihood of failure.
Over thirty years ago one of us (Robert Cialdini) published Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. That book described the six universal principles of persuasion, identified from a review of the available scientific evidence at the time and from Cialdini’s own comprehensive three-year field study. Since then, researchers have confirmed these six principles, and practitioners in all sorts of fields continue to put them to use. They are reciprocity (people feel obligated to return favors performed for them), authority (people look to experts to show them the way), scarcity (the less available the resource, the more people want it), liking (the more that people like others, the more they want to say yes to them), consistency (people want to act consistently with their commitments and values), and social proof (people look to what others do in order to guide their own behavior).